New York | BEIJING | Seoul
OBRA Architects was founded by Pablo Castro and Jennifer Lee in the year 2000 in New York City. This year marks the opening of their second office in Beijing. The projects undertaken by OBRA span a wide range of programs and sizes, from furniture and interior landscapes to single-family residences, housing, and larger-scale masterplanning projects, yet consistently seek to evoke invention and interest through explorations of material, structure, site and experience. Their practice and their work seek to challenge and expand the range of metaphors in which architecture finds its meaning. OBRA considers each and every project to be intimately bound to its surroundings, extending afield into site and landscape the conceptual understanding of the architectural work. As a result many proposals and built works include outdoor components and integration into the natural or urban landscape.
The work of OBRA Architects proposes the design of buildings as a way of developing a clearer awareness between ourselves and the world we create and inhabit. In an effort to bring this world into sharper focus in all its mysterious complexity and variety, "OBRA" deliberately avoids the development of a "personal architectural language" as a tool of analysis and synthesis of a design problem, reasoning that such formal consistency on the part of the designing subject, is an imposition and a violation of his/her object of study and creation: the world. OBRA's work involves a continuous process of deliberately unleashed interruptions in the design process, with the aim of shortcircuiting the linearities of our acquired design habits, a process they hope creates a space for a project to come to be, as if by itself. Their aim is to finish with form, not to start with it.
The firm’s process tries to take advantage of a "partially obstructed view" of architecture, to create an architecture as if generated from within itself, not the creation of an object distinct from ourselves, observable and defined from without with the perfect clinical precision of the technician resolving a problem. Architecture considered this way might be more part of the problem than part of the solution. A problem is a good thing and can never really be fully solved, only postponed. An architecture aware of its reality attempts not the resolution of problems, but their articulation into our lives as a factor of enrichment, as an opportunity to transcend our situation.
The poetic load of a particular architectural proposal resides in an apparent contradiction. Architecture as an eminently pragmatic art with a vocation to make the world a better place for human habitation has, at the same time, the power to represent, to become the embodiment of our situation in the world, as individuals within society. As a language then, architecture is the eminent creator of homes for the body and the vehicle of the expression of the essential homelessness of the soul. Today's architecture derives its beauty from the misfortune of this missed gap, desencuentro, the space between body and soul.
Pablo Castro's design direction at OBRA Architects has produced a body of award-winning projects: four AIANY Design Awards, 2008 ID Annual Design Review Award, and two 2004 Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Awards. He is a 2006 NYFA Fellow in Architecture/Environmental Structures and a 2003 Society of Architectural Historians de Montëquin Senior Fellow. He participated in MoMA's 2007 Conversations with Contemporary Artists. He has taught at Barnard Columbia College, RISD, Parsons, Pratt Institute Graduate Architecture, and Cranbrook Art Academy. He has lectured across the globe, at Central Academy of Fine Arts (China), Tsinghua University, UC Berkeley, Universidad Nacional de Chile, Instituto di Tella, Universidad Diego Portales, RISD, Columbia University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and most recently at ETSAM, Madrid. He is a 2012 Rome Prize winner.
Jennifer Lee has been collaborating with Pablo Castro since 1997. With the inception of their design studio OBRA Architects in 2000, she has co-directed over 50 works ranging from conceptual projects and masterplans to built construction. She is the 2007 Cooper Union Urban Visionary Emerging Talent, 2006 NYFA Fellow in Architecture/Environmental Structures, a 2003 Society of Architectural Historians de Montëquin Senior Fellow, Registered Architect in New York and a USGBC LEED-Accredited Professional. She has taught at Pratt Institute Graduate Architecture, Cranbrook Art Academy, and the Irwin S. Chanin Architecture School at Cooper Union. She is currently teaching in Seoul, Korea at the Korea National University of the Arts.
The work of OBRA has been exhibited widely, and has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Art Museum of China, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, and Rhode Island School of Design, among others. OBRA is the 2006 Winner of the PS1 MoMA Young Architects Program with its installation BEATFUSE! which opened to the public in June of that year. OBRA Architects was selected for the 2005 Architectural League Emerging Voices, and its installations have been included an emergency shelter prototype with furniture system for the National Art Museum of China's 2009 "Crossing: Dialogues for Emergency Architecture" Exhibit, as well as the recent Oxymoron Pavilion recently erected at the 2011-2012 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale for Architecture and Urbanism.
Current work includes a residence in Argentina and a private eco-residence in Costa Rica. They have recently completed a café in Soho, New York City, and a 5-acre weekend retreat in Southampton, New York. Past projects range from large-scale residential masterplans, museums and opera houses to small-scale furniture and lighting. They have expanded their international reach to include several projects in China, including museum interiors and a villa in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, and have a few projects in early planning stages in various areas in and around Beijing including a primary school with boarding dormitories that is scheduled to begin construction in early 2013.