Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Koolhaas goes to HK

In the news today the Dutch architectural firm OMA headed by uber cool designer Rem Koolhaas will be moving its headquarters from Beijing to Hong Kong.

It claims the territory has more of the talented professionals it needs to handle its slew of Asian projects. The firm denied the move had anything to do with the controversy over the CCTV tower or "trouser legs" or the fire in the building next to it, which was supposed to house the Mandarin Oriental and apparently held most of the archive footage of the Beijing Olympics.

"We will still keep the Beijing office," said David Glanotten, who started the Hong Kong office and is partner of the company. "We just want a stronger presence in Asia and Hong Kong provides a convenient platform." He added that the firm receives "positive comments on the CCTV design."

The Hong Kong office opened in 2009 with 12 people in the architectural team and since then has grown to 45, when OMA pitched its design for the West Kowloon arts hub. It now wants to expand its staff to 60, making it the second-largest branch after its headquarters in Rotterdam.

"It's a change of strategy. We don't aim for the China market only, but the whole of Asia," Glanotten said. "Hong Kong by far is the most convenient platform for hiring both mainland and international talent. It provides a good mix."

He said architects from the mainland were imaginative and those from Taiwan were pragmatic, while those from Hong Kong were more rounded, adept not only in design, but also engineering and technical skills.

OMA's retreat from China is understandable; many people there didn't understand the design or appreciate it at all, and when the building next to it caught on fire in February 2009 from fireworks, the debacle created even more derision. They felt the government had wasted their hard-earned taxpayer yuan, only to see it explode into flames.

Koolhass will probably be pleased with making Hong Kong his Asia headquarters. It's a vote of confidence for the city, considering many top executives are considering leaving because of the worsening air pollution.

At least Hong Kong will look better.

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