In Conversation | CO-LAB Design Office

  • We sit down with the founders of Tulum-based architecture practice CO-LAB Design Office, husband and wife duo Joshua Beck and Joana Gomes.

    Joshua Beck and Joana Gomes had one main goal when they established their own design office in 2010: to encourage a greater connection to the natural world through design. With each new project the pair and their team undertake, a deep level of care and collaboration goes into ensuring it sits in harmony with its surroundings. Their Villa Petricor project came in as one of our most-read global home features in 2022 for this very reason.

    “By providing places that offer a reconnection to nature, we hope to provide a more grounded and inspired perspective on the importance of preserving nature”; it’s insights like these that make this interview with Joshua and Joana both informative and incredibly pertinent to the current landscape of design.

    Outside of your own practice, how does design – whether that be architecture or another kind – have an influence on you?

    Joana Gomes: There is so much to be learnt about design from nature. We try to spend a lot of time in nature as it grounds us, inspires us and is an eternal source of knowledge.

    How is the lifestyle of Tulum conveyed in your work? 

    Joshua Beck: Tulum’s tropical climate allows for an open-air, nature-focused lifestyle. Many of the restaurants and bars here consist of a rooftop and are open on the sides in order to capture gentle breezes. Our office and house are also kept open for most of the year. We design with these indoor-outdoor relationships in mind and think a lot about exterior spaces, as they effectively become ‘rooms’ in a project.

    Casa Areca by CO-LAB Design Office

    Casa Areca by CO-LAB Design Office

    Collaboration – why is it so important in your practice?

    Joana Gomes: Fundamentally, collaboration is about acknowledging the contributions of everyone involved in the design process. From experience, we know that pulling together ideas from all those involved yields far more powerful results than if only one or two people’s ideas were considered.

    Your Villa Petricor project was one of our most-read global home features in 2022. What’s something about that project that we don’t know – something that our audience would love to learn?

    Joshua Beck: Ah, wow, that’s great! People might not know that we are a design and build practice; we have a small workshop in-house where we test out finishes, make lights and craft some furniture pieces. For Villa Petricor, we made almost all of the lights in-house, as well as the dining table and coffee tables. Being builders as well as designers allows us to achieve the results we aspire to.

    Joshua, in that feature you were quoted as saying, “We are quite obsessive with the finishes on our projects and how they make people feel.” Could you please elaborate on this?

    Joshua Beck: We aspire to create a level of visual intrigue and curiosity with our finishes – similar to the way an abstract painting might stimulate a viewer’s imagination and take them on a sensory journey.

    During the finishing stages, we spend a lot of time refining the overall colour palette, working directly with artisans to refine their handwork – as we understand that these traces can infuse the walls with a certain kind of energy and interest. 

    We build up the finishes in layers, smoothing and sanding them to create a tactile experience that softens the monolithic qualities of cement work. When we believe a wall might be complete, we check to make sure that our eyes don’t get stuck on any one area, and that there is a certain openness and interest to explore it for more time.

    What have you got in store for the rest of the year? What can we look forward to?

    Joana Gomes: We currently have several projects under construction in Tulum and other parts of Mexico. We have also started to take on projects outside of Tulum, including locations such as Costa Rica, The Seychelles and Bali.

    Design Dissected:

    Where we get designers’ takes on broader topics or themes currently surfacing in the design world.

    In each of your projects, you aim to encourage a greater connection to the natural world. With the current state of the planet, why is it so important to connect design and nature?

    Joana Gomes: Our goal of connecting design and nature stems from our desire to showcase the beauty of nature and inspire people to appreciate it more. As designers, we have a responsibility to shape the future of our built environments, but we also believe that we should broaden our focus to include our unbuilt environments – to prevent habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. 

    Joshua Beck: Nature has evolved over millions of years with incredible intelligence, and there is still so much we can learn from it. By providing places that offer a reconnection to nature, we hope to provide a more grounded and inspired perspective on the importance of preserving nature.

    Rapid Fire:

    Somewhere that inspires you?

    Joshua: Mountains overlooking the ocean

    Joana: Coral reefs

    Someone that inspires you?

    Joshua: Our 15-month-old daughter

    Joana: Oscar Niemeyer

    Favourite three materials to work with?

    Joshua: Wood, glass, cement

    Joana: Cement, glass, stucco

    Something you want to see more of this year?

    Joshua: A surfboard below my feet 

    Joana: Sunsets

    By providing places that offer a reconnection to nature, we hope to provide a more grounded and inspired perspective on the importance of preserving nature.”

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