Ole Scheeren Perspective
by Astrid Fernandez, Jun, 2005 [View PDF]
In this interview, OMA [Office for metropolitan architecture] partner, Ole Scheeren talks about Rem Koolhaas, his work, and setting up shop in Beijing.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in 1971 in Karlsruhe, Germany. After high school I moved around a lot, mostly for work, partly to study – ultimately to be exposed to a multitude of cultures and environments. I lived in Switzerland, the Netherlands, New York, London and Bangkok before returning to Rotterdam. And now I’ve just relocated to Beijing.
What were your first architectural experiences?
Funnily enough, my first activities in architecture were actually more about destruction rather than creation. When I was still a baby, I was crawling through the corridors of the architecture faculty at the university where my father was a student and assistant teacher. I loved to play with scale models that I found stacked in shelves, and would ultimately dismantle and destroy them…
I began working in his office when I was 14 years old, and by the time I had finished high school, I had done a number of projects and also opened my own studio for model-making. During the second semester of my architecture studies I completed my first independent construction project. It was a very good experience to go through all the responsibilities and different phases of the project that early, to deal with the client, do the design, and the execution. I learned a lot about the actual process and dependencies.
The fact that my father is an architect was probably one of the strongest reasons against becoming one. I wanted to be anything but that, and was more interested in literature and my rock band. But I guess in the end it was also the reason not to escape it.
What finally made you decide to become an architect?
Probably the key experience that made me decide to go in this direction was when I met a guy who had just won a competition for a multimedia building in my hometown – it was Rem Koolhaas, presenting OMA’s design for the ZKM [centre for art and media]. There was a power and eloquence to the thinking and the architecture that I felt very connected to. It was not only the design of a building, but some kind of a method of thinking, a sense somewhere between the analytical and the practical, and something ultimately contemporary, that I found incredibly thought if this is actually possible, then it is maybe worth becoming an architect.
Can you tell us a bit about OMA?
OMA was founded in 1975, and the only partner still with the office since then is Rem Koolhaas. During the late 1980s OMA became well-known through a series of major international competitions. It was only later that OMA started to realize some key projects, like the Kunsthal in Rotterdam and Euralille, a new city centre including the major high-speed train hub in the north of France. Towards the end of the ‘90s OMA received several major commissions, including projects for Prada, a student centre for IIT in Chicago, the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin, the Seattle Public Library and the Casa da Musica in Porto. The growth of the office brought about a different structure – we are now several partners sharing the work of the office across the world. I joined OMA 10 years ago and have been leading the Rotterdam office as a director in the past few years. Now I am setting up an office for OMA in Beijing to head all our Asian projects from here.
How do you pinpoint your design style given your wide range of work?
I would say that a ‘style’ is exactly what we have always tried to avoid in our work. It has rather been about formulating very different proposals in very different situations. We have a strong interest in the ‘programme’, in the actual functions and requirements that are to be accommodated in a building. To understand the client’s needs – but also to question and challenge them – is an important part of the process. In a way you could say that it is about identifying ‘potentials’ – with regards to the functions, the site, the usage, the typology, and in the end the position of the project within contemporary society.
Which projects are you currently in charge of?
CCTV, a new TV station and cultural centre for China’s national broadcaster, is under construction, as well as BBB, a books building and media centre. Both are in Beijing.
What previous project under your lead has been the most interesting for you?
The projects for Prada were quite special in a number of ways. Prada is a client with certain sensibilities and interests that made for a very inspiring and producing relationship. We have now also started to work on stores for Prada in China…
Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to design yet that you’d like to try?
I think that exploring new territory, both architecturally and culturally, is maybe what I am most fascinated by. Right now I am very interested in Asia, and through my relocating to Beijing I personally also made a huge commitment to this part of the world. So probably it’s going to be something over here…