Why great architecture should tell a story | Ole Scheeren

Why great architecture should tell a story | Ole Scheeren


For much of the past century, architecture was under the spell
of a famous doctrine. “Form follows function” had become
modernity’s ambitious manifesto and detrimental straitjacket, as it liberated architecture
from the decorative, but condemned it to utilitarian rigor
and restrained purpose. Of course, architecture is about function, but I want to remember a rewriting
of this phrase by Bernard Tschumi, and I want to propose
a completely different quality. If form follows fiction, we could think of architecture
and buildings as a space of stories — stories of the people that live there, of the people that work
in these buildings. And we could start to imagine
the experiences our buildings create. In this sense, I’m interested in fiction not as the implausible but as the real, as the reality of what architecture means for the people that live
in it and with it. Our buildings are prototypes,
ideas for how the space of living or how the space of working
could be different, and what a space of culture
or a space of media could look like today. Our buildings are real;
they’re being built. They’re an explicit engagement
in physical reality and conceptual possibility. I think of our architecture
as organizational structures. At their core is indeed
structural thinking, like a system: How can we arrange things
in both a functional and experiential way? How can we create structures
that generate a series of relationships and narratives? And how can fictive stories of the inhabitants and users
of our buildings script the architecture, while the architecture scripts
those stories at the same time? And here comes the second term into play, what I call “narrative hybrids” — structures of multiple
simultaneous stories that unfold throughout
the buildings we create. So we could think of architecture
as complex systems of relationships, both in a programmatic and functional way and in an experiential
and emotive or social way. This is the headquarters
for China’s national broadcaster, which I designed together
with Rem Koolhaas at OMA. When I first arrived in Beijing in 2002,
the city planners showed us this image: a forest of several hundred skyscrapers to emerge in the central
business district, except at that time,
only a handful of them existed. So we had to design in a context
that we knew almost nothing about, except one thing:
it would all be about verticality. Of course, the skyscraper is vertical —
it’s a profoundly hierarchical structure, the top always the best,
the bottom the worst, and the taller you are,
the better, so it seems. And we wanted to ask ourselves, could a building be about
a completely different quality? Could it undo this hierarchy,
and could it be about a system that is more about collaboration,
rather than isolation? So we took this needle
and bent it back into itself, into a loop of interconnected activities. Our idea was to bring all aspects
of television-making into one single structure: news,
program production, broadcasting, research and training, administration — all into a circuit
of interconnected activities where people would meet in a process
of exchange and collaboration. I still very much like this image. It reminds one of biology classes,
if you remember the human body with all its organs
and circulatory systems, like at school. And suddenly you think of architecture
no longer as built substance, but as an organism, as a life form. And as you start to dissect this organism, you can identify a series
of primary technical clusters — program production,
broadcasting center and news. Those are tightly intertwined
with social clusters: meeting rooms, canteens, chat areas — informal spaces for people
to meet and exchange. So the organizational structure
of this building was a hybrid between the technical and the social, the human and the performative. And of course, we used the loop
of the building as a circulatory system, to thread everything together
and to allow both visitors and staff to experience all these different
functions in a great unity. With 473,000 square meters, it is one of the largest buildings
ever built in the world. It has a population of over 10,000 people, and of course, this is a scale
that exceeds the comprehension of many things and the scale
of typical architecture. So we stopped work for a while and sat down and cut 10,000 little sticks
and glued them onto a model, just simply to confront ourselves
with what that quantity actually meant. But of course, it’s not a number, it is the people, it is a community
that inhabits the building, and in order to both comprehend
this, but also script this architecture, we identified five characters,
hypothetical characters, and we followed them throughout their day
in a life in this building, thought of where they would meet,
what they would experience. So it was a way to script and design
the building, but of course, also to communicate its experiences. This was part of an exhibition
with the Museum of Modern Art in both New York and Beijing. This is the main broadcast control room, a technical installation so large, it can broadcast over 200
channels simultaneously. And this is how the building
stands in Beijing today. Its first broadcast live
was the London Olympics 2012, after it had been completed
from the outside for the Beijing Olympics. And you can see at the very tip
of this 75-meter cantilever, those three little circles. And they’re indeed part of a public loop
that goes through the building. They’re a piece of glass
that you can stand on and watch the city pass by
below you in slow motion. The building has become
part of everyday life in Beijing. It is there. It has also become a very popular backdrop for wedding photography. (Laughter) But its most important moment
is maybe sill this one. “That’s Beijing” is similar to “Time Out,” a magazine that broadcasts what
is happening in town during the week, and suddenly you see the building
portrayed no longer as physical matter, but actually as an urban actor, as part of a series of personas
that define the life of the city. So architecture suddenly
assumes the quality of a player, of something that writes stories
and performs stories. And I think that could be one
of its primary meanings that we believe in. But of course, there’s another
story to this building. It is the story of the people
that made it — 400 engineers and architects
that I was guiding over almost a decade of collaborative work that we spent together
in scripting this building, in imagining its reality and ultimately getting it built in China. This is a residential development
in Singapore, large scale. If we look at Singapore like most of Asia
and more and more of the world, of course, it is dominated by the tower, a typology that indeed creates
more isolation than connectedness, and I wanted to ask, how
could we think about living, not only in terms of the privacy
and individuality of ourselves and our apartment, but in an idea of a collective? How could we think about creating
a communal environment in which sharing things was as great
as having your own? The typical answer to the question —
we had to design 1,040 apartments — would have looked like this: 24-story height limit given
by the planning authorities, 12 towers with nothing
but residual in between — a very tight system that,
