Gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang had high expectations for OMA’s renovation of his New York studio, envisioned as not only a workspace but also a creative and administrative headquarters, private office, think tank, library, archive and gallery. The renovated studio is all the more impressive because it represents the integration of multiple discrete spaces spread over two floors, one of them subterranean, of a former schoolhouse built in 1885. The studio’s wonderfully porous boundaries are apparent from the moment you cross the threshold. There is not a door in sight. At once steadied by swaths of the original brick walls and aglow in translucent resin, the entry offers orienting views through the main level. To one side is the newly acquired storefront space that has been transformed into an open-plan staff office: a bright, widescreen-laden hive of activity with three large windows that look out onto the street. Cai’s personal office shares many of the same features, such as whitewashed brick, luminous lacquer and resin bookshelves. The kitchen is dominated by a long wooden table and beyond it are the two main galleries, separated by a courtyard. This wedge of outdoor space, with grass, stones, bamboo and ipe wood, provides natural illumination that filters through a series of light wells – walkable glass panels like those that form the floor of Cai’s office – down to the lower subterranean level. This is now an orderly warren of rooms united by their openness and the light-reactive translucent resin that weaves in and out: framing and forming walls and bookshelves, lapping up onto exposed-brick surfaces. At the bottom of the staircase is the library, illuminated by three light wells: the lateral two are reading perches, while the central aperture is the base of a periscope,with mirrors rigged so you can look out on the streets.
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