She is Norwegian. She is Basque. She is an internationally awarded Architect & Interior Designer, and she is only 33. If you haven’t heard the name Kristina Bråteng in connection with architecture and interior design, you are bound to hear a lot about her in the future.
Despite her young age, Bråteng is the CEO and owner of B8 ARCHITECTURE, an acclaimed International Award-Winning Architecture & Design Studio based in Dubai and Spain. She started her international career in 2018, and since then she has already designed exclusive homes for some of the world’s VERY VIP clients in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Oman, Australia, and Spain (Madrid & Costa del Sol). I was invited to meet this multitalented woman in Dubai, where Kristina and her team create under the slogan: Infinitum is not the limit!
A place for the future
Landing in Dubai seven hours after taking off from Madrid, it is rather uncanny to know that this was a fishing village a few decades back. Today the population of the Dubai metro city area is close to three million, and with the current trend, the population might double in the space of a couple of generations. Dubai’s demographic is also quite unique in that only 15 % of the population are Emiratis. The remaining 85 % are ex-pats who come here to work, which also can explain why 75 % of the population is male. Contrary to common belief, Dubai does not have oil, so its main industries are finance, trade, transportation, tourism, and technology.
Dubai is a place of superlatives that strives to be the biggest, best, and costliest. Hence, it has the world’s tallest building, the largest and most expensive mall and one of the most expansive manmade islands on the globe. And it is here that the Norwegian/Basque Architect & Entrepreneur decided to establish her Corporate Headquarters and change the course of her life.
Bråteng @ Home
Since Kristina’s passion is designing HOMES, it is only natural that we start our tour with a visit to her own home, where she lives with her husband Armando, her stepson (also Armando and hence Jr) and their English bulldogs Ellah and Peppa. The house is an anthill of activity with gardeners, maids, and constant deliveries, as the family only moved into the premises three days earlier.
Kristina was born and raised in Marbella and studied architecture in Málaga. “My mum is from Trondheim (Norway) and my dad is from Bilbao (Spain), so I always felt as if I came from ‘the world’. I spent my childhood in Spain, but all my memorable Christmas holidays were spent in Norway.”
How did your interest in architecture and design start?
My mum worked in real estate (so did my dad), and as a kid, I always went with her to visit her property listings. Thirty years ago, there weren’t as many real estate agents on the Costa del Sol, so I believe she was showing the nicest villas available at the time. I remember that I was always asking “why this and why that” and analysing the space planning, design, zoning, and orientation. So, one can say that ever since I was young, I was interested in Architectural and Design. I visited so many luxury properties in my childhood, that I always felt it was in my blood!
How has your background shaped you as a person?
With both Norwegian and Basque roots, there is a lot of character… But I feel I am a stronger woman because a had a hard-working mother. The one thing that really influenced me was that my parents separated when I was very young. I was then raised by a single mom, who tried to give my sister and me the very best she could by working day and night, literally Monday to Sunday. I believe I got my work ethic and that I give everything to achieve my goals from her.
Tell us about your first architectural project
My first job was with the property developer ByNOK after I completed five years of Architecture studies but before my Final Degree Project. The funny thing is that I was hired only because I spoke Norwegian since most of their clients were Scandinavian. I started by serving coffee, translating, and making the office look more crowded. But of all their architects, I was the only one who answered my boss’ emails at 2 and 3 am, and I was still at the office before anyone else. It was only thanks to my mum that I was allowed to do my first project because she had a client who wanted a villa on a property she was selling, and of course, she wanted me to design it. I finished in record time, so my boss was sure his main architect had done it. It was the company’s nicest 3D rendering at that time, so once he knew what I could do, my boss started giving me their best Scandinavian clients and most exclusive projects.
There is another funny story… I was doing my first mansion for a very well-known Norwegian client when I was in my early twenties. Only after he had accepted the project did my boss tell him that I had done the design. The client was really shocked and said: “You did this?! How old are you? You’re a real Genius!”
What about your creative process – how do you work?
I am in the office (my home office or our HQ) from early morning until late evening (8.30 or 9 pm). Only after that, when the world shuts down, can I focus on my inspirations and start working on my designs. I’ll never ever be able to design from our the B8 office because it is too busy. To do the design part, I usually need to be in my pyjamas at home where I can sit undisturbed into the night. No phone, no email, just myself with my IPad and my PC. Prior to any designs, I do a very basic sketch related to zoning and circulation and what I want to be connected to what. Then I do a sort of puzzle of all the rooms the client needs, and when this makes sense, I start adding creative features and flow. There is a lot of research depending on the family’s needs, and only when this is done, do I move to the drawing stage. I was always into design processes, 2D drawings, 3D modelling, logic and functional layouts. Interior design is something I started later, but that has become a big passion, so now B8 can work on all aspects of a home and full concepts.
