Emerging Talent: Office OU

Stephen Baik, Sebastian Bartnicki, Sophia Szagala, Uros Novakovic, Jia Lu, Nicolas Koff. Photo by Sarjoun Faour

Once upon a year ago, Office OU entered a competition. It looked like an exceptionally good one to the young Toronto firm because it was an international open call for a huge project, with an anonymous submission process.

The masterplan for Sejong Museum Gardens integrates 
a variety of courtyard spaces that tie the complex together and support the individual museums.

For the studio’s founders—Sebastian Bartnicki, Nicolas Koff, and Uros Novakovic, who are all 31—the outcome was also exceptionally good. Office OU beat out 80 firms from around the world to plan a two-million-square-foot national museum complex in Sejong, South Korea, and to design three of the project’s dozen buildings. Working with the large South Korean firm of Junglim Architecture, they are tackling the National Children’s Museum, the central operations centre, and a storehouse, all slated for completion by 2020.

The Children’s Museum is one of three buildings that will be constructed by Office OU.

All three partners studied architecture at Canadian universities, and Koff also has a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. The integration of those disciplines is central to their winning approach to Sejong Museum Gardens. In their scheme, specific site characteristics generate the concept and materiality for each museum. For instance, fruit trees on the site yielded an orchard model for the children’s museum—it includes trees in a courtyard and on the roof, and uses wood as the main building material. As the trees grow, the relationship between the simple architecture and the landscape will evolve.

rendering of TRK Winery, a current project in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

“We’re trying to let the context speak as much as possible,” says Novakovic, and Koff finishes the sentence: “rather than have the building crush the context.” The competition’s publicity is now generating Canadian projects for Office OU, including a winery.