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OMA-Goodness, Architecture Can Be Cool Too!

On Monday, Columbia GSAPP invited Shohei Shigematsu to speak for this semester’s premier lecture. A partner of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Shigematsu spoke about the generational gap between him and his colleagues, his concern over Godzilla coming for their creations, and his idea for designing the next ten-dollar bill. Baby Bwogger Reyna Choi reports.

At 6:10 PM, I felt very out of place.

After awkwardly shuffling into Wood Auditorium and waiting in what I thought was the line to get a seat, a kind woman with glasses informed me that I was in the snack line. Embarrassed, I thanked her, nabbed an aisle seat, and returned to claim my pretzel sticks.

The auditorium filled up surprisingly quickly. It took so long for people to settle down that by the time it got quiet, I’d already finished my pretzel sticks and the lecture hadn’t even started. People were sitting on the stairs and crowded at the back, taking up every available square inch of floor space while murmuring with excitement.

I had no idea what to expect, really. As a first-year, I didn’t figure out what GSAPP stood for until twenty minutes into the lecture (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, if you didn’t know either), and my only connection to architecture is that one of my best friends is majoring in the subject.

Thankfully, Shigematsu started off with some light and relatable jokes, easing up the audience and even showing us a meme or two. He talked about his creative process, showed us some sexy color-coordinated flowcharts, and talked about how architecture can be influenced by factors beyond the physical realm. He consolidated the competing environments of two perpendicular streets by placing reflecting, geometrical panels on the inverted corner of a building. The panels reflected the two environments without creating a harsh angle separating the streets, showing a merge of neighborhoods and communities.

Once he lit up the architectural flame of passion in me that I didn’t know I had, he launched into a lesson on the three offices of OMA in Rotterdam, Hong Kong, and New York, noting the “strong sense of a generational shift” that he experienced in OMA NY. To combat the pressure and competitiveness of keeping up with the young and vibrant energy of the next generation, OMA allowed everyone to work “in their own direction to create a unique architecture firm with senses of individuality.” In essence, OMA eliminated stress culture by letting everyone go with their own flow.

Shigematsu then discussed how architects use models as communication devices, referencing a video for the Lucas Cultural Art Museum where the 3D turning of a model was superimposed with animated movements to give a simulation of the project. Throwing in a joke about how he doesn’t think George Lucas finished watching the video so that we wouldn’t either, he moved on to talk about his other endeavors.

A surprising motif throughout Shigematsu’s projects was a literal bend in his creations. Whenever a logistical problem occurred, the solution always seemed to be to slightly bend the building, bridge, or corner so that it wouldn’t interfere with the surrounding view or with private property. He likened one such tower with upside-down topology to a “shy child hiding behind his parents,” making the whole audience chuckle once again. The simplest-sounding solutions seemed to be the most appropriate, yet the most innovative. It was very “Beginner’s Mind”-esque – Deantini would be proud.

Deeper into the lecture, I wasn’t really expecting to deeply connect with anything that Shigematsu spoke about on a personal level. He discussed his personal connection to architecture as he explained the familiarity that many Japanese people have with natural disasters. Godzilla, an imaginary manifestation of those natural disasters, frequently entered his imagination, tearing down his creations and wreaking havoc on his innovations.

I felt a twinge of surprise when he referenced the sky garden in Seoul, my birthplace. He connected it to a project in DC, near where I live now, where a bridge would connect the low-income community of Anacostia to the Capitol Riverfront. The bridge would look like an X from the side, allowing people to have a high vantage point from the landscaped top while simultaneously creating movement through the bottom half. The X was also representative of the L’Enfant DC grid, where major crossings resemble X’s on the map. I’d used that same map to navigate DC on my weekends, so I couldn’t help but feel excited to have a personal connection to the lecture.

It was at this point, deep in my bubble of happiness, that Shigematsu joked that the bridge could be a good design for our next ten dollar bill since X is the Roman numeral for the number ten. With another laugh, we moved on.

For the remainder of the lecture, Shigematsu continued to note the profound effects of architecture in all sectors of our culture. From dresses at the Met Gala to bridges built in earthquake-struck towns, Shigematsu revealed architecture’s role as a functional yet beautiful method of communication.

I couldn’t stay for the whole lecture, but as I walked back to Carman, I couldn’t help but imagine Godzilla chilling on Low’s dome while munching on Lerner.

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