Rem Koolhaas on Bilboa effect

In a recent interview Koolhaas discussed OMA’s work on the Hermitage 2014 Masterplan, a comprehensive reconsideration of the encyclopedic Saint Petersburg museum’s structure and function, slated for completion on the institution’s 250th anniversary. He notes that rather than attempt to create a new icon or masterpiece for the project OMA wanted to see whether the museum could be enhanced by simply using its existing stock of architecture, artifacts, and history under a more authorial regime.

So in some cases, you wonder whether “Bilbao” might actually be a necessity. It’s certainly legitimate for cities that aren’t “major” and have no “major” histories to try to use architecture to enhance their reputation, but when it’s being applied to the self-image of major cities like Rome and Moscow, it becomes counterproductive. It’s as if these cities are losing their confidence and self-respect.

I remember when starting the competition for the MAXXI museum in Rome, the director told us, “We want the museum to do for Rome what Gehry did for Bilbao.” The city with Saint Peter’s and the Pantheon needs a Bilbao? I think that this is really the danger of Bilbao: It works in a city that had nothing, less in one that has everything. It threatens to provincialize major cities with massive histories, because by seemingly answering the need for an identity in cities that already have an abundance of identity, you in fact diminish it all. And the effect of this is really quite sinister, because it’s also become the basis of an anti-Bilbao discourse that is now so strong—for instance, I have people telling me that the CCTV [China Central Television] building, this new icon, has ruined the entire city of Beijing. But Beijing’s a city that already has thousands of icons, and this is only one of them. CCTV is therefore much more modest than this kind of critique acknowledges.

Via ArtForum (here)


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