Interview: Asia To Become Global Creative Centre, Top Architect Says

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Interview: Asia To Become Global Creative Centre, Top Architect Says

by Andreas Landwehr, Dec 21, 2011[View PDF]

Asia will become a creative as well as an economic centre for the world, says German architect Ole Scheeren, whose company has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and London.

Scheeren became known for leading the project for the China Central Television Station (CCTV) in Beijing while he was partner and director of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).
After 15 years with Koolhaas, Scheeren says the time came to launch his own architecture studio a year ago.
‘I was interested at this stage in starting up an office with a creative base in Asia,’ Scheeren says in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa in Beijing.

‘Not a European office, which only sends things here for execution. When I was still at OMA, I already said: I do not want to do CCTV from Europe. For me, it is a Chinese project that I wanted to do from China. (…) I want to know what happens when we think from a Chinese perspective and not a European one.’

dpa: What happens when one works here? How does it differ?

Scheeren: We are working in a context which focuses explicitly on the future instead of being a purely risk-averse environment. There is a much more future-oriented psychology and a society which asks concrete questions about new possibilities. I’m interested in exploring new approaches – whether it is for a tropical high-rise in Southeast Asia, a communal residential development, a new television station or an artist’s studio.

dpa: Is Asia more optimistic?

Scheeren: I think Asia has a lot of optimism, not just China. China’s rise has given all of Asia a tremendous amount of energy – partly out of necessity and partly out of enthusiasm. Since China has become so dominant, everyone else has to think about how to maintain their position or how to redefine themselves. That generates dynamism, and architecture can play a role in that.

dpa: Your project of a high-rise in Kuala Lumpur seems not as spectacular as the CCTV tower in Beijing.

Scheeren: It would be a mistake to compare all projects with CCTV. It is a truly exceptional project which marked the start of China’s new role in the world – its entry into the World Trade Organization and hosting the Olympic Games. It happened within this specific historic framework – I think today a similar project wouldn’t be possible anymore. Architecture is a lot about timing.

dpa: What is special about your project in Kuala Lumpur?

Scheeren: It explicitly raises the question of the role a building can play for a city. How it opens up towards the public realm, and how it integrates people. It is also a prototype of extreme urban density and accommodates a large amount of space on a very small piece of land.

dpa: Are high-rises seen differently in Asia?

Scheeren: There are rather different psychological attitudes towards this typology, which has positive connotations in Asia, but is seen much more critically in Europe. Europe has more of a historical city fabric that stands in a stark contrast to high-rises. Many Asian cities emerge from tabula rasa or on yet unbuilt territory such as farmland.

dpa: Are things slowing down now in China?

Scheeren: The wave of Olympic enthusiasm has calmed down somewhat, but things haven’t really got much slower. At the time, many people predicted a post-Olympic crash. But the crash occurred in America, not here. There is still a lot of interest and a necessity to build more. And there is also a growing focus on sustainability and quality.

dpa: Do you see more creativity in Asia compared to Europe and the United States?

Scheeren: The West does not take as many risks as this society, which is understandable. Everything is well developed and there is more to lose, which is simply a fact in a mature society. Europe is more focused on maintaining its existing structures than a developing country which hasn’t achieved so much yet.

dpa: Do you still feel drawn to Europe?

Scheeren: Yes, I would be very interested in working in Europe again. That is where my roots are. Despite the economic downturn, I think it is an interesting time. Over the next year, I want to focus on starting some work in Europe. I would like to project back the experiences I have gathered over the past decade in this incredibly dynamic environment.

dpa: When will Chinese architects venture out into the world?

Scheeren: There is so much to do here at the moment. But things will start to change, and China will shift from being the world’s factory to having more and more creative output. This is part of the future – there will no longer be just ‘Made in China’, but also ‘Designed in China.’ Our office here is part of this shift. We like to think from within this context – and this is only the beginning.