In his first interview since leaving Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Ole Scheeren talks exclusively to Merlin Fulcher about why he is launching a Buro Ole Scheeren London office, early mornings with Cedric Price and Europe’s architectural hang-ups
Why did you go it alone?
I had 15 incredible years with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). Despite the autonomy I had while running the Asian business, I realised there was still another perspective for the rest of my life. I am in the process of setting up a London base as a means to re-engage with the European context.
What are you working on?
A 250m tower in Malaysia and a studio for a Beijing-based artist.
What do you think is next for the skyscraper typology?
OMA’s CCTV building was about creating a spatially folded loop, whereas my design for the planned MahaNakhon skyscraper in Bangkok, Thailand, is about opening up a new shaft of the building and introducing a much smaller scale and grain. The tower I am designing in Malaysia will address a similar set of questions, but answer them in a different way.
For me, the greatest hero of British architecture is Cedric Price.
Who is your favourite British architect?
For me, the greatest hero of British architecture is Cedric Price. We had the idea of using one of his moveable marketplaces for the Cities on the Move show at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1999. He would say: ‘You can only meet me between 7am and 9am, because after that I become very confused and cannot have clear conversations any more.’
Will you recruit UK architects?
London produces students who generate a lot of thinking power and critical power. I’m working with a number of British people.
What do you like about London?
I lived in London for a few years in the second half of the 1990s. For me, it is simply the most vibrant and international place in Europe. I have a sense that this is the right thing to do. I’m looking forward to returning to the city, in which I always felt there were far more possibilities than actually came to life. London has an incredible energy and openness that, surprisingly, doesn’t always translate to architecture; it would be very exciting if that could happen more often.
So why return to London at this time of economic uncertainty? There are no economic reasons whatsoever. If it was purely about economics I would stick to Asia. It’s much better to set up when it’s not going well than to set up when it is. Maybe that’s optimistic, but to me it seems a very good time to form this new company and this new office.
Does Europe still suffer from a ‘culture of hesitation’, as you once said?
Europe struggles very hard with having one of the greatest cultural heritages and value systems. The good side of that brings about a true sense of criticality, but it also leads to huge hesitation and a culture of regret. This perpetually imposes a defined set of standards and criteria, which disables it from being more courageous.
Did you consider setting up in any other UK cities?
Source: © OMA