The Esteemed Winy Maas’ Fresh Perspective on Entrepreneurship [Interview]

Winy Maas is an architect known for a variety of innovative and revolutionary projects (like The Why Factory. I got a chance to sit down and chat with him briefly after his keynote at C2-MTL. Given his innovative approaches to buildings (i.e. hanging apartments around silos to create an affordable residence, or balancing a house on a hill), I started off asking for his perspective on breaking through skepticism and fear—especially for younger professionals.

HERBERT: What would you say was the best way to get over fear, especially for people with less-established credentials? How do we find the courage to put forth our ideas?

WINY: A couple of ideas are needed when one is to collaborate, simply with people that have certain kinds of conviction. For instance technical means, so that you collaborate with people that can make it or build it. So that makes it already more credible and easier to accept.

The other thing is simply talk with clients and take them through a process where you test, basically, different options. Then you find out where value is, and then actually it’s surprising to see that many clients say that they want more than a normal thing.

They want it somehow to be more outstanding, and in certain pieces more deep, and that’s actually the spark. You can start to discuss openly where to invest in.

I think that’s also needed, because it is horrible if an architect comes in and drops an idea. No. Someone has to personalize it, and everyone has to defend it. Not only me.

HERBERT: Could you tell us a bit more about The Why Factory?

WINY: It’s a pity I couldn’t express it in [the speech]. My last chapter was the Why Factory but those seven minutes were not left. It’s a research institute that is paid by different institutions and that want to study only model future cities.

Practically, it’s basically a Master’s education, a PhD school. A post-graduate school that is combined so that a Master’s student becomes more research-oriented, tests things, with the PhDs.

We concentrate in three manners of research for the future cities. One is to model an abstract city; change one parameter, and see how that works out.

HERBERT: An example of a parameter would be?

WINY: Well, the Skycar city was one example of a pass, so when there are no cars, no bikes, then the city will change. We do study how to give any destination in a city, the reach within four to five minutes. We call that the five minute city project. By foot, or by bike, or by horse, by scooter.

Another parameter is biodiversity, so we test how we can have more wolves in our city, and bears. Not only that, we make a complete food chain and see how products, even pavement, can help to establish a relationship with the biodiversity chain.

There’s a food city project, which wants to visualize new modes of massive connections between food production and urbanism. I’m not talking only about small scale urban farming, which is cute [grins] on a large scale. I am very sympathetic, I have nothing against it.

HERBERT: When you decided to push out on your own, with the other partners: what really convicted you to do it? What were the toughest moments?

WINY: Oh, oooh. [He gazes past me.] The conviction was already there when I was born, I guess. Simply, I wanted to do it.

The second thing: I never said I want to be big. Or, maybe I wanted to [grins], but I kept it in my heart. I try, that’s what I always said.

The third thing: what is the Dutch expression? I want to be in the winds. I hate windless areas. It basically means where discussion is, you can find me. That’s the zone where things are moving.

The fourth matter: never put everything in one building. Make a collection of buildings, so that everyone addresses one subject or topic. Otherwise you’ll lose yourself. Always, I wanted not to do only architecture, but also urbanism and research.

And the tough moments, the first one – business-wise, there are moments that I remember when we were shot into the Asian market. In the beginning, this Asian market is a complete other kind of financial payment system. Basically, we waited for them to pay for a year. That’s impossible! In the beginning. Because we don’t have a budget for doing it. So it almost ruined the office, that job.

HERBERT: For any aspiring architects, designers, and entrepreneurs, do you have any key ideas or key messages?

WINY: Be yourself, enormously. Be different. Be strong. And try to beat the former generation.


It was relieving to hear an untraditional approach to entrepreneurship. Maas didn’t tell stories about setting up lemonade stands when he was a kid (no disrespect, Gary Vee), but instead gave us insight into how entrepreneurship gives him artistic freedom and the ability to explore more than just one field. Maas shared a reminder to stay modest, and an inspiring statement for youth from everywhere to aspire towards.

Thanks for the interview, Winy!