How did it all begin?
Miguel and I were studying in different universities, and in conversations with another mutual friend, Dinarte, who initially was a sort of third partner, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to do something. But, in truth, we had neither the education nor the know-how to know exactly what we wanted to do. It was a learning process, the first part of our atelier: learning to do architecture and everything it entailed, dealing with clients, with construction... and this process lasted for several years. (Pedro Silva Lopes)
I already knew Miguel, and joined him and Pedro shortly after. Initially, we had small projects, often through friends, but they started to become more serious for us, with deadlines and commitments. Simultaneously, we were also working at other ateliers; I was at Sua Kay, and Pedro and Miguel were at Barreiros Ferreira, PMC, among others. The fact that we were all working in completely different studios allowed us to share our experiences and add knowledge to each other. Later, we moved to a larger space, shared with other architects. Each of us had a shared journey in mind, and as we evolved, we realized that we couldn't turn back. Marcus Cerdeira, whom I met in the Azores, joined us at this point. (Duarte Pinto-Coelho)
Can we talk about three decades and pivotal moments?
Certainly. At the end of the day, we can tell the story of Fragmentos in three stages: the garage band phase, the crisis and transformation, and the leap to consolidation and new horizons. Undoubtedly, the key moment of the first decade was the project in the Azores, which was the catalyst for us to fully dedicate ourselves to Fragmentos. This was a project with a strong social component and made it very clear that the work we do as architects is for people. (Miguel Martins Santos)
In that first decade, there were three other significant milestones: the competition for the University of the Azores, the one for ANA (Airports of Portugal), and our first hires. Winning the public competition for the University of the Azores reinforced our connection to the region where we did our first major project. The ANA competition was an invite-only competition in which we were competing against major ateliers of the time... and we won! We were the outsiders and invested a lot of energy in these two competitions. In terms of human resources, that was the time when we made our first hires, and some of them still work with us today. (Marcus Cerdeira)
After that first decade, which was essentially a period of learning and becoming architects, we moved into a second phase, a new era. One of the key events that marked the end of the first era and the beginning of the second was our move from Estoril to Lisbon. This transition to the city also brought a change in scale. We started working less on individual houses or apartments and began to think about and design entire buildings. It's unclear if this was cause and effect, but this change of location truly meant a change of paradigm. (Pedro Silva Lopes)
In this second decade, we can't overlook the 2008 financial crisis. We were in the midst of consolidating our position, expanding our team, and exploring more challenging scales when the crisis hit, and we had to rethink our position. We all remember the earthquake it was and the impact it had on the demand for architectural services, with many studios of a similar size to ours closing down. We went through a very tough period. The crisis is a milestone, but also the way we turned things around. I remember a meeting we had with our employees at the time. We were very open, we had to either let go of one or two people or reduce the partners' salaries by 20% and the others' by 10%, with the potential for profit-sharing at the end of the year. Everyone rallied and joined us on this journey. (Miguel Martins Santos)
To add to this period, by now, we were a team of 12, between partners and architects, and it coincided with our move to Lisbon, where we were located on Rua da Madalena from 2006 to 2016. It was a real test of fire. However, it was also a time when we gained an understanding that if we could overcome it, we would emerge stronger, and things would only get better from there. There was little new construction work at this time, but there was some in the field of renovation. It was interesting for us because it allowed us to specialize in this area. This second decade was truly filled with great challenges and transformations. One way we reacted to adversity was to look towards internationalization, and it was during this time that Fragmentos embarked on an adventure in Angola. (Marcus Cerdeira)
Angola was a milestone; crises have this capacity, they are harsh, but they are catalysts. All of this is part of the journey and what allowed us to truly look at this third decade, which we are now finishing, with great pride. In this third decade, we can also discuss another change in the studio, moving to Rua Camilo Castelo Branco, where we still are today – a larger space that we now consider small. This was the time when we first talked about strategy, communication, and how to become known and gain notoriety. The milestone here, I would say, was our 20th-anniversary event. There is clearly a before and after that in terms of scale, notoriety, and the type of clients we work with. (Pedro Silva Lopes)
It was also in this third decade that Fragmentos de Engenharia emerged, an absolutely crucial moment for the studio that is now inseparable from what Fragmentos is. This idea, which originated from João Paulo, who is now a partner, and whom we were already working with at the time, was extremely important. Incorporating Engineering into the creative process allowed us to grow significantly and become more incisive in our results. (Marcus Cerdeira)
Is it possible to grow without losing the essence?
In the first decade, this idea of growth wasn't at all obvious. We loved what we did so much that we even had a certain fear of losing the identity of the studio, our unique style, as soon as we started to make some concessions. But I would say this is typical of small ateliers, young companies. There must be a conscious choice, a conscious embrace of the desire to grow to be able to see that our identity, our values, are something much greater and entirely transmittable. It's essential to take a step back, structure things to anticipate and deal with the growing pains that will always exist. As we're approaching 30 years, it's clear to us that we haven't lost anything; we've always been adding. On the other hand, something I find very interesting, which comes from our origins, this idea of gatherings and continuing to think and discuss, made us accustomed to always listening to others and appreciating the differences and what they bring. It has always been very easy for us to bring in other people, as long as they had three or four fundamental characteristics: they put authenticity into what they do, they are good people, and they know how to listen to others. That's why it was so easy, for example, for Marcus to join, even though neither Duarte nor Pedro knew him, and within three or four years, we were inviting him to become a partner. (Miguel Martins Santos)
Meanwhile, it's almost three decades, and looking back, it was undoubtedly an evolution. At the beginning, we didn't plan for it; we didn't think about growing. We had our dream, our joint project, but we lacked the vision, or rather, the structuring of the vision to make it grow. Looking back today, I say, "I'm glad we're here," and the journey couldn't have been any other way. When you think things through with intent, you can avoid losses. Beyond a certain scale, planning became essential. Once the desire to grow took hold, we invested heavily in it with intent. I am deeply certain that everyone who has joined us, and those who will in the future, will only add more substance and shape to this dream of four friends, this life project. (Duarte Pinto-Coelho)