Ole Scheeren is not just another young European architect exploring China’s Capital…
As partner-in-charge of OMA’s most ambitious project to date, he is the architect leading the design and construction of the China Central Television Station (CCTV), and the Television Cultural Center TVCC in Beijing.
A Lian from FMCS met him for an intensive talk to find out more about life in China, his passionate ideas and architecture in general.
FMCS: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I joined Rem Koolhaas and OMA in 1995, and became Partner in 2002. Since 1999 I was leading the projects for Prada, and completed the epicenter stores in New York and Los Angeles.
Now, I am responsible for OMA’s work throughout Asia, with several projects in China and Singapore.
After starting to work in Germany, I was later working on a series of projects through my own studio in the United Kingdom.
Beyond the domains of architecture I collaborated with the graphic designers 2×4, in New York; and I was engaged in a range of art projects and exhibitions, such as Cities on the Move in London and Bangkok, Media City Seoul and the Rotterdam Film Festival.
FMCS: Where do you currently live and work?
I am based in Beijing, in a country that I visited for the first time fourteen years ago.
Back in the days, China was still largely unexplored and underdeveloped, the intensive experience of those 3-months in a completely different world were the beginning of a fantastic relationship with Asia.
FMCS: How did you become interested in architecture?
My father is an architect… It might just have been the strongest reason against becoming one myself, but then again it might have well been the inevitable reason for becoming one.
When I was around fourteen years old I used to go to my father’s office quite often. I picked up many essential aspects in his busy atmosphere and learned a great deal.
Later, after I finished school, the interest in architecture disappeared for a while, somehow the urge went into hibernation, and writing and music kept me busy.
Something in the work captured me instantly, I thought that if something like this is possible [in architecture] then maybe it is worthwhile doing it – and that at some point in my life I would actually want to work with him.
I decided to study architecture. I started in Karlsruhe; after tensions and an unsatisfying time in Germany I went to Lausanne and studied under Luigi Snozzi.
During those years, I traveled a lot and tried to see as much architecture as possible. My aim was to not see architecture through the eye of photography or media, but to see and understand it in real space, out there.
I was looking for something that couldn’t be captured in publications.
Later, I graduated from the Architectural Association in London. After Lausanne I went to Rotterdam, to OMA, I had the feeling that it was time to try pushing things further, and I ended up working with Rem Koolhaas, and its been an intense 11 years.
OMA/Ole Scheeren and Rem Koolhaas. CCTVTVCC. View from Dong San Huan Road, Beijing (computer generated image). © OMA 2006
FMCS: How do you handle the pressure of multiple ongoing projects?
It’s all about strategy and teamwork. In order to coordinate project teams of up to 60 architects, like for CCTV, it is crucial for me to keep complete overview and be able to zoom into details at the same time.
You have to be present on several levels simultaneously, and then shift focus very quickly from project to project, from context to context.
FMCS: What do you like most at your job?
To adapt and improvise, to strategize the process of design as much as the one of implementation.
I am interested in architecture not so much as built object, but more as what I call organizational structures – complex systems of interrelations and interaction.
FMCS: Tell us more about your current project!
The CCTV and TVCC buildings are in a very intense phase of construction at this moment. It’s a very large project, almost 600,000 square meters, and it will serve a population of 10.000 people every day.
Now, many thousand workers are on site going 24/7 to meet the Olympic deadline in 2008. It’s an intense process, and takes the complete focus and attention of a huge team.
And it will remain to be a process, rather than ever become a finished product: a building of this scale will always imply a certain amount of programmatic instability – it is so large, that some parts of the building might already change before the last sections are actually completed. But it is not only the building itself that attains a degree of continuous transformation and instability, it is also its environment of a rapidly changing and developing culture in China.
The project is situated in Beijing’s new Central Business District (CBD), the surging commercial center of the city. CCTV and TVCC will form a vast media landscape, with its 20-hectar site offering parks, media events and spaces for the public to congregate.
The 24-hour activity of the buildings will inject continuous life into the CBD, and the functions of the Television Cultural Center will offer a multitude of spaces for public entertainment.
Construction Sequence, Architecture and Urbanism Chinese Edition 2005: 07 No. 004, Ningbo Publishing House, p 99
FMCS: Why this location?
It’s a political decision, the CBD is located in Beijing’s center but far away enough from the historic inner city. It is the declared center of “newness” – I have seen a computer-generated image that projects the emergence of about 300 skyscrapers here over the next decade.
FMCS: Why didn’t you just follow the ongoing trend to build another skyscraper just aiming for height?
The race for height is pointless – dominance of the skyline by being the tallest is something you can only lose. There will always be someone taller.
We were looking for an identity of the skyscraper that would emerge from other aspects – from its programmatic arrangement, its social impacts, its spatial engagement with its context – we wanted to break the traditional hierarchy implied in the vertical line.
CCTV is a loop folded in space, it creates a circuit of interconnected activities and joins all aspects of television making in one single organism. The loop acts as a non-hierarchical principle, with no beginning and end, no top and bottom, in which all elements form part of a single whole.
The ‘visitor’s loop’, a trajectory for the public to explore the building, gives insight in the processes of media making and transforms the building into an open structure.
The top is no longer occupied by the senior management, but it is accessible to the entire staff in a staff forum.
FMCS: Building such a remarkable project and being in the spotlight, how do you handle criticism?
I take it very serious. You have to accept criticism as part of your work, and you have to be ready to answer it and confront yourself.
I believe it is an unavoidable aspect of pushing the boundaries, of trying to move outside the conservative circles.
FMCS: How do you see contemporary architecture in Beijing?
I think Beijing is on its way to become one of the most influential cities in the world.
Its current process of modernization is dramatic, and with it the emergence of a multitude of architectures – I think you can hardly speak of a singular one here. But while the city is undergoing rapid change, it seems to maintain a character that is maybe no longer the old, but nonetheless distinct and charismatic.
You can feel the presence of power, of an intellectual base, and observe a physical transformation that is producing some remarkable pieces of architecture.
FMCS: How about other projects?
In the Beijing office, we are currently busy with a small headquarters for a Shanghai-based media company, a high-end residential tower in Singapore, and we are preparing for a project for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
There are also plans for new Prada epicenters in Shanghai and Beijing.
PTC - Penang Tropical City
Masterplan for the redevelopment of the Penang Turf Club site in Malaysia
with approximately 2 million square meters of mixed-use program.
FMCS: What or who is your source of inspiration?
Even if it might be a boring answer: It’s everything and nothing, its life in general.
I am not so much interested in direct references. It’s maybe a search for the new, for discovering potentials.
FMCS: What keeps you busy besides work?
Life and work is inseparable at this stage, I’m lucky to work with many of my friends.
Thank you for this Interview!
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