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Interviews

Manea Kella on dilapidation to inspiration.

What was once a dilapidated property in the Romanian city of Brăila, now stands as one of the country's finest hotels: Casa Popeea.

Manea Kella - a London-based architecture and design studio founded by Adrian Manea and Elena Kella - was the driving force behind this renewal.

In an exclusive interview, we spoke to them about how they handled the challenge of such an extensive renovation.

The Project

"Casa Popeea is now an eleven room boutique hotel," began Elena, "it's a project that transforms a historic building while balancing it with the contemporary needs of guests".

"We really wanted to design the hotel with a fresh outlook on future development within the historic Greek quarter of Braila. Adrian was born in the city, and so when the opportunity arose to work on a project of this significance within his hometown, we were eager to take on the challenge. With the project located in the old Greek quarter of the city, and being Greek Cypriot myself, we truly felt connected to this project."

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We believe thoughtful architecture and design benefits society and is a force for social change.

The Renewal

When observing both the exterior and interior of the hotel, it's clear that much thought went into the renewed architectural structure. Adrian broke down the requirements and inspiration behind this process.

"The building had severe structural problems with a high risk of collapse. Given the region’s seismicity, the danger was very imminent," he explained.

"The consolidation works required careful alterations of the building’s original fabric. We used sprayed concrete - a technology commonly employed in tunnel construction and mining operations - to fortify the building’s frame."

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In much the same way, the interior scheme for the project required a high level of sensitivity in its planning and renewal.

Elena explained that, although "the majority of the internal features were either gutted or damaged beyond repair" they were driven by the idea that the historic structure should honour its spatial context and original materiality.

"We wanted to make sure that remaining features were celebrated wherever possible. The grand staircase is one of my favourite examples. It was meticulously dismantled and sent to the carpentry workshop in Transylvania, repaired and brought back to site where it was once more assembled and installed within its original position."

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The material palette was carefully considered, using a language that is rich enough to complement both the building’s historic context and its contemporary use.

The Challenges

When reflecting on the project, both Elena and Adrian agreed that it was this extensive remodelling of the hotel's structure that caused the most difficulty.

Adrian elaborated: "The house was initially built as a single-family dwelling during Braila's golden age. After that, it served as a series of dysfunctional office spaces during the Socialist period. Changes to access were required, opening up walls to create better flow and improve daylighting, repurposing the basement to create a boutique spa."

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"Access and circulation problems needed to be resolved," stated Elena, "we did this through the careful separation of public and private guest access."

"The main entrance takes you through the building's courtyard, leading you to an intimate, quiet and light-filled reception area in the heart of the building that provides a safe and secure resting point. The secondary entrance guides the general public through the carefully restored building fabric, and hand-moulded plastered walls through to Café Popeea, an artisanal coffee shop and brasserie that is open to both hotel guests and the wider public."

We had a number of conversations with both our client and local stakeholders and through dialogue, we managed to convince that a combination of old and new would be the most suitable design approach.
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Another difficulty for the design studio was completing the project from abroad.

"Working on a project abroad meant that we had to spend extra time creating new connections and nurturing new contacts," elaborated Elena. "eporta helped ease this process with their effective platform, through which we ordered a considerable amount of the hotel's furniture."

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The Reflections

Through their usual sensitive approach to design, the studio overcame their initial difficulties.

On looking back at the project, I asked them what they were most proud of.

"I think it would have to be the refurbishment of the ground floor layout (that's the main entrance hallway, the reception, cafe and dining area). We are very pleased with this series of spaces because we believe that they evoke both a sense of grandeur and intimacy," stated Elena.

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"We are also very pleased with the spa area," she continued, "the initial brief entailed a conference room. However, we realised early on that this was not appropriate and instead rooted for a boutique spa. This facility has really made the hotel more unique."

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To end our conversation, I asked both Elena and Adrian what their advice would be to a studio taking on a project of such scope.

Adrian didn't hesitate in his response: "Be confident in your own ability, collaborate with like-minded professionals and be prepared to work hard!"

From the smallest intervention to a large scale development – regardless of scale, architecture has the potential to shape and transform society for the better.

It was our pleasure to have worked with Manea Kella to help ease their design process and connect them with an array of international furniture suppliers.

Find more information on how we helped power this project here.

Or, find a selection of the products they used below.

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