MANILA, Philippines - Amid colorful billboards that proudly flaunted sexy celebrities and rock stars in Metro Manila’s landscape the past months, there was one billboard that stood out for its refined elegance. It flaunted, even more proudly, a star from another universe.
The black-and-white billboard simply carried the photo of a man in a pensive pose with these words: “Meet Architect Carlos Ott. He built Paris’ modern theater icon. Guess where he’s headed next. Rockwell.”
Who is Carlos Ott and why is he Rockwell’s current billboard star?
Because he won the nod of then French President Francois Mitterand for his winning design in the competition for the design of the L’Opera de la Bastille in Paris in 1983,besting 744 design heavyweights worldwide.
Because his architectural portfolio of impressive residential, commercial and cultural masterpieces spans seven continents and 17 countries.
Because he has an eye for the extraordinary and the courage to break conventions.
All the “becauses” that made this global maestro the natural choice of Rockwell to design Proscenium.
A Uruguay native who resides in Toronto, Ott is a citizen of the world, holding offices in Toronto, Quebec, Shanghai, Dubai and Montevideo. Quick to reference Renaissance artists, ballet luminaries, and classical musicians, Ott is well-versed on the state of the arts — a trait most remarkably seen in his culturally landmark designs — yet remains unaffected by global acclaim . For his stellar rendering of the Proscenium — which in Latin literally means “in front of the scenery” — and known by cultural virtuosos as the main frame of the theater showcase, Ott aims to build a cultural center for the fast-developing city, while making it the stage for the finest in urban lifestyle.
This has made Ott a household name in the design industry, hailed as a “starchitect” by countless design authorities and publications. An enigma in process, personality, and progressive vision, Ott bares his vision in an interview with the Philippine STAR lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil and writer John Magsaysay, that spans the view from the Proscenium, as seen in the eyes of its master auteur.
PHILIPPINE STAR: What will make the Proscenium different in all the structures being developed in Manila today?
CARLOS OTT: Proscenium Rockwell is built around a cultural plaza that will have a multi-purpose hall, a fine arts museum, a book museum, art galleries, and a lot of other structures dedicated to culture. So, residents can go down, wearing their tux and long gowns to attend galas, the younger crowd can enjoy the opera, and students can do their research in the museum and the library, there’s a lot of potential. Building a cultural center to me means a couple of things. First of all, there’s a very strong Filipino culture, and we give the Filipino performers and artists a venue to showcase their art. Because when you do create a venue for Filipino musicians, dancers, artists, sculptors, and writers, I think it is much more significant than putting Filipino-designed items like furniture in the space. Second, when you do a multi-purpose hall and a museum, I think you are really opening up the whole potential. All the people will come for a concert, an opera, a philharmonic orchestra, a ballet, or a play, so you open up a canopy of all possible uses that is for the Filipino audience in general. Rain or sun, night or day, we want it to display the best in culture that is open for everyone.
What considerations for our local weather, the Filipino character, and our lifestyle are addressed in the Proscenium?
Manila weather is very important in designing these facilities. We have the problem of rain, the strong sun, you have the problem of heat. I guess the best way is to look at the traditional ways of how Filipinos have been coping with that and try to infuse them in our designs. We are thinking of walkways that protect from the sun and the rain but we would want to integrate them as a strong part of our architectural design.
With regard to aesthetic, what would be the design statement of the Proscenium?
From day one, Rockwell wanted that “wow effect,” but it has to be toned down with the fact that the original Rockwell on the west side is a very elegant, exclusive space, so if we are to make a parallel, you’d probably want a Jean Paul Gaultier or Chanel type of aesthetic. Maybe some hip areas should be there, but elegance, I think, should be the key word. You could do more of the nouvelle vague type of buildings, but you run the risk of being ephemeral, 10 years from now, you’d probably think, “That is so 2012.” That is not elegance. Elegance is an Yves Saint Laurent suit. You can wear it 50 years from today and it would still look modern. Why? Because it’s timeless, it’s elegant, it’s understated. So, how do you do the “wow” in understated?
How do you define the Carlos Ott design stamp?
I don’t think you ask a writer what he wants to write about, or a director what he wants to do for a movie, or a composer what he intends to compose. Because when a composer makes music, when a writer writes a book, when a painter paints, he’s putting everything he has there, and what he wants is you to read that piece of art. Because there’s not only one way to interpret it, and if you allow the object to be seen differently by different subjects, then you are talking about art. Architects, perhaps, are not known to create pure art, because he’s also working on a functional level but it’s still art. An architect should never talk about his work, because his work should talk about itself.
Are you more of a classicist or a modernist?
Oh boy. I don’t like the separation, I don’t like the difference. You can be more modernist or a classicist, and vice versa. But I have to be fair with you. I tend to be more of a classicist, and these are classicist buildings, but then, they are very modern.(Laughs)
Do you have a personal dream project?
I’d say my house in Toronto is my cause de célèbre. It’s an extremely modern house that is extremely elegant and traditional. A very talented artist can always accomplish what others think is impossible, I’m not saying I am, but art is limitless in this sense. You can do a huge building and still make an emphasis for the little ones. An artist should always be ahead of his time, otherwise he’s not an artist. So you have to put up with the teases, because if you’re doing what everyone likes then something is wrong. When Stravinsky does a ballet, don’t expect a Tchaikovsky, that is why Stravinsky is a genius and Picasso is a genius because they did not copy anyone.
You have designed towers, theaters, airports, palaces.What haven’t you done that you wish to design next?
A synagogue or a place of worship. That would be quite a challange.
Who are your personal design icons, those who shaped your idea of architecture?
I have a fondness for Italian baroque, attributed to two architects, Borromini and Bernini. It’s very theatrical and it’s very interesting. Of course it’s the opposite of the style that came before it, classicism, but it’s very interesting.
But Borromini and Bernini were notoriously competitive of each other. Having won a lot of design competitions the world over, do you think competition plays a big part in harnessing your architectural prowess?
Absolutely. I don’t think you can appreciate your work better unless you are going against something.
You have worked around the world and made countless landmarks.What do you think is the Carlos Ott legacy seen in every structure you’ve been commissioned?
In Latin, there is the phrase, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” which means “The human glory is very ephemeral.” Don’t think about the legacies, we won’t be there. Whatever you do, there will always be someone who can do it better. Just like in cowboy movies, there’s always a guy that shoots faster, you know? (Laughs)
How do you define your working relationship with the movers behind Rockwell Land?
You cannot think about Michelangelo or Bramante without Lorenzo Magnifico, you can’t think about Versailles without Louis XIV, I don’t think you can think about Dubai today without the Sheik. I think that you need to have a very intelligent client to be a very good architect.