Eran Chen is the founder and director of ODA new york, an architecture firm that is responsible for the design of more than 40 buildings in the city.
Since 2007, ODA has conceived a wide range of projects, with a strong focus on residential schemes that positively contribute towards their occupants’ physical and psychological well-being. ‘we are leading a quiet but unyielding revolution to replace the dogma of resigned and compromised city living for one that enriches our lives and adapts to our needs,’ says the studio.
What originally made you want to study architecture?
Eran chen (EC): my mom loves to tell the story about one day when I was six years old, I sat down, and out of the blue, drew perspective 3D views of our living room featuring the big box TV. considering my dyslexia as a child, this talent seemed promising. she still has the drawings. so, it seems that before I can even remember, I was always intrigued by three dimensional environments which I tried, from very early on, to document in one way or another. as a young adult, my interests drifted for a while and I considered, among other things, a more traditionally desirable career as a physician or a surgeon. fortunately, after a few years of mandatory military service, I had time to reflect upon the direction I wanted my life to take and returned, in my twenties, to my original passion for architecture.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your work?
EC: it’s hard to pinpoint a single thing, really. I suppose that growing up in Israel had a lot to do with shaping my worldview. I vividly remember when egyptian president anwar sadat came for the first time to israel after signing the historical peace treaty with menachem begin, ending years of hate and fear. I was about six or seven years old, and I stood on the street with my mom while his entourage of black sedans drove through my little hometown of be’er sheva, overcome with happiness and awe. I remember noticing the brutalist-style concrete buildings alongside the magnificent european bauhaus jewels of tel aviv, and the arabic towns on the mountainside seen by the 2,000-year-old western wall in jerusalem. growing up amidst this world of beautiful contradictions has definitely influenced my work. the fact that in an hour’s drive from tel aviv you can be in jerusalem, the historical city of all religions, or go south to the desert where bedouin tribes live in tents and ride camels, or north to haifa where jews, muslims and christians live side by side, developing the most cutting edge world technologies. for me, it was all so fascinating, especially the human aspects that still remain unsettled. at ODA, we embrace diversity and see conflicting forces not as obstacles, but as opportunities for unique design solutions, and I’m sure that that outlook stems, at least partly, from being raised among those contrasts.
Overall, what would you say is your strongest quality, and how have you developed that skill over time?
EC: I never really saw myself as being the best at anything, but strong enough in many diverse fields — more of a generalist then a specialist, I guess. I was not a ‘straight A’ student, yet was always perceived as the go-to guy to get things done, by both students and teachers. the person they trusted to come up with creative ideas. during my Army days, I discovered that I could overcome even great challenges, and in the process, inspire others towards their best. so, in terms of assets, I would like to think that I am a nimble guy with strong leadership skills. my name, Eran, which in hebrew means lively or alert is, perhaps, somewhat appropriate.
What characteristics does new york city have that make it both so challenging and rewarding for an architect?
EC: manhattan’s growth over the last decade, like many other major cities around the world, can be characterized by reflexive adaptation to the ever-increasing demand for both housing and office space. traditionally this has taken the form of vertically extruded boxes built in celebration of corporate power. when designing a project in manhattan you are met by a rigid set of rules and regulations overlapped with impossible timelines, stringent budgets and extremely demanding clients, the combination of which could make your head spin! but the beauty within this madness lies in the great dynamic intensity, the cultural diversity and the almost endless possibility. for those reasons I like to think that NYC is a microcosm of the modern world. one that most closely represents the urban realities of our future.
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