It is not often that you encounter an international architectural practice operating from a residential front room. Or one working on a £20 million office scheme to be built on a site sandwiched between iconic Modern buildings from Corb, Mies, Gropius, Scharoun and others on the one side and a further site given over to an international building exhibition on the other. Not often, but both are the case with Bogevischs Buero, a five-year-old Anglo-German practice of just six staff, two of whom do their work from a small flat just off Shoot Up Hill in West Hampstead, north London.
In London there is Rainer Hofmann, an intense, black-clad, shaven-headed and bespectacled architect who teaches at the AAand has worked at practices ranging from Sauerbruch Hutton to MacCormac Jamieson Prichard. Thirty-five-year-old Hofmann co-founded Bogevischs Buero in 1996 and is in charge of the London end, but he is also working on commercial office buildings with Horden Cherry Lee.
Then there is Hofmann's fellow founder of the firm, the delightfully named Ritz Ritzer. He is based in a larger office in Munich, and first hooked up with Hofmann when they both studied there. Ritzer's speciality is low-cost housing and ecological design - he says he was an early pioneer of sustainability in 1993 with a series of 14 prefabricated houses in ecological timber stud construction he built in Thurnau, Germany. He is also a trained carpenter.
The third person in the frame is Triesteborn Teresa Stoppani, a straight-talking, thirty-five-year-old Italian who, like Hofmann, is a unit master at the AA. She has worked from the London space since joining the firm last year and trained in Venice. She is now doing a PhD.
But perhaps the key thing is the project which has catapulted them into fame - a curvaceous, 12,000m 2, naturally-ventilated office scheme for Bulow in Stuttgart (AJ 21.12.00). Boomerang-shaped in plan and featuring a casino and restaurant on the ground floor, it will have incredibly illustrious neighbours. It will be built a stone's throw from Weissenhof, the hillside exhibition housing settlement designed in 1927 by architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Peter Behrens.
And on other side of the trapezoidal site is a stretch of land given over to another exhibition of buildings to be held in 2002.
The idea is for IBA, as the exhibition is called, to be a kind of emulation of the Weissenhof in that a series of architects will be asked to create buildings, probably with an ecological bent. Good neighbours indeed, and a useful springboard for other work.
The practice, not surprisingly, thrives on what Hofmann calls 'cross-fertilizing' - taking elements of approaches to design from Germany and England and from each other's different backgrounds. This is, they say, emphasised by the practice name, Bogevischs Buero, chosen because it is 'meaningless', is purposefully non-fancy and sounds like a 'network' rather than the names of the partners.
'The network idea is very important, ' says Ritzer. 'We draw a lot from each other, ' adds Hofmann. 'It's very important to stress that we're not three individuals - we're interested in collaboration.'
This is also apparent in an unusual scheme all three contributed to, which they describe as a kind of communal house for nomads. A drawing was begun by one of 12 students who were on Ritzer and Hofmann's Munich course and was then forwarded to another, who added to the design. They passed it on and the paper travelled on and on around the world, stopping in places such as New York, Vienna, and of course Munich and London, gaining new elements of the design from the 12 contributing architects, like a latter-day version of the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. 'It was a theoretical exercise, ' says Hofmann. 'The key idea was to look at contemporary housing.'
The project was shown at the Venice Biennale and the three seem determined to build it someday, somewhere.
Housing remains a fascination, especially with what the trio perceive as a changing sector in this country. There are, they say, the first signs that Britain is finally getting wise to well-designed, innovative forms of housing, with schemes such as Proctor Matthews' Greenwich Village (see page 26) springing up - in contrast to the output of the volume housebuilders. Why have things changed?
'It's because it's already changed everywhere else, ' says Stoppani. The Dutch - always ahead on housing - know how to use space, she says, and how to produce densities.
Hofmann suggests Brits are becoming more 'European' because they are travelling more.
But boundaries across the globe are blurring, he adds. 'I wouldn't say I'm a German architect now. I'm an architect.'
The three of course want to do more in the housing sector and to grow to a 'medium sized practice' in what they call a 'proper' office. But whatever happens, the future seems to hinge on the trio's biggest win to date, the glowing Bulow building, destined for its site of special architectural interest.
And on such wins, careers are made.