What is unique about living and working in Dubai?
I love Dubai – there is no better place to work or safer place to live. It is an international hub. Many wealthy people have the possibility to live wherever they want, but they choose Dubai. It is much more open and international than any other Arab country. We have unlimited services. You can go out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day in a different restaurant, and it is always excellent. The cost of living is high, but you earn more money. In addition, there are no taxes, so for many people, this is paradise. I can leave my car with the keys in the ignition and my bag on the front seat for a day and when I come back, everything will be there. I never lock our house. Where else can you live like that? When we moved here, I lost my watch. Two months after, the police called me and said: “Your watch is here” That’s Dubai!
There are thousands of advantages to working in Dubai, but the most important for me is the level and quality of the projects I can do from here. I am working on several private residential family resorts where the BUA (Built Up Area) is more than 20,000 m2. Right now, we are constructing one of the most exclusive villas in UAE (6,000 m2 BUA) with all kinds of amenities, so in principle the family don’t have to leave their home.
Bråteng @ Work
We leave the guarded residential compound and head downtown to Kristina’s office. On the way, she tells me how it all started.
B8s Dubai office (B is for Bråteng and 8 is her lucky number and a standing infinity) was established in January 2020. She started out with a one-room office with three employees. As with any startup, all investments were out of pocket, but she decided to take a big risk and focus on the VERY VIP market. The first Dubai project was a 6000 m2 villa in Emirates Hills, and after a year of operations, B8 was already running with profit. While her Madrid office remains virtually unchanged with less than ten employees, the Dubai office has grown to almost 30 employees, composed of talented young architects, engineers and designers from Spain, Syria, India, Egypt, Philippines, Jordan, Palestine, Chile, and Italy.
As soon as one steps inside the office, one cannot help but notice the buzzing energy and enthusiasm – largely because the average age is just under 30, including the junior architects. Above one of the open workstations, there is a quote in Arab and English on the wall: “When people talk, we work. When they plan, we execute. When they hesitate, we approach the future with confidence.” This quote from H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is words to live by for the B8 team.
Kristina brings me into her office, where the focal point is a bright graffiti painting by Marbella JogisArt with the words GIRL BOSS POWER/Building an Empire scribbled upon it. No kidding!
What does B8 architecture do?
The first company I worked for in Marbella offered the design for free to get construction jobs (which is not good for us Architects!), so with my own company, I do the exact opposite. We are considered one of the most exclusive design studios, specialising in designing ultra-luxurious homes. We work worldwide, but depending on the location, the scope of our services is different. We can assist the Client from the concept stage, and develop all the schematic- and detailed drawings, Engineering, MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) as well as the Interior & Decorative Design. In UAE and Spain, we can also manage all the approvals and the Construction Site (collaborating with any Contractor chosen by the Client). In other countries, I do the full design and advise only on the other stages.
What are your personal daily tasks and responsibilities?
I do literally everything! As a Founder/Owner & CEO, I decide on all long- and short-term company plans, oversee marketing decisions and campaigns and monitor our financial- and project-management aspects on daily basis. Every day, I wake up and go to bed knowing which stage every project and plan is at, and when our next submission or payment is due on each project. I am the key contact for all our future & existing clients, the outward face of the company, and the decision-maker who guarantees my clients faster answers and better results. I also try to have daily contact with all employees to make sure we have, if not the best, then one of the best working environments, which is a must for success.
As the Main Architect and Designer, I am involved in the entire design & development process. I am personally in charge of the first stages of all designs, with layout, 3D modelling, and exterior design. That’s the part I love the most. Our designs reflect my soul, which you can see in any of our exterior or even interior renderings. Once I finish the concept, the rest of the team develops the projects with technical drawings, interior design and detailed + tender packages, and get all required approvals and information needed for construction. It is vital to be involved in all stages and review everything because, in the end, it must match my initial design intention and all the Client’s requirements. As a business owner, I understand our clients’ desire for personal attention and care. That’s my speciality. I love all our clients and most of them become very good friends of mine. At the end of the day, I am working on one of their most personal belongings – their ‘forever’ home. I love my job, but I don’t think you can succeed as a woman in industries like Architecture and Construction unless you have a very strong character, a clear goal, and team-leading skills.
What are you looking for in your B8 team members?
