The Mikou Design Studio : Twenty things about Salwa & Selma Mikou
The Mikou Design Studio
Twenty things about Salwa & Selma Mikou
Zanoah Bia, November 23, 2015
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Mikou Design Studio
was created in 2005 by Selma Mikou and Salwa Mikou, after many years of collaboration with international architecture agencies, in particular Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel, on projects on large private and public buildings, residences, offices and important redevelopments of public areas within the framework of re-qualification of urban and harbour planning. The references and expertise of Mikou Design Studio in the fields of architecture, engineering, urbanism and landscape design enable them to work in all types of projects, starting from initial design to completion. Mikou Design Studio is structured around Salwa and Selma Mikou architects DPLG, graduates from the school of Architecture Paris-Belleville, and a team of engineers and architects.


Selma Mikou, Architect Dplg

Graduated from the School of Architecture of Paris Belleville in 2000. After several experiences abroad, she joins Renzo Piano's practice from 2002 to 2005, working on a project in Abu Dhabi, housing and offices in London, and Lacma museum in Los Angeles. She is now a partner of Mikoustudio Architects, and works on cultural projects, public buildings and housing in France.

Salwa Mikou, Architect Dplg

Graduated from the School of Architecture of Paris Belleville in 2000. She worked from 2001 to 2005 with Jean Nouvel on international projects - residential and office buildings in Beirut, Seoul and Paris, urban projects in Doha, Valencia and Rabat, a cultural and educational centre in Kuwait city, a park in Barcelona and the studies for the Tanger Harbour. Today, she is a partner of Mikoustudio Architects in Paris.

Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut
Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut

Philosophical conversation with the Mikou sisters...

EgoDesign Magazine: Who are you / how would you describe yourself?

Selma and Salwa Mikou: architects of the heart and mind.  We were born in Fez (Marocco), right in the middle of the medina, a mysterious, strongly-charged, labyrinthine place that marks you for life.

E.D.: Tell us more about Mikou Design Studio, and your last works (Lighthouse Tower Rio, URSSAF and The Institute of Islamic Cultures for example)

Selma Mikou:  Mikou Design Studio defines itself as a place of creation and experimentation in architecture and its inter-disciplinary cross-fertilisation. We work in a continuous workshop spirit with a multidisciplinary team of architects, engineers, graphic artists, scenographers and town planners from very different cultural backgrounds.

Every project is an excuse for re-questioning and redefining the meaning of a brief, a function, and an urban, social and human context, in order to invent new ways of living, places for sharing and gathering that are more sensitive and more sensual, and which stimulate feelings.

Our aim is to get away from preconceptions of form and function in order to transmit more and better.  The Lighthouse Tower in Rio, the Maison des Arts centre in Beirut and the head office of URSSAF in Saint Etienne are within this perspective.

Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut
Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut

Salwa Mikou: We are an organisation that reflects on and produces the buildings of tomorrow. We try to do more than simply transcribe a programme, a brief or functions from one project to another. We aim to bring out the meaning or even the symbolism of a project, to question the expression and the impact of the things we must design. We do not repeat the same forms or produce an identifiable style. Rather, we spontaneously create a specific response to a specific context, in keeping with a given situation or a specific place.

Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut
Mikou Studio_Maison des Arts in Beirut

E.D.: Is there a philosophy behind your work?

Selma Mikou: If anything, it would be how to give more. In the end, today’s house is not just a simple “machine for living”; and this is valid for all briefs. Our architecture looks for the fourth dimension, that of sensitive spatial perceptions, of communication and reconciliation between people through the cross-fertilisation of imaginations, whereby everyone can interpret and live a space in their own way, with an infinite number of possible appropriations.  A building is above all a place of giving.

Salwa Mikou: Truth is not found in a single dream.  My philosophy would be one of happiness. To make people happy, and to do a maximum with a minimum.

Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO
Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO

E.D.: What do you consider your influences, what inspires you?

Selma Mikou: Everything inspires me. When I am designing a building, I am obsessed by it, and I see it everywhere. What inspires me most is walking in a town at night. The sensuality and magic of shadows, the mystery of volumes, and the sound of footsteps on a pavement. The town is our last space of freedom.

Salwa Mikou: There are conscious and unconscious influences.  For me, the endless source of images and emotions is my mental heritage linked to my childhood in Fez. It doesn’t matter of these images are real or if they are distorted by time. The design scheme is an addition of beliefs, of images and of dreams. I feel very close to designers whose discourse goes beyond their area of competence. I’m thinking of people like the film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, the fashion designer Hussein Chalayan and the choreographer Sidi larbi Cherkaoui.
E.D.: How would you explain architecture?

Selma Mikou: The built relationship with geography and the history of thought.

