Jorge Otero-Pailos works at the intersection of art, architecture and preservation.
He is the Principal and Founder of Otero-Pailos Studio, an art and architecture studio focused on experimental preservation. The studio stands for the idea that existing buildings and monuments can be re-imagined into powerful agents of cultural change through contemporary art and architecture. He is Professor and Director of Historic Preservation at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York.
His artworks and public art installations have been commissioned and exhibited by major museums, foundations and biennials notably, the Artangel Trust, the 53rd Venice Art Biennial, Victoria and Albert Museum, Louis Vuitton Museum La Galerie, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2017.
His architectural projects range from urban master plans for historic cities, as well as institutional and residential reuse projects. They all involve rethinking the realm of possibilities within the confines of the historic built environment.
He is the founder and editor of the journal Future Anterior, co-editor of Experimental Preservation (2016), author of Architecture’s Historical Turn (2010) and contributor to scholarly journals and books including the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics and Rem Koolhaas’ Preservation Is Overtaking Us (2014).
He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Puerto Rico, the Academy of Science and Culture of Ibero-America, and has received awards from major art, architecture and preservation organizations including the 2012 the UNESCO Eminent Professional Award, the American Institute of Architects, the Kress Foundation, the Graham Foundation, the Fitch Foundation, and the Canadian Center for Architecture.
Otero-Pailos studied architecture at Cornell University, holds a PhD from MIT, and was a founding faculty member of the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico.
I am interested in how we transition as people from one phase in life to another, and as cultures from one historical period into the next. Transitions are often difficult, maybe even scary.
I focus on the objects we take along with us while we are in transition. Think of how a child’s teddy bear helps them transition from being awake to sleeping, or how refugees carry family jewels into their new lives, or how religious buildings help us cope with death. These are very special objects because they help to make sense of transitions, and when they are particularly hard, or even traumatic, they help us make them bearable.
My work is guided by the insights of psychoanalysis, but I am more concerned with larger social groups, with what we call culture, rather than individuals. So I gravitate towards monuments, the objects that entire cultures latch onto in order to transition into new phases, to remember, to celebrate, to come together. My body of work has involved casting dust and pollution from historical buildings, recreating historical smells, and re-enacting important events, amongst others.