Technique, knowledge, experience, and teamwork are a given, as being able to learn from one’s mistakes. But passion is the main thing. Our office is supposed to close at 6.30 pm, but I must chase my team out at 10 pm. They all love what they do. If they don’t, I won’t hire them. They must also bring something different to the table. It is very important for me that each interior designer is specialized in a different style. I am the main architect and designer for architectural layout and exterior design, but I really need to have several interior designers because every client has a different decor style even if they share similar architectural tastes.
What skills and qualities separate a good architect from an outstanding one?
Only 10 % who study this career, finish and that is when the real work begins. So, if you just want a 9 to 5 job, you better go and work for a town hall. You must love what you do, be strong and believe in yourself. Passion is the key – and hard work. You need to be extremely focused, know what you want and be willing to sacrifice everything when you have a deadline because an architect’s work is never finished. You also must be a perfectionist. Every time I look at a plan, there is something else I can add to improve it. In the end, you have to be very open-minded because the Client won’t always have the same vision as you. We are not the type of company that presents a project and that’s it. We do whatever the Client needs and requires, so you cannot take it personally if they reject it. Perhaps you did something amazing, but the design is very personal. If the Client doesn’t like it, you smile and change it, even if you scream inside. However, we always must advise them if their requests may lead to any possible problems.
What does B8 offer that is unique?
Our clients always say that our 3D renderings are the best on the market and that the design quality and functionality of each of our designs are unique. As our slogan says, there are no limits, and our main goal is to exceed our client’s expectations. We have a highly qualified professional team of extremely creative minds, but to me, it is not enough to be the best. We strive to be more than up-to-date. Before any other architects were doing extremely real 3D virtual experiences, we created our very own virtual reality and metaverse and got our license for a unique VR App with the latest oculus. This allows our clients to enter their homes a long time before the construction starts. It is so realistic that when they try it, they want to touch objects, open windows, and sit on the sofas, etc. Now we even allow some interactions (cars moving, etc.) We must always know what our competitors are doing and think of ways to be better, more Avant-Garde and more cutting-edge. We are considered one of the most expensive private design consultants in the Emirates, if not the most … And to be that we must give the absolute best, most integrated service of all.
What about B8’s project volume?
Depending on the size, we do from 8 to 20 projects a year, but it is not about the quantity, but about the quality and level of detail, we bring to the projects. In the last villa I handed over, I was running around putting flowers in the kitchen and towels in the bathroom. We take care of a lot of services, which limits the number of projects we can undertake in a year. We do not do hundreds of projects, because we only deal with very high-level clients. We have designed mansions that you cannot even imagine. Some projects (and we only do private residential villas) are above 50,000 m2. We have designed for royal families, professional football players and other celebrities, though their names are confidential.
Are you at a point now where you can pick and choose projects?
I’d say yes. We certainly do not take every project that comes to us. If you ask me to design a commercial development with 200 standard villas, I’ll pass. What we do is a customized luxury living experience. I really care about who and how our clients are. If someone comes to the office and starts yelling at my team, I will not work with them. It doesn’t matter how much money they have. I also like to connect with the Client. Normally my clients become very good friends of mine. It is only natural, as we share a lot of personal information and I get to know the whole family by designing their dream home.
Bråteng – New Heights
To really see the architect in action, we visit some of their projects that are under construction. Our first stop is a 70-storey building where Kristina’s client owns the two top floors. The building is still an open shell, but that does not intimidate Kristina. She brings a couple of B8 hard hats and emergency vests from the trunk of her car and arranges for us to get a ride up the external cage elevator to give me a tour of the 4000 m2 ultra-exclusive private penthouse some 240 meters in the air.
Is this your most ‘blingy’ design so far?
Probably. This is not the clients primary residence, as he has many properties so it will be a place for him and his friends. He also owns one of the basement floors, which is only for his parking and has a boxing ring in the middle. When he arrives, he parks on a revolving onyx and marble platform with LED lights. One of the six elevators in the building is exclusively for him and his guests who take a bespoke designed lift with a champagne bar to add to the arrival experience. The penthouse has a ceiling height of 5,2 meters in all the formal areas and a pool where you can choose which part is inside and outside at any moment. Where it is not a formal area, we have created a mezzanine level for the master bedroom, his personal barber shop, massage parlour and spa etc. There is not a single surface that is not cladded in marble and all the décor is by Roberto Cavalli and other top designers.
You are nominated for another international design and architecture award, but how can residential architecture compete against commercial spaces?
