Where does originality and independent thinking come from? The answer is prosaically straight forward – from an inquiring individual, and an experimental environment wouldn’t hurt to stimulate it. Rem Koolhaas is credited with fostering such an environment, both through building his practice, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), a 300-architect network of seven global offices, and teaching at Harvard’s GSD, as well as lecturing all over the world. Koolhaas now has eight partners. One of the eight, since 2008, is Shohei Shigematsu who heads OMA New York since 2006. The studio originally numbered just a handful of people and over the years has grown into a large practice of 75 architects with a focus on projects in North America.
Born in 1973, in Fukuoka, Japan, Shigematsu likes to point out that his birth coincided with the moment when Japan’s economy started to decline. Still, the post-war generation of his parents believed that the economy was going to grow and keep modernizing. It did, and the process was very integral with new construction, so architecture was of interest from an early age. When Shigematsu was ten, his father was invited to teach science at an American university. That presented an opportunity for the whole family to spend one year in Boston, which also contributed to Shigematsu’s decision to study architecture. We met for the following conversation at OMA New York to discuss the architect’s role in the company, his search for personal identity, and, of course, architecture’s top priority – its concern with beauty.