Hello everyone,

When a year and a half ago I published a blog post on my experience at OMA on my blog, I wrote a personal reflection on my experience which I thought might be interesting for people “out there” to read. Later, as I submitted the post for publication with Arch2O.com, I could have never imagined the backlash it would have resulted in. With this post, I want to publicly apologize for the hurt feelings it has generated. I did not intend for this to happen.

I agree, my post has featured strong (offensive) language, and I apologize for using it – especially in the context of a “joke”. I will rework the article in order to respect the hurt feelings of so many people who reacted to it. My use of the word “rape” was metaphorical and only there to effectively bring across my point: that working at one of the leading offices for architecture is not easy, and certain things (absence of time for oneself outside work, specifically) need to be accepted without much control on one’s behalf. It was not intended as support of male supremacy or anything of sort. Now, though, I understand that the use of such “metaphors” is inappropriate. I apologize for that.

In addition, I do have to clarify two things.

First: my blog post was meant as a reflection. It can not be taken for fact, and is a personal interpretation of my experience.

Second: the original title of my blog post was “What I’ve learned at OMA”. The “20 Tips for Being a Successful Architect” was later added to the article by Arch2O without my consent, and has thus skewed the intent of the post. As I said above, the post was written as a reflection – not advice, warning, etc.

Again, I apologize the post generated such a backlash. Apart from what I said wrong, I hope that readers will be able to see and appreciate what I said right. I am grateful to the blogs like The Funambulist for looking beyond point nr. 8 and using my post for trying to analyze the broader condition of the profession of architecture as a whole.

Sincerely,

I am sorry.

Ivan Sergejev

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“Son of a b*tch..!”

You know that feeling when you know that what you just witnessed was an act of genius? That feeling you get when seeing how simple yet powerful something is that you wonder how come you haven’t come up with it yourself, but yet you haven’t? The feeling of awe mixed with disappointment?

During my recent visit to the Netherlands, I went to Rotterdam – my architectural birth place, as I call it – to see how and if the city has changed since the last time I’ve been there (internship with Erick van Egeraat back in 2008). One of the things – or buildings, to be precise – I wanted to see was, obviously, OMA’s De Rottedam. And I have to say – I was quite impressed.

Honestly, looking at it from across the river Maas, it didn’t seem all that special. The parti – shifted blocks – was clear to the point it was bland. However, as I started crossing the Erasmus bridge, getting closer to the structure, it started to speak. For all the talk of “Manhattan on Maas”, I have to say – this building actually did it: it is a true piece of Manhattan, but a surreal one – which makes it that much cooler.

All of us probably remember the cover for the later edition of “Delirious New York” – the picture of the facades of the Rockefeller Center extension on 6th avenue. Well, De Rotterdam is the clone of those buildings, only made 3-dimensional. The facade’s and parti’s blandness start working magic when you are at mid-range: from far it’s nothing but a stupid vertical pattern and a few blocks, from close the detailing isn’t great (as is almost common with OMA’s buildings). But mid-range – that’s when it makes you dizzy as the building starts seemingly mirroring, multiplying and overlaying itself. The building is almost fractal being big, but small, but big still (definitely huge for R’dam’s scape). The sequence of interior spaces in the public part of the building is classical Koolhaas: a meeting room suspended over a parking garage which looks “honestly” right into the atrium – not a “filthy” pragmatic “support” space, tucked away somewhere no one can see it, but a space in its own right, totally worthy of being shown off as a luxury. It is all a little too grey, and a little too stark, and a little too Rotterdam, but damn, does it work!

Now, I do have to say that I only visited the “public” part of the building. I did not visit any offices or apartments. I am sure critics will find there’s plenty wrong with them. I do not know that, and can’t judge or tell you anything about them. However, what I did see – I loved.

Good job, Mr. K. and Co. Loved it.

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1) Alright, you’ve gotten in. You’ve read all of books by OMA and about OMA. You’ve studied their projects and seen all the lectures by all the partners a dozen times. You think you know exactly “how it’s done”. You’re wrong.