From an architectural point of view, the buildings are not comparable. My competitors are doing giant skyscrapers and spacious public buildings, and I am just doing ‘villas’. But for me, it is the most important place in people’s life. It is where you live – it’s your home. When you design a museum, it needs to be WOW, but it is for a day. A home is different. I create buildings that will be lived in by a family – every day.
How would you describe your villas?
I design villas that are modern and contemporary, but at the same time warm and cosy. Some architects make super sculptural buildings that are amazing to see and photograph, but you cannot live in them. That is not a home to me. We make a place where the family sleeps, eats, and relaxes. It is their refuge, so what else can I do for a family other than to create the nicest place for them to live in, grow their families, and enjoy their free time? I think architecture is beautiful because whatever we do stays there almost forever.
The Scandinavian connection
We head for our last stop for the day, a 6000 m2 private villa in the gated community called Emirate Hills. As with all of Kristina’s projects, it is sleek and contemporary. In fact, it has become the envy of some neighbouring construction projects where the client now wants to change architects to B8. The villa itself will be the home for a family of four and their eleven live-in staff, and it includes space for the owner’s 14 luxury cars. And as always, Kristina has managed to include some Nordic features such as wood elements, stone claddings, fireplaces and of course a few waterfalls.
Are the goals of modern architecture the same as classic architecture?
No. The big difference between classic and modern architecture is how we work with natural light. Traditional architecture is very private whereas, in our layout, the villa is open. It is all about natural light, with double-height ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. It gives much more positive vibes with the sunlight coming in. I also bring a Scandinavian ‘look’ into all our designs. Many associate modern or contemporary architecture with a white box. But for Scandinavians, the materials, the colour scheme, and warm hues are very important. We love the elements of wood, natural stone, and water, so I included that in all our contemporary designs.
Has Covid affected your projects, and if so, how?
After the pandemic, people care more about their homes, which have become more of a multifunctional space. During Covid, I did a project in Madrid with a 5000 m2 constructed area on a 17 000 m2 plot. The client said that in case we have more pandemics, we need to have everything available here. So, we made a mansion with spaces for basketball, tennis, paddle, laser river, mini golf, bowling, go-carting and even a petting zoo for the kids.
Do you have a favourite project?
Every time I start a new villa, it becomes my favourite at that moment. Our Emirate Hills villa that was just given awards for the interiors and exteriors was my favourite for some time, but then I start working on a new project … It isn’t necessarily the biggest or most prestigious one. I am currently making a villa in Palm Jumeirah for a lovely family. The exterior is distinctive from our other villas, and the interiors are conceived very differently. I made an almost 20-meter span crossing the living area, so we had to hide a support column in the middle. Our solution was to make a sculpture of a gorilla holding the bridge, kind of like King Kong. It is still at the design stage, but right now that is maybe my favourite.
What is the greatest joy of your profession?
When the clients love what they see. They always expect us to do something great, but when we do something better than what they expect, that is my biggest happiness.
And what is the biggest challenge in your work?
For me, the challenge is not related to the projects or clients in general. It is based on one of my clients. Every time we do a new project, he calls me “Hi Kristina, I saw the villa you published in …Why can’t you do this for my villa?”! It is discouraging when he calls because I have to change his project, but at the same time, it is reaffirming that we keep doing new things and that he loves what we do. So, the biggest challenge is – it doesn’t matter if the next project is 2000 m2 less, but it must be better than the previous one. It must have something new. It has to be outstanding, and it must be WOW.
And finally, what about your plans and dreams?
In another lifetime perhaps I’ll make skyscrapers and super huge projects, but I prefer to do a super huge family home. So, I think I am living the dream now. If anything, I would just like to make this dream bigger – bigger company, more team members, nicer villas, but mostly I would like to continue as we do to the maximum of what we can achieve. There are not that many houses that are 20 000 m2, but we have the opportunity to do these, which I would never be able to do in Spain. So, as far as projects are concerned, I am already doing what I really love.
“I don’t think you can succeed as a Woman in industries like Architecture and Construction unless you have very strong character and Team Leader Skills.”
List of awards, B8 Architecture
ME CONSULTANT AWARDS
Architectural Design Company of the Year: Finalist
Interior Design Company of the Year: Winner
ARCHITECTURE, CONSTRUCTION & DESIGN AWARDS 2022
Villa EH: First Award for Private Residence (Large) (Concept). Winner
Villa EH: First Award for Interiors – Residential (Concept). Winner
Palm D117: First Award for Woman in Construction Award (Built). Winner
Palm D117: Runner-Up Private Residence (small-medium) (Built). Finalist
Palm D117: Runner-Up Interiors-Residential (Built). Finalist