Open More Doors is a section by ArchDaily and the MINI Clubman that takes you behind the scenes of the world’s most innovative offices through exciting video interviews and an exclusive photo gallery featuring each studio’s workspace.
For this interview, we talked with Jianxiang He and Ying Jiang of O-Office, where they discussed their unconventional approach to architecture and office life. Their office, a large repurposed beer factory near downtown Guangzhou, reflects the firm’s interest in history and tradition and its disregard for the density and rapid development they see as characterizing the rest of the city.
O-Office was founded between 2006 and 2007 as the first independent architecture office in Guangzhou. Jiang and He, who both studied in Europe and then returned to China to work for large firms, ultimately chose to start their own practice to escape the industry’s preoccupation with rapid real estate development and soulless standardization. As the first firm of their kind, they chose to name themselves ‘O-Office’ – ‘O’ intending to mean ‘zero,’ symbolizing that they were starting from scratch.
From the very beginning, O-Office resisted Guangzhou’s “development engine,” an economic competitiveness that discouraged creativity or innovation. Seeking to add extra value to architecture and therefore life, they sought to reconcile the city’s rapid modernization with its 2000 years of tradition, much of which had been obscured beneath Guangzhou’s indiscriminate urbanization. This goal sparked their interest in renovation, which allowed them to retain the historical layers of the city while still allowing them to be repurposed and improving their livability.
O-Office’s own office space typifies their unconventional renovation projects, furthering their goal of transforming even short-term relics to make people conscious of older traditions and history. For a practice concerned with finding hidden connections to the past, tradition, and geography, their location next to Guangzhou’s old downtown is equally fitting. And finally, their determination to fight against claustrophobic disciplinary demands from clients and from the industry reflects in the relaxation of their open office space – with a kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, and bar, the office feels as much like a living space as a place to work. Their balcony, an integral part of the space, provides not just fresh air and a space to relax but also sports several fruit plants and a garden for their cook. Jiang and He describe their office as increasing their sense of family, feeling more like a workshop than a rigid professional environment.