Building Blocks, Asian architecture is on the rise and it’s a work of art
by Adele Chong, Sep, 2011 [View PDF]
Ole Scheeren doesn’t drink coffee. This wouldn’t be interesting if he didn’t work in a profession which sees its hardcore practitioners clock twenty-hour workdays for weeks on end. In his defence, he mutters about drinking a litre of water every morning and how this has sustained him through his most trying days, thus rendering caffeine fixes obsolete. Given that Scheeren, a former partner at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the renowned Dutch practice famously tasked with overseeing the controversial China Central Television headquarters in Beijing—a job that was surely accompanied by its share of wrecked nerves and sleepless nights—that’s one hell of an endorsement for just water.
But Scheeren hasn’t agreed to meet to discuss trivial health tips. What’s more pressing are his plans for Büro Ole Scheeren, the Beijing-headquartered office he launched last year with his partner Eric Chang. No stranger to the region, the German-born architect travelled eastwards regularly until he made China his base ten years ago. The move has clearly left its mark as far as his approach to devising spatial scenarios is concerned: “Obviously, my roots and my background are very European, but my understanding and current sensitivities have probably become more Asian. I see a lot of potential in exploring this hybrid space in which there is a possibility of being part of one and the other at the same time.”
Prior to his departure from OMA after fifteen years, he oversaw major projects that included the Interlace building in Singapore and the MahaNakhon in Bangkok, a luxury mixed-use skyscraper. The idea of blurring boundaries has long intrigued Scheeren. Ultimately, his aspiration is for Büro OS to become an incubator for commercial and research-based projects that stimulate a genuine dialogue between people and the built environment—works which Scheeren considers more sociological in nature. While a heightened profile within Asia and beyond affords him the attention of interesting clients eager to support his vision, it’s a status that comes with a price. “You’re essentially branded as something that imposes an external perception of you onto yourself and you become confined by expectations that can become rather limiting to your work,” he maintains.
What’s more interesting for him is the vibrant energy of the region itself and how its capacity for improvisation continues to inform his practice. On Southeast Asia, in particular, Scheeren notes: “I love the playfulness and easiness that one can find in cities but also, for example, in the work of certain artists. They convey a sense that you can make something out of almost nothing. For me, that has an incredible value.” Indeed, one foresees this very value being implemented in the case of an upcoming high rise in K.L.—a new magnum opus by Scheeren that will surely herald the start of something exciting as Büro OS gradually moves into its own orbit.