Salwa Mikou: First and foremost, it is an act of generosity. Above and beyond fleeting styles, all that remains is the force of the feeling conveyed by the intrinsic qualities of the built space: its proportions, its light and its materiality.

Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO
Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO

E.D.: Your favourite materials in architecture and why?

Selma Mikou: I don’t have any favourite materials. Every context requires its own truth.

Salwa Mikou: I like materials that have several lives, which reveal themselves over time. But most of all, I like the contrast between two materials, between warm and cold, or between matt and gloss.  The secret is in contrast.
E.D.: What does the word ecology mean for you?
Selma Mikou: The economy of the planet’s resources.

Salwa Mikou: The rational and sensitive use of an area’s resources.
E.D.: And chic, what do you feel it is?

Selma Mikou: The balance between what one says and what one does not say. The room that we allow for others.

Salwa Mikou: It is the dignity of a standpoint: seriousness enhanced by a flash of fantasy.

Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO
Mikou Studio_Lighthouse Tower RIO

E.D.: Which architect / designer or artist do you admire most?

Selma Mikou: The artists Anish Kapoor and Ai Wai Wai . I absolutely love their powerful expressiveness.

Salwa Mikou: The fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, for his ability to transform and create crossovers between numerous cultural influences.
E.D.: What are currently your favourite brands or objects, and why?

Selma Mikou: Brands are dangerous because they can become restrictive. I can’t stand the idea of disappearing behind a brand!!

Salwa Mikou: I like the hand of Fatima.

Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective of the gare station
Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective of the gare station

E.D.: Which city resembles you the most, and why?

Selma Mikou: Fez, my native city, because of the way it is both simple and majestic, open and mysterious. The urban spaces are experienced from the inside, sensitive to the extreme. They open onto the void. Fez is full of evocation and of eloquent silences. It is a city that knows how to harmonise opposites.

Salwa Mikou: New York, because it’s never quiet and it’s always busy.
E.D.: Your dream project ?

Selma Mikou: Two towers, side by side, which look at each other without touching.

Salwa Mikou: Building a whole city, like Oscar Niemeyer did with Brasilia.

Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective in the night
Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective in the night

E.D.: What is your favourite example of the use of light in architecture?

Selma Mikou: The Cordoba mosque.

Salwa Mikou: Baroque churches.

Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective in the court
Mikou Studio_URSSAF_Perspective in the court

E.D.: What building would you never design and why?

Selma Mikou: A caricature, as we can see in countries that are orientalist despite themselves –forced to borrow dead, disincarnate forms, out of context, to evoke a former tradition, a lost illusion.
Salwa Mikou: Prison buildings, because of their relationship with individual freedom.
E.D.: What is your favourite building (in Paris, Europe or in other cities)?

Selma Mikou: My childhood home. The place where everything began.

Salwa Mikou: The Alhambra, Grenada.

Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris
Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris

E.D.: What do you hope your current work will bring to people?

Selma Mikou: Dignity.

Salwa Mikou: Hope.
E.D.: What invention would best improve your life?

Selma Mikou: Teleporting, which would make it possible for me to always keep the people I love around me.

Salwa Mikou: Something that would enable me to be everywhere at once. The ubiquity.

Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris
Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris

E.D.: Can you describe an evolution in your work from your first projects to the present day?

Selma Mikou: Allowing more room for intuition in my work, to find the strength of real feeling. A leading architect once said to me: “if you build for yourself, intimately, with integrity, then your buildings will be good for other people”.

Salwa Mikou: Above all, evolution is personal. It consists in developing oneself, maturing one’s desires and one’s ideas.

Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris
Mikou Studio_Institute of Islam Cultures, Paris

E.D.: What couldn't you live without?

Selma Mikou: Other people.

Salwa Mikou: Selma Mikou.

Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg
Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg

Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg
Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg

E.D..: Finally, which 21st century architects/designers/artists would you invite to a dream dinner?

Selma Mikou: Renzo Piano, for his propensity to be a happy architect. Architects are often weighed down by their task as builders, and they forget to preserve their lightness. Near Renzo, I would place Hélène Grimaud, my favourite pianist, virtuoso and beautiful. Facing me, I would place the choreographer Akram Khan, and on my right, one of the singers of the Argentinean punk group that I just recently discovered and which I like a lot, called Attaque 77.

Salwa Mikou: I would set a table for six men artists and six women artists, whom I would marry together for one evening: the artist Ai Wei Wei with Shirin Neshat, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor with Vanessa Beecroft, the Bouroullec brothers with the Mikou sisters and, lastly, for music and improvisation, I would place Keith Jarrett opposite Norah Jones.

Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg
Mikou Studio_Campus Ratzburg