2) Architecture is 98% “production”.

3) Never do anything half-way. If you are given a task, do it to the maximum, all the way until you either run out of time, or collapse and can do nothing any more.

4) Stress is the best motivator. That is why you produce your best work when you sleep 4 hours a night and work like crazy towards a deadline just a few days away. Masochistic, but great.

5) If you are asked “A”, answer “A”. But before you answer, make sure you know everything about, under, over and to the sides of “A”. It’s like chess: you don’t only make a move, you predict and proactively address every issue arising from your move (hey, isn’t that what architecture is all about anyway?). You have derivable questions answered before they are asked.

6) However, there is a fine line between not doing enough and doing too much. Routinely produce more than is expected, but make sure not to get carried away to the point where your supervisor/client/colleagues have no clue what you are talking about.

7) And remember: trying to put effort and pay into the same equation is non-sense.

8) Expect there to be no time for yourself. Watch “Devil wears Prada” to get an idea of what I mean.

9) However, whenever there happens to be free time, be militantly protective of it.

10) There will always be people you will not be able to get along with. Don’t fight it. Treat them with respect at all times. Don’t be emotional. Professionalism and self-possession are key in business – just look at Sho or Rem during client meetings.

11) Submission to office culture is better than fighting it. Fighting from start leads nowhere. Starting with submission and then gaining independence as you grow is the best strategy. And once you are there, stick to your guns.

12) Remember: “No Bullsh*t!”

13) However, never say you are not sure if you can perform a certain task, even if you aren’t. Say “YES”.

14) In the process, if unsure – ask. Do not waste your and other people’s time guessing. Wasted time at OMA is much more hazardous than asking a “stupid” question.

15) Identify the challenge and attack it right away. Do not procrastinate.

16) If you are overwhelmed by your “To Do” list, pick one item and do it. It is better to have one thing actually done than a hundred of “brilliant ideas” in merely an idea state.

17) Therefore, learn to work with imperfect but readily available givens. If you continue hunting for the perfect image to start photoshopping, you will keep looking and will never start working at all. So just start using what you have and produce an awesome piece of work anyway.

18) While en-route, remember: keeping your iteration cycle short is the key to producing great work. It’s ok to start with a sh*tty mock-up – just make sure it communicates your idea and you do it asap. Once you’ve shown it to your client/ colleagues/ boss and solicited feedback, you fix it. And again. And again. And again. You’ll be surprised how awesome it will turn out in the end.

19) Don’t think that if you will make it to OMA, you will be a happier person. You might be – for a bit (actually for one moment – the moment you receive the call), but in reality there is no direct relation between being happy and being at OMA. There are a lot of unhappy people at OMA. Probably even more so than in a lot of other places.

20) Disregard the previous point, because it is awesome to work at OMA regardless. As a matter of fact, this has probably been the happiest period of your life so far.

It’s amazing how instead of arrogance and feeling of superiority, this experience teaches me humblness and understanding.

A while ago..

Please pardon my absence from the datascape. An internship with OMA that I am currently doing, as you might know, takes up all my resources, leaving virtually none to anything else but itself – obviously. However, now that I’ve spent some 4 months here, it feels like I am starting to get a grip of it, so I guess I’ll sit down and write an expanded blog-post about my experience here at some point soon. So check back in!

Cheers,

Ivan

It is incredible to see how all this teamwork results in one presentation that then goes on to all the corners of the world; how behind a single project, a single presentation, there is a whole team of ultra-dedicated architects and designers who will go without sleep or food to make their “baby” perfect; incredible how easy, casual and natural it all seems in the end and what the reality of the design process actually is. Just incredible.

A very refreshing joint lecture by Shohei Shigematsu of OMA and Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG. An almost unique opportunity to see two different architects from two different offices present, discuss and critique each other’s work on a common stage – a live antithesis to Rem Koolhaas’s recent critique that there is no coherent architectural community or culture, and that all architects do lately – is compete. Bjarke humorous and lively, and Shohei quiet, critical and thoughtful – as ever. Highly recommended!