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Entered via a large red door, artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s studio covers the ground floor and basement of a former school in New York. Photography: Brett Beyer

Behind a red brick facade in New York’s East Village lies a burgeoning creative community. This freshly expanded hub is the headquarters of Cai Guo-Qiang – an artist best known for his gunpowder ‘drawings’ – who used its recent renovation as a chance to rethink what a studio could be.

Cai enlisted architecture practice OMA to tackle the work. Says project architect, Scott Abrahams: ‘The space needed to double as a place to think and a place to welcome people.’

Many of Cai’s large-scale artworks are actually created elsewhere, including the ‘Sky Ladder’ that flamed across the sky above China’s Quanzhou in June. This means his New York space is chiefly about concocting ideas and planning. Cai has no gallery representation, however, so it also has to function as a space to exhibit, invite collectors for a meal in the dining room, host meetings and even hold Japanese tea ceremonies.

The Quanzhou-born artist recently acquired new rooms in the underbelly of the former school building and on the ground floor. He tasked OMA with creating a flow between its warren of rooms, while reconsidering the boundaries between private and public areas. ‘We tried to make it easy to read what is old and what is new, making it clear how we have intervened,’ says Scott. Here, we take you on a tour of the studio.

Catarina is a Portuguese architect and freelance journalist based in Norway

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