although the tower isolates you, it doesn’t even give you privacy,
because you’re so close to the next one, that it is very questionable
what the qualities of this would be. So I proposed to topple the towers,
throw the vertical into the horizontal and stack them up, and what looks a bit random from the side, if you look from the viewpoint
of the helicopter, you can see its organizational structure
is actually a hexagonal grid, in which these horizontal
building blocks are stacked up to create huge outdoor courtyards —
central spaces for the community, programmed with a variety
of amenities and functions. And you see that these courtyards
are not hermetically sealed spaces. They’re open, permeable;
they’re interconnected. We called the project “The Interlace,” thinking that we interlace
and interconnect the human beings and the spaces alike. And the detailed quality
of everything we designed was about animating the space
and giving the space to the inhabitants. And, in fact, it was a system where we would layer
primarily communal spaces, stacked to more and more
individual and private spaces. So we would open up a spectrum between the collective and the individual. A little piece of math: if we count all the green
that we left on the ground, minus the footprint of the buildings, and we would add back
the green of all the terraces, we have 112 percent green space, so more nature than not
having built a building. And of course this little piece of math
shows you that we are multiplying the space available
to those who live there. This is, in fact, the 13th floor
of one of these terraces. So you see new datum planes,
new grounds planes for social activity. We paid a lot of attention
to sustainability. In the tropics, the sun is the most
important thing to pay attention to, and, in fact, it is seeking
protection from the sun. We first proved that all apartments
would have sufficient daylight through the year. We then went on to optimize
the glazing of the facades to minimize the energy
consumption of the building. But most importantly, we could prove
that through the geometry of the building design, the building itself would provide
sufficient shading to the courtyards so that those would be usable
throughout the entire year. We further placed water bodies
along the prevailing wind corridors, so that evaporative cooling
would create microclimates that, again, would enhance
the quality of those spaces available for the inhabitants. And it was the idea of creating
this variety of choices, of freedom to think
where you would want to be, where you would want to escape, maybe, within the own complexity
of the complex in which you live. But coming from Asia to Europe: a building for a German
media company based in Berlin, transitioning from the traditional
print media to the digital media. And its CEO asked a few
very pertinent questions: Why would anyone today
still want to go to the office, because you can actually work anywhere? And how could a digital identity
of a company be embodied in a building? We created not only an object,
but at the center of this object we created a giant space, and this space was about
the experience of a collective, the experience of collaboration
and of togetherness. Communication, interaction
as the center of a space that in itself would float, like what we call the collaborative cloud, in the middle of the building, surrounded by an envelope
of standard modular offices. So with only a few steps
from your quiet work desk, you could participate
in the giant collective experience of the central space. Finally, we come to London,
a project commissioned by the London Legacy
Development Corporation of the Mayor of London. We were asked to undertake a study and investigate the potential of a site out in Stratford in the Olympic Park. In the 19th century, Prince Albert
had created Albertopolis. And Boris Johnson thought
of creating Olympicopolis. The idea was to bring together
some of Britain’s greatest institutions, some international ones,
and to create a new system of synergies. Prince Albert, as yet, created
Albertopolis in the 19th century, thought of showcasing
all achievements of mankind, bringing arts and science closer together. And he built Exhibition Road,
a linear sequence of those institutions. But of course, today’s society
has moved on from there. We no longer live in a world in which everything
is as clearly delineated or separated from each other. We live in a world in which
boundaries start to blur between the different domains, and in which collaboration and interaction
becomes far more important than keeping separations. So we wanted to think
of a giant culture machine, a building that would orchestrate
and animate the various domains, but allow them to interact
and collaborate. At the base of it is a very simple module, a ring module. It can function as a double-loaded
corridor, has daylight, has ventilation. It can be glazed over and turned into a giant
exhibitional performance space. These modules were stacked together with the idea that almost any
function could, over time, occupy any of these modules. So institutions could shrink or contract, as, of course, the future of culture
is, in a way, the most uncertain of all. This is how the building sits,
adjacent to the Aquatics Centre, opposite the Olympic Stadium. And you can see how
its cantilevering volumes project out and engage the public space and how its courtyards
animate the public inside. The idea was to create a complex system in which institutional entities
could maintain their own identity, in which they would not
be subsumed in a singular volume. Here’s a scale comparison
to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It both shows the enormous scale
and potential of the project, but also the difference: here, it is a multiplicity
of a heterogeneous structure, in which different entities can interact without losing their own identity. And it was this thought: to create
an organizational structure that would allow for multiple
narratives to be scripted — for those in the educational parts
that create and think culture; for those that present
the visual arts, the dance; and for the public to be
admitted into all of this with a series of possible trajectories, to script their own reading
of these narratives and their own experience. And I want to end on a project
that is very small, in a way, very different: a floating cinema
in the ocean of Thailand. Friends of mine had founded
a film festival, and I thought, if we think of the stories
and narratives of movies, we should also think of the narratives
of the people that watch them. So I designed a small
modular floating platform, based on the techniques
of local fishermen, how they built their lobster
and fish farms. We collaborated with the local community and built, out of recycled
materials of their own, this fantastical floating platform that gently moved in the ocean as we watched films
from the British film archive, [1903] “Alice in Wonderland,” for example. The most primordial
experiences of the audience merged with the stories of the movies. So I believe that architecture exceeds
the domain of physical matter, of the built environment, but is really about how
we want to live our lives, how we script our own stories
and those of others. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why great architecture should tell a story | Ole Scheeren

