Architecture for 21st Century – Ole Scheeren, Story Telling

Ole Scheeran, architect
Ole Scheeran, architect

Detail atop the Palais Stoclet, architect Josef Hoffman for banker and art lover Adlophe Stoclet, 1905 – 1911, Brussels, Belgium an essay in modernism, now a world heritage site.

Movements in art and design do not happen in isolation. Over the centuries many factors have influenced change from both without and within the world of constructed spaces, whether they are considered sacred or secular.

Architectural structures have vibrant stories to be told from antiquity until today, including a record of private life and of man’s significant achievements.

Architectural design in Europe and America from the 1870’s to 1939 changed the way we think about the design of our built environment forever. The so called modern movement catered to the demands of mechanized production and machine like forms in an Industrial age.

The Parisian L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes held at Paris in 1925 acted as showcase for the first public glimmerings of Modernism. In France the modernists banded together, forming the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM) in 1929, which was active until 1959.

In Germany the Bauhaus already in existence since 1919 under the direction of Walter Gropius, subsequently fostered the considerable talents of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer among many others.

The German pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exhibition, by van der Rohe, was considered the finest expression of pre-WW II German modernism.

Suppressed by the Nazis in 1933 Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer both made the move to the United States.

Ole Scheeran, architect

Ole Scheeran, architect

There they both achieved, leading the way in developing architectural practices that offered an ‘international style and focus’ by demonstrating an austere and forthright use of the most modern materials

Modernists were concerned principally with the least complex method of fitting “form to function” with Charles Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965) aka Le Corbusier, using unelaborated materials and ‘going up’ finally become, more or less, an obsession leading to cities around the world today being full of the seemingly never-ending glass and steel skyscrapers.

In our own age German born Architect Ole Scheeren (b.1971-) who is a high achiever with offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and London and is a visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong, designs ‘buildings that generate both functional and social spaces’.

Ole Scheeren 7

Ole Scheeren looking down on Beijing from the CCTV building for which he was the partner-in-charge at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Beijing and Hong Kong

Like all innovators before him is doing his best to change the way architects think by bucking the ‘status quo’.

Ole Scheeren believes that ‘for much of the past century architecture has been under the spell of the famous doctrine, form follows function which when it became modernity’s ambitious manifesto, also became its detrimental straightjacket’ by ‘condemning it to utilitarian rigour and restrained purpose’.

In this age of technology he is far more interested in the ‘experiences buildings create’.

He asks ‘… how we can create structures that generate relationships and provide a narrative of the users’, allowing the architecture to script the stories.

Ole Scheeren sees architecture as a complex ‘system of relationships’; functional, emotive and social.

He is continually challenging what he believes is now ‘ingrained’, the notion the only way for architecture in the future is up. He is providing interesting alternatives, to create a new style for living.

Today he is on his way to becoming one of the most accomplished architects of his generation on an international scale following in the footsteps as ground breakers like England’s Norman Robert Foster (1935-), Mozart of Modernism, who has also gone into battle for the built environment.

Ole Scheeren Ted

Ole Scheeren giving a TED talk, September 2015

Foster now 80 made his name by taking risks and a radical approach to his projects.

His hallmark specialty was all about providing ‘more with less’, inspired by the words of a respected mentor, who was always provoking and challenging him to think beyond the square and to strive for simplicity.

Ole Scheeren when providing a Ted talk in London in September 2015 noted ‘the people who live and work inside a building are as much a part of that building as concrete, steel and glass.

He asks: ‘can architecture be about collaboration and storytelling instead of the isolation and hierarchy of a typical skyscraper?’

During his career to date working for others he was partner in charge of OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) leading the design and realisation of China’s largest broadcasting company the, CCTV building and then The Interlace in Singapore, named World Building of the Year 2015.

His generation of architects have had a distinct advantage when showcasing the lynch pin for success in today’s construction world, ‘engineering prowess’.

He admits that even a decade ago the ‘loop of interconnected activities’ that is Beijing’s Z shaped CCTV building would have been impossible to achieve.

This is because the technology to measure and calculate the stresses and strains on structures to the finite degree he can, hadn’t advanced as far as they have now.

He has available a system ‘that has no beginning or end’, one that is ‘not about the hierarchical top and bottom’ and like his generation is technologically savvy.

CCTV Building Ole Scheeren

The landmark CCTV Building in Beijing, Ole Scheeren

The proof is in the pudding so to speak; at the CCTV building a giant overhang precariously balances 36 stories above the ground – 11 floors ‘cantilevered out into space’ where you are able to stand on thick sheets of glass.

They are embedded into the floor dangling over Beijing’s largest highway and have a ‘different level of engagement’ with the city below.

The Interlace best

The award winning The Interlace project in Singapore, Ole Scheeren

The Interlace was a ground breaking and extraordinary residential complex in Singapore, with which he provided a whole new approach to contemporary living within the lush green environment it inhabits.

The Interlace Detail

Detail: The Interlace in Singapore

For this extraordinary development he stacked 31 apartment blocks each six storey’s high in a hexagonal arrangement, forming open courtyards and integrating the building beautifully with its lush tropical landscape.

While allowing light and air to flow, vistas to be achieved and by connecting the courtyards via a running track for residents to the activities on the edge of the site, he created a living environment par excellence

Roof gardens, sky terraces with cascading plants spilling from balconies allows nature to expand; it is all about sustainability;

The ‘analysis of sun, wind and micro-climate conditions on site and the integration of low-impact passive energy strategies with water bodies strategically placed within wind corridors as a means of allowing evaporative cooling to happen along the wind paths, reducing local air temperatures and improving thermal comfort in outdoor recreation space’.

Ole Scheeren is gaining a lot of followers.

Having done it for others, he is now aged 44 the principal of Büro Ole Scheeren, a firm that defines itself by the way of a manifesto of positions and intentions

‘We do not only observe or analyse, but we engage and become involved – and we change our own position – while we change our environment’.

‘We think of architecture as a place of habitation – as a social construct – as a space for the life of human beings’.

Ole Scheeren 6

Vancouver detail: “The resulting multiple terraces generated from these horizontal shifts create both physical and emotional connectivity between the indoor and outdoor environment.” Ole Scheeren

One of Büro Ole Scheeren latest projects is in Vancouver, Canada, which will provide a new type of vertical living, certainly not for the feint hearted. They will live in irregularly stacked glass boxes hovering weightlessly over the city below.

There is no doubt it will provide extraordinary experiences ensuring life will be an adventure for those living within, telling a multitude of stories.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Watch Ole Scheeren’s
Ted Talk


Watch Norman Foster
Striving for Simplicity




1 Comment

  • Jenny Esots says:

    The Büro Ole Scheeren vertical living project in Vancouver takes high density living to a new place. However it seems very linear and glass focussed and does not seem to incorporate many environmentally friendly aspects.
    Where are the green spaces? The plant walls, the water storage and solar energy systems?

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