20 years in Paris

As we celebrate 20 years since the opening of our Paris office, we interviewed director, Xavier Manera, to find out more about his fond memories, key projects and what it was like starting out on his own…

Why did Hyphen choose to open an office in Paris?

Several factors influenced Hyphen’s decision to open an office in Paris – not least, the fact that it was the start of a new millennium (bringing new energy)! As well as providing our team with the opportunity to set new goals and form new partnerships, 2000 was also a turning point for many brands who were looking to increase their product and service offering.

Luxury French retailers started to integrate new elements into their business models, such as fashion, and this presented an exciting opportunity for us as architects. Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, we were well placed to help these fashion brands turn their new store concepts into a reality and we’ve had the pleasure of delivering projects in some of the most prestigious retail locations across Paris – from Faubourg Saint-Honoré to Champs-Élysées, as well as some famous department stores.

That said, one of my main goals when I joined the company was to grow our portfolio beyond retail and build on our reputation as designers (rather than solely focusing on executive architecture). We now work across a variety of sectors and this has provided our team with the opportunity to acquire a wide array of skills.

What was it like starting out in the Paris office on your own?

It was strange and I remember that one of our founders, Chris Henderson, was fairly sceptical about the premises that I had picked out. The space had previously been used as a stock room and it was very dusty, dark and eerie – a far cry from the office that we occupy today. It was humble beginnings, but I felt like the property had potential. The building dated back to the 16th century and had lots of character, but this had been covered up by the previous tenants. After stripping everything back, I discovered some stunning original features very typical of this period and we ended up staying there for over 12 years.

Are there any key projects that stand out for you?

Each project brings satisfaction regardless of its size, location, or sector. However, we were particularly proud of our first mixed-use project for property developer, Antareal.

Located in Cannes, this was the first project that was entirely designed by our office and we provided a full architectural service from inception-to-completion. It allowed us to combine all our skills and it was a proud moment for our team. This was also the start of a long-standing relationship with Antareal, who we have been working with for 10 years now.

What is the secret to building and retaining long-standing client relationships?

If there was secret formula, I would keep it close to my chest but really it all comes down to human relations.

We have been working with luxury retailer, Hermès, for over 15 years and this long-standing client relationship started out as a simple chat over a coffee. During this conversation, our contact at Hermès was more interested in getting to know me as a person – my thoughts, interests, and views of the world. Listening, exchanging ideas, and gaining trust are all essential parts of building a healthy, fruitful, and mutually enriching professional relationship. Without a doubt, having the right skills is important but we are also human first.

Establishing credibility is also key as many of the brands that we work with today have been referred to us by other clients. Eight years ago, Hermès introduced us to SDA and since then, we have delivered more than 20 projects with them in airports. We work closely with the people behind the brands and clients welcome our personal and flexible approach.

What is the biggest difference that you have found between when you started at the company and now?

Starting out in Paris, we were a very small team and this meant that we shared varying responsibilities, from managing the finances to design work and even marketing (which in those days mainly involved cold calling and sending out flyers). However, that’s the life of all people starting out in an office. What mattered is that we all had the desire to grow the business and we quickly became a tight-knit team, forming lifelong friendships.

The early 2000s was a time of rapid development for electronics and although we weren’t drawing on paper (like our colleagues in Berlin when they opened their office in 1992), we didn’t have the same technology at our fingertips that we enjoy today. In the early days, there simply wasn’t ‘an app for that’! The way that we communicate has also changed irrevocably and it’s hard to imagine how we would have coped with the current pandemic if it had happened 20 years ago.

Can you describe one of your career highlights?

I wouldn’t have joined Hyphen if I hadn’t met Chris Henderson. Chris was introduced to me by a close acquaintance who worked for LVMH and we met in an informal way (as he always liked to do). We enjoyed a drink together and although my English was limited at this time, we clicked from the get-go. I owe a lot to Chris as it was his idea to open an office in Paris; he loved France, its culture and the city’s positive energy. He was also always very supportive when it came to developing our local activity, branching out into new sectors and learning new skills.

How do you see our role as architects evolving in the future?

Our role as architects is constantly evolving and it is our responsibility to continually broaden our skills and acquire more knowledge so that we can provide our clients with the best possible advice and quality service. Likewise, we surround ourselves with professionals who have proven expertise within their sectors and share a similar open mindset.

This year has proven that we should always ‘expect the unexpected’ and although we can’t know exactly what the future has in store, there are two things that we can be sure of: technology will continue to advance and people’s needs will continue to change.

Whatever the sector, clients will always require tailored advice and support from us but the need to be flexible and adapt to the world around us is key.