  1. Narrative hybrids – c'moan. If you cannot speak in a way that engages with the non-elite how do you expect to reach the non-elite with architecture?

  2. I always dream about a society with a vast architectural variety. Like the architechture of a home being the extension of personality.

    I would give my life to show people what that dream looked like. The view was incredible I have never seen anything like it before. From Glass dome homes, to curvilinear led lined futurist houses, to cake shaped houses, to pyramid houses, it just went on and on and on. Way beyond my wildest imagination.

    I immediately just knew after seeing that dream, that that was the direction humanity needed to head in. There was so much attention to individuality, personality, etc.

    It sounds so stupid talking about it, but if you could have seen the view i saw in the dream, you would just know.

  3. This is exciting , why do so many architects complain so much when there are so many opportunities out there ? It almost makes no sense to say it's a dying field when you see this kind of innovation taking place. Offices and schools will become playgrounds for people to interact more closely. This is amazing

  4. FFF is so 1920. You'd think after nearly 100 years of Sullivanthian thinking that we'd move on to the beauty that a totalitarian box gives, dominating it's human space. There's nothing beautiful about this. It's like a form of the International movement.

  5. that's the newliberal green investment architecture….. togethernes for slaves, free slaves! that's not the sence of common space. because companies are the owners and not the people. and companies will wright our lives!

  6. Lots of jealous comments here….such arrigance!! This guy is obviously a very intelligent and passionate architect with something to offer…

  7. Hideous self-indulgent garbage. Architecture is dead for all intents and purposes if not one is capable of exhibiting taste.

