María Crecente and Pablo Castro, both from the Galicia region, have been a couple for 26 years and professional associates for 9. They head COTECNO, an architectural practice with engineering services built into it. The firm is busy with major ongoing projects in Spain and abroad.
Like many other enterprises in the sector, COTECNO has had to adapt to the current situation and embrace telework. It’s about these new challenges in their day-to-day activity that we have conversed with María and Pablo.
María and Pablo, you are at the helm of COTECNO, your own company. How did this come about?
María: When we finished architecture school, we found work immediately, separately. The important thing was to learn. At that age we had no responsibilities, no obligations, just a lot of enthusiasm. Straight out of school, I joined the COTECNO team. I was very lucky to be able to start that way. You get out of school and real life is a wholly different matter. You think you know everything there is to know, but suddenly you have doubts, gaps in knowledge, fear… It’s essential to have good professionals at your side.
Pablo: I started out as an intern in a large office that now happens to be among our best clients. When the internship was over I moved to another firm, but it wasn’t my thing, so I set up my own studio.
M: Years later, the opportunity to acquire the company arose. It was 2011, the peak of the crisis… An important decision and a decisive moment. We were familiar with its workings, its strong and weak points, and above all we believed in COTECNO’s market potential. And that’s how Pablo and I, with our partner, José Manuel, who’s an engineer, embarked on the project that we are today.
About the current situation, how are you functioning in confinement? In what ways are you trying to make the best out of it?
M: Well, actually it’s the same at home as in the office, just “a bit more together” in the case of the two of us, since the workspace here is smaller and we don’t do the safety distancing [María smiles]. We keep the usual workday schedule, exactly the same as before the lockdown.
What’s changed is the contact with our colleagues. Our work method relies on direct collaboration between the different parties, from the very start of each project. The idea of this being done from home was at first worrying, but thanks to everyone’s availability and flexibility, we soon worked it out perfectly.
Ditto with clients and suppliers. Meetings are held via the web. Many of our works and projects are located outside Galicia, and so – leaving aside visits to construction sites and face-to-face meetings, which are irreplaceable – we already had a routine of online meetings with many of them.
P: The main advantage is that every contribution to the team decision is later traceable. The system creates a register – which is instantaneously saved – of all information dealt with in chat after chat, whether graphic or audiovisual… Because the information is generated and stored in real time, we can go back to it as many times as is necessary, and analyze data. This is instrumental in reinforcing and improving the decision making. We’re going to continue with this new work mode when the lockdown ends.
The main disadvantage is the absence of “day-to-day” with coworkers.
For some architects this lockdown has got to be a particularly interesting episode, almost like a major market study. Do you foresee changes in how we engage with our homes?
M: The situation has indeed changed us. In our case it’s not so much the working at home as a physical space; rare is the weekend, in normal circumstaces, that we don’t do some work at home – and in my case during maternity leave. What’s new is the extent to which we are capable of getting work done outside the office as a workplace.
For example, up to now, planning a private trip was a problematic matter. We want to be constantly connected to the office and keep ourselves up to date, especially when deadlines were looming or during some critical phase of a project. Now we know for sure that as long as we have an Internet connection, we can reconcile everything perfectly.
I should also say that, besides the good fortune of having a fine team, 80% of us have been working together for more than 15 years, so the team’s capacity to adapt to changes is total and we are always moving in the same direction. This, too, makes things easier.
Do you think that the architectural world will look back on this pandemic as a turning point, with a before and after? What will change?
P: Yes, for sure. It’s already happening, and our clients are demanding it.
From now on, buildings – workplaces, in particular, and before everything else – will have to be safer from a health point of view. Regulations will change, as will interest in their enforcement. An exciting new challenge.