Exciting architecture

Paloma Hernaiz and Jaime Oliver run OHLAB, an architecture and interior design laboratory committed to sustainable creativity, design and research, which eschews clichés and preconceived ideas. 

Can Bordoy Hotel, Palma.
Can Bordoy Hotel, Palma.
Casa MM, Palma.
Clínica Emardental, Palma.
Casa MM, Palma.

Did you always want to be architects?

P.H. When I was small, when I came home after playing at my friends’ homes, I would say to my mother, “I have been with such-and-such a friend today, look, I’ll draw you her house.” It was something I was very drawn to.

J.O. I loved creating new things when I was small. I wanted to be an inventor, like Gyro Gearloose, the most famous inventor of Duckburg and a friend of Donald Duck (a Walt Disney cartoon character).

You met while you were studying a master’s in advanced design at Columbia University, New York.

J.O. Yes, it was a master’s course which fostered travelling, to see the architecture of other places. We were given a grant to go to Brazil, where we met the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – it was amazing! And then we were given another grant that enabled us to travel to twenty cities in Southeast Asia. That defined the next stage of our careers...

Yes, because the trip to Asia ended, but you didn’t return to New York. What happened?

J.O. The last stop was Shanghai, and from there we were supposed to return to New York. But we were offered a job and we said, what if we miss our flight and stay here? So we stayed to live in China for a few years.

P.H. I remember that in a week, we found a house and a job. We had gone with just one rucksack as luggage, so there was too much space for us everywhere – even though the house we had moved into was tiny!

What was it about the pre-Olympics China that made the deepest impression on you?

J.O. Working at OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s studio. For our generation, Koolhaas is a reference and one of the most influential architects. A very theoretical and educational guy who has an extremely personal way of explaining and speaking about architecture.

Jaime, you are Mallorcan. Did you convince Paloma to come to the island after your Asian tour?

J.O. Quite the contrary. We came to the island for the summer from time to time, and to work on a few projects. Paloma loved Mallorca, but I was in no hurry to come back.

P.H. It was all very circumstantial. As long ago as when we were in China we started thinking about the possibility of setting up a studio, we had so much fun working together. I remember that, after spending some weekends in Mallorca, I would be going back on the flight to Madrid thinking "how annoying, it’s so great to be in Palma.”

What are the roots of OHLAB?

P.H. To assert the emotions of architecture. I always say that there seem to be a lot of buildings and not much architecture. We want to provoke something, generate an emotion. We think of every project as something unique. We like to try and understand the building from the interior. The programme, the needs, who it is for, where it is located.

J.O. The “OH” of our name is our attempt to highlight the moments of excitement and surprise in the face of something that is very theoretical. And they are also the initials of our surnames, Oliver and Hernaiz. We try not to set a style, because at the end of the day style is a way of halting creativity and generating ideas that are pre-established in advance.

Does “LAB” refer to a laboratory?

P.H. Yes, a laboratory of ideas that constantly searches and researches. Trial and error. We really like to function as a workshop in the office. When there is a proposal for a commission, we adapt like a kind of mini contest in the office. Tons of ideas always come up and everyone thinks and gives an opinion. We are not at all like the typical architect who has an idea and then draws it on a napkin for you. Ultimately, we guide, orient and organise the work, but it is work in which the entire team plays a very important role.

You have won 21 international prizes with the complete refurbishment of the hotel Can Bordoy, in Palma. Why is this project special for you?

J.O. We are a small studio, and this was the first hotel we did a full restructuring of: architecture, structure and installations. We were very excited when we saw the 16th-century building for the first time – it’s beautiful. We found it in that state of decadence that always gives rise to a certain emotion. For us [...]


Read this article in full in IN PALMA 62. And if you like, subscribe to IN PALMA for 1 year and get the next 4 issues of the magazine delivered to your home.

Can Bordoy Hotel, Palma.
Can Bordoy Hotel, Palma.
Casa MM, Palma.
Clínica Emardental, Palma.
Casa MM, Palma.
Image modal Image modal
Suscríbete a nuestra Newsletter