  8. MUST LEARN FROM MOTHER NATURE- It never "builds" anything to serve human public. Nature is "serving" every living form as a unique form of life that is granted abilities to evolve within Natural conditions and changes.. To build and "organize" man-made gigantic closed structures, systems or whatever you may imagine, under WRETCHED HUMAN DESIGN, or better to say ARTIFICIAL CONTROL, IS STILL HAS TERRORISTIC MENTALITY to CONTROL OTHERS AS "GROUPS", that is overwhelming our psychotic cities. Urban architecture is incredibly outdated today.. it is still governed by the notorious ideas of the over 100 years old MODERN style. THE NEW PHILOSOPHY AND SOUND PSYCHOLOGY THAT MAY FINALY HELP US EVOLVE, SURVIVE AND EVEN BECOME HEALTHIER CREATURES, IS ROOTED IN OUR RESPECT TOWARD UNAVOIDABLE UNIQUENESS IN NATURE AND WITHIN OURSELVES, AS INDIVIDUALS. LEARN THAT WE ARE NOT BORN TO BE "PUBLIC" MANIPULATED BY OUR "SYSTEMS" Build small diverse structures that are easier to improve and fix, create urban infrastructures for denizens not for public utilities, transportation or gigantic mass-productions that always fall a part creating local and global disasters. Create small towns with smaller homes and SPECIAL business buildings that SUPPORT SUSTAINABILITY. One shall have a choice to build what he loves, from underground, or stone innovative sustainable homes to beautiful fairy tail buildings… the more creative our choice the happier life we live. Not the leading architects and engineers who have all the control over our heads, but we are, the denizens themselves, are developing fascinating diverse and highly Sustainable communities, new skills, and creative meaningful jobs.
    OUR SICK PSYCHOLOGY IS TRAPPED IN OUR MAD SYSTEMS OF ALL SORTS TRYING TO CONTROL US AS GROUPS..

  9. ooo, the comment section is totally something else, other than that I thought this video was beautiful, and well spoken

  10. I used to like that strange office building in China.
    Now that I know the thought process behind its design, I still like it.
    But not as much as before.

    Can you be any more full of meaningless buzzwords and your own ego?

    That second one is just a blatant larger scale ripoff of the brutalist masterpiece that is Habitat 67, in Canada. It's amazing, but claiming it was your own genius idea seems like a complete lie.

  11. we have featured this video in our website http://themicrobit.com/futuristic-architecture-designs-may-become-reality/

  12. I wonder what would change in his presentation after he lives a year in one of the middle-range apartments in that beehive.

  13. I have to agree that this talk is pretty much total bullsh!t composed of meaningless buzzwords. Like most modern architecture, his examples are monuments to hubris more than functional, inviting spaces in which to congregate and interact. Personally, I hate architecture which is so heavily scripted that I can only do the functions that the architect foresaw that I would need to do and no others. Spaces should have a certain amount of flexibility to them so that we can make them ours and find or arrange places to do our own thing.

    He seems particularly proud of the fact that 10k people can actually perform all the technical functions of broadcasting in his Brutalist CCTV Headquarters. Isn't this the very least that the building should be able to do? It does lead me to wonder, however, if they couldn't do it more efficiently with fewer people if the design was more straightforward. When (not if) the technical requirements for broadcasting change, CCTV will probably find this building to be obsolete. It already looks obsolete now that Brutalism is no longer in style. One thing is for sure, he did not eliminate hierarchy from this building. It's still there, but now it is even more top heavy than a normal skyscraper. It's a sure bet that CCTV will suffer from too many chiefs and not enough Indians as function expands over time to fill the form.

  14. Those are some of the ugliest buildings ever build, like a child would stock up a bunch of cereal boxes, yet this guy is so proud of them.
    Snake oil merchant if I ever saw one, that guy is

  15. Most of negative comment derive by the fear of people with new things and new ideas to live the Earth. Thank the artchitectes, because they do this work for us. Sorry my english, I was still learning

  16. I wonder why all these great German architects are not given the opportunities to showcase their great work in their cities.

  17. Architecture is just as bad as modern art. Its all bullshit. I hate everything about it. I hope this guy chokes to death on a big mac.

  18. This buildings don't have style is like mutated child and you are happy about it. Is fucking ugly and only a stupid communist can make such crap.

  19. Absolute pretentious crap! All we're getting is waffle, waffle, WAFFLE… all to excuse the fact that it looks ugly. Just look at that picture at 6:18. IS THERE A SINGLE PERSON HERE WHO THINKS THAT'S A POSITIVE IMAGE OF BEIJING? Anyone? Come on!

    And just look at 14:05. It looks like an assortment of disorganized shoe boxes!

