Interview with Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes, founder and CEO at AKKA Architects

Together with Stephanie, we dived into a unique architectural philosophy called Architecting Interaction, which is the core part of AKKA Architects’ work. What are the four phases of their famous AKKA process? And what should companies focus on to improve employee well-being and productivity? Let’s find out in our special pre-event interview.

1. You are the creator of the unique architectural philosophy called Architecting Interaction, and this is also the topic that you will be speaking about at this year’s #SWDS. Can you tell us more about this philosophy and your topic? The way business is being done nowadays is not working; it needs to be done differently. Businesses and organizations need to innovate. But how can we help businesses and organizations innovate? Architecting Interaction is a philosophy that believes that the seeds of innovations are interactions. Therefore, we help businesses and organizations innovate through interactions by creating or designing their workspace in order to foster the right interactions to help them innovate. In a short sentence: we help them innovate though their workspace. Our idea in AKKA is that the workspace of businesses and organizations is an asset. It is an asset not in terms of real estate, but in terms of being a strategic tool, just like human resources and other departments. My topic at SWDS will go deeper into our philosophy and I will also talk about the three roles a workspace should play: the context, the communicator and the enabler.

2.To achieve the right interaction in an environment, you use your own process – the AKKA process – which consists of four phases. What are these phases and what should be the final output of this process? The process of creating contexts that can foster user interactions cannot be done without the involvement of the users themselves. This is why the AKKA process is an intrinsically collaborative process based on the communal creation of knowledge. It consist of three phases which take place before the context is delivered:

  • Appreciating: dedicated to creating an aligned understanding of the project. It involves all people concerned in the project: users, clients, visitors, neighbors and professionals. In this phase, we as facilitators help them translate their opinions into insights.
  • Kernelling: This phase is dedicated to the co- creation of the project’s shared vision by and with the project’s community.
  • Kick-starting: This phase is where the bulk of the creative process happens through “learning by doing.” It is through this that a refined context can be created that truly supports the specific community it is serving.

And the last phase, which takes place after people have started using the product or service or space created:

  • Adapting: This fourth phase is what we call the living phase of the project. In this phase, it is by observing how people use their space that we can refine it and make final adjustments to create a space that triggers the right interactions.

The aim for this entire process is to extract collective insights of the projects’ users. This is because we believe that users are the experts in how they use a space.

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3. One of the projects that you worked on was Impact Hub, one of the most famous co-working spaces. What was the mission of this project and how did you manage to complete this mission?

The mission of the projectwas about supporting entrepreneurs, startups and small companies to create a positive impact through their businesses.
The fact that they share a workspace is a great opportunity to create added value through interacting with each other.

Our mission for this project was not only to create a functional, beautiful and inspiring space, but more importantly to create the type of space that can support all the different dynamics and interactions that these people needed in order to innovate on a daily basis.

We completed this mission by following our process and creating this innovation hub where businesses and organizations are collaborating and growing through their daily interactions.

4. The impact of workspace design is strong. What should companies focus on to improve employee well-being, productivity and teamwork?

Before we can explore the workplace, we need to understand what the future of work is, how we will work in the future, which dynamics will be engaged in and indeed what kinds of workplaces can support these dynamics.

Our team dedicated to exploring the future of work has been studying the dynamics of innovation at work. We have identified that innovation is driven by three forms of interaction: collaboration, creativity and learning. It’s at the intersection of these forms of interaction that innovation can emerge.

We also believe that the quality of a workplace is defined by the quality of interactions it supports. Our role as architects is not only to deliver an inspiring functional and beautiful space but also to ensure that the interactions happening in that space are valuable, fruitful and create positive impact.

At AKKA, we are specialized in designing spaces that not only foster interactions that lead to innovation but that also support well-being at three levels: physical, psychological and social.

5. Dutch architecture features some nice specialties. If you could describe it in three words, what would they be?

Most of the time, Dutch architecture is based on an ecosystem of design instead of an “egosystem” of individuals.

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Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes is founder and CEO at AKKA Architects, Amsterdam

Stephanie is part of a new wave of young visionary architects who operate beyond the nowadays-restrained realm of architecture. A strong advocate of value created through cross-disciplinary interactions, she believes that the most sustainable innovation will happen at the intersection of different fields.

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