The conventional mentality that places art, architecture, media, and design in separate categories has been completely discarded by studio O, a Beijing-based “ar(t)chitecture” studio. Besides architectural designs alone, they’ve created installation art for Beijing Design Week, collaborated with artist Elisa Cucinelli on a stop motion short video, and been involved in a variety of other projects that go beyond the services expected of a normal architecture firm. Led by Enrico Ancilli, Effi Meridor, and Cristiano Bianchi, the studio was established back in 2013 with the belief that a return to basics was long overdue.
For studio O, collaborating with creatives from different fields and engaging with different artistic and non-artistic disciplines are vital aspects of their return to fundamentals.“Historically, the best architectural results were achieved when people with different specialties were exchanging ideas: artists, philosophers, writers, and poets,” says Ancilli. “Nowadays, architecture has become too fragmented, too specialized, and too technical somehow. Artists are more direct and straight in their approach.”
In our increasingly digitized lives, another part of studio O’s vision of returning to the roots of architecture also meant unchaining the shackles of our modern technological dependencies. Rather than solely relying on virtual images, studio O often prefers working with real materials to create physical and tangible models. Scoffing at the idea of a manifesto, which they consider to be too often riddled with empty and pretentious proclamations, studio O rather defines what it means to be an architect for themselves through their work.
“In the DNA of an architect, there should be the desire to explore, to deal with different cultural environments, traditions, and materials,” Ancilli says. After many discussions with some of his peers in Europe, who couldn’t fathom why he would move to China, his perspective on this became even clearer. “We shouldn’t fear what is different from us, closing ourselves in a comfortable, beautiful world. We should deal with the differences.”
“People often ask what kind of architecture we do,” Ancilli says. “I find it to be really interesting because it’s like reducing a certain discipline into a specific pigeonhole. What kind of art does this artist create? Classic? Neoclassic? Baroque? Modern? Bauhaus? Venetian Gothic? It’s funny and scary at the same time because it gives perspective to the crisis that creators of different disciplines are facing. We try not to follow any styles or trends at studio O. Sure, we’re influenced by other architects, but we try to keep a certain distance in order to develop our own ideas in an original way according to our own sensibilities.”
Echoing the sentiments of famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, Ancilli believes architecture is a contaminated craft, but the negative connotations of the word “contaminated” should be overlooked. “Architecture is complex, often requiring a balance between technique and art,” Ancilli comments. “But it’s contaminated from all the worst sides of life like money, urgency, and power. At the same time, it’s also been contaminated by the best parts of life, like our environment, history, and traditions.”
studio O is in a constant state of evolution, adapting to the demands of an ever-changing world. They continuously seek out both challenges and inspirations with the same eagerness, moving forward with both open-mindedness and a sense of insatiable curiosity. “We have many things planned for the future,” Ancilli says. “We’re tracing a general direction for studio O, but at the same time, we don’t like to over-plan. We believe that the studio has to grow naturally.”