    These soulless, faceless, grey monstrosities cause nothing but crime and depression. All over the world, it's the same: GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat -> GREY, GLASS, STEEL repeat.

    Ladies and gentlemen… globalism.

  20. TED Talks are goddamn college essay talks by people that liked college. Frank Lloyd Wright was to architecture what Bobby Fischer was to chess

  21. 그냥 랜드마크고, 유명해져서 그렇다는 소리를
    저렇게 장황하게 부풀려서 설명하는 사기에 가까운 발언에 박수를 보낸다.
    역시 건축은 포장이 최우선인듯.

  22. When I was starting my career I've always thought of myself as an artist. As I start to delve deeper, a lesson hit me "Lookin pretty is not top priority" and boy that was tough to swallow. Aesthetically pleasing work wows people but it opens a ton of questions. What's this? what's that? what is that for? this doesn't look right?

    FUNCTION first. FORM follows. And you can always maximize BOTH. It's also more feasible and offers a bigger challenge in terms of creativity.

    I'm an artist but I'm a designer first (web tech).

  23. You can tell many beautiful stories about what you have done so far, but as a viewer the buildings you have already designed and constructed are absolutely ugly! comparing to many great architects that can feel and express the quality of space what you have achieved are just bunch of beautiful diagrams and sentences that are not greatly translated into forms or volumes.

  24. HD cctv building in Beijing named one of the ugliest building
    https://asiasociety.org/northern-california/top-ten-chinas-ugliest-buildings

  25. Hi! Does anybody have any tips/ideas on what program or software they use for making those isometric diagrams? It would be much appreciated! Thanks 🙂

  26. His buildings are ugly and have no details. The lecture is full of bullshits. There are so many great German architects, bring back Mies Van Der Rohe or even Schinkels. no Ole Scheeren.

  27. europe should come back to classical architecture about the rest of the world i don't care classical architecture belongs to eu it comes from here and it has been taken away after war

  28. ¡Scheeren es un crack! Soy profesor de estructuras en una universidad en Guatemala (URL) y se decirles que la narrativa de la historia del edificio debe estar en completa armonía con la estructura. Scheeren es audaz y logra el cometido.

  29. Wow! Until now, I was only interested in historic Archetecture, but shown and explained this way, modern archetecture is truly intriguing in it's own right.

  30. Does interpretation influences the design quality itself? Everyone call that CCTV building "big underpants" in China, what a nice story for us to share.

  31. First off, I really like the inovation in all that work. It shows that combined knowledge is able to create something great. Yet I could not help but think what if it fail, what if the coumunity starts to not like this living. Living in (ar as) an organism. I thought that criminality or bad behavior in the comunity could possible outrage pretty fast. Maybe even evolve into a riot or so.
    Does someone know an answer?

  32. So many thanks to this nice video clip which includes the essence of the story-telling art of architectures!
    This video had definitely demonstrated 3 confusion about architectures of mine.
    1 is: How structure designs associated to so many aspects of informations, such as biology, ministration and collaboration?
    2 is: How to identify the group of people and their inhabitants by viewing the outlook of their office buildings?
    3 is: What is the Modern Art of buildings nowadays?
    And I have found the explanation of all of them in this video.🥰

  33. That “loop” building could look cool in 2004 but now it looks already tired and dated.

    Architecture of 1800s or earlier still looks fantastic.

    We can’t build things that last.

  34. "scripting our own stories and the stories of others." Isn't that the most controlling, totalitarian thing you could possibly say? "script other people's stories?" This is the fundamental problem with the school of architecture today; it's all so intellectualised. Everything has to have a concept and a reason.
    This architecture is so egotistical for instance when he says "the higher you go in the building the higher in the hierarchy you go" and the emphasis on humongous scale. Every building is designed to be different from the last so if stands out. No cohesiveness or societal unity.

  35. My idea of architecture is never just vertical ( Vertical City ) nor jus horizontal ( like this one); but horizontal-vertical. Because the land is never dead flat, land is ups and downs. But they don't manufacture land any more, therefore we are forced to go vertically. Therefore, I have been working on a container housing project for over 18 years by now, called Great Wall Village. Facebook / George Wu, 2019-7-1, George Wu, ARCHITECT, A.I.A., NCARB.

  36. 15:09 this is a great idea .. especially throughout school buildings . student can interact and collaborate with no partitions at all sure this would ensure a new world of studying

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