Nicolas Fabre

"Fight the fog!"

Everything is bigger, everything goes faster: Nicolas Fabre is one of the creative minds of our office. He spent three years in Shanghai designing buildings and entire neighbourhoods. This experience helps him today to plan even better architecture even faster at oow.

Architektur für Alten- und Pflegeheime, Krankenhäuser, Arztpraxen und Kliniken OOW Architekten Berlin

“In China, people think in completely different dimensions.”

For you, architecture is a way to tell stories. You’ll have to explain that!

Well, whoever has anything to do with a building – the architects, the builders or the residents – becomes a storyteller. He or she can tell how the building was created, how it has shaped its environment, how it has changed over time and how people live in it. Countless stories are created in these buildings. I think that’s wonderful!

What else excites you about architecture?

We have to deal with a multitude of specifications and restrictions – whether technical, scientific, financial or environmental. Finding the best solution there is always a challenge.

You are from a small town near Bordeaux in southern France. What was your path leading to oow in Berlin?

I went to the Netherlands to study at the Delft University of Technology. Actually, I only wanted to do an Erasmus year there. But I liked it so much that I stayed and graduated there. The university in Delft, which by the way is the oldest university of technology in the Netherlands, is extremely international. It was completely normal that many foreigners studied there – and many also later worked abroad, for example in China. And so, I also moved to East Asia and worked as an architect in Shanghai for three years.

How’d you do there?

That was quite a radical change compared to life in the Netherlands! In Shanghai I worked in a large French architectural office. In China, people think in completely different dimensions. None of my projects actually had less than 50,000 square metres. I also once planned an entire city – for half a million inhabitants! These dimensions are simply not known in Europe. In China you either build “big” or “hyper big”. (laughs)

What did this mean for your work?

It all happened incredibly fast. After only a few months I was already leading a team of four employees. You gain experience very quickly and have a steep learning curve. The pace is very high overall. We took part in many competitions, for example, and in one year I was involved in no less than 14 projects.

But does that mean: planning lots and building little?

Exactly. My work was often limited to the early stages of the design process. You throw a lot of things in the air that are never implemented. After three years, I said: That’s not what I became an architect for.

Augistinum in Klein Machnow

“The process is much more efficient. This makes me and the clients happier.”

oow Architekten Berlin Büro

“Today I am much more direct.”


How did you like living in China otherwise?

Life there is exhausting. And, of course, issues such as food safety or air pollution make you wonder whether you really want to stay there forever. That’s why I decided to return to Europe.

Did the years in Shanghai change you?

The way I make decisions and talk about my work has changed. In China, there is always a lot of PR in the presentations. I think that’s a pity, because it waters down the essence, what actually matters. That’s why I say: Trim it down! Today, I am much more direct and worry less about how to package a project and instead focus only on the essence.

Is this reflected in the way you work?

Yes, we have efficient processes here. It’s ideal for our customers, because they can move their projects forward quickly. Because we visualise our planning in three dimensions, clients can more easily imagine what a building will look like. Even the smallest details and parameters – such as the price of a window – are already included in the visualisation. That means it can be seen exactly what effect a decision will have – for example, when a particular material is changed. This helps to make decisions faster. The process is much more efficient. This makes me and the clients happier.

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