Koolhaas on why OMA enters competitions

Unlike most architects of his stature, Koolhaas participates in many competitions. The process allows for creative freedom, since a client isn’t hovering, but it’s also risky. The firm invests an enormous amount of time and money in projects that will never get built. To Koolhaas, this seems to be an acceptable trade-off. “I’ve absolutely never thought about money or economic issues,” Koolhaas said. “But as an architect I think this is a strength. It allows me to be irresponsible and to invest in my work.

Via Nicolai Ouroussoff essay on Rem Koolhaas for Smithsonian Magazine. Earlier in the piece Ouroussoff contends that “Koolhaas works like a conceptual artist—able to draw on a seemingly endless reservoir of ideas” a fact directly linked to OMA’s engagement with competition as praxis. Chiefly by providing a “bank” of ideas as it were.

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)

Rem Koolhaas on Sustainability: advancement vs. apocalypse

For those of us who weren’t able to make it to Harvard’s recent Ecological Urbanism Conference (podcasts have also recently been made available at the conference’s website) held earlier this year, Rem Koolhaas recently posted the text to the keynote lecture he gave on April 2nd. Available (here)

In it he describes the ‘Tropical Architecture’ of Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry that he learned of, while studying in London in 1968 and the awareness they had for environment.
But it’s not only about humility. They were also interested in the tropics as a special domain, which is now the front line of the tensions and impossibilities that we are confronted with. They looked at these areas in great depth and were able to analyze to what extent this climate required specific architectures and planning. The studies also examined how an architecture could emerge that would actually persist in this climate without the degree of artificiality that we now take for granted.

Where is architecture today? Looking at Dubai and the icons of the last decade(s), Koolhaas writes;

Now, what about architecture? I think what the crisis will mean for us is an end to the ¥€$ regime. For those who didn’t recognize it, this is a collection of masterpieces by architects in the last ten years (25). It’s a skyline of icons showing, mercilessly, that an icon may be individually plausible, but that collectively they form an ultimately counterproductive and self-canceling kind of landscape. So that is out. Unfortunately, the sum total of current architectural knowledge hasn’t grown beyond this opposition. That is where the market economy and the evolution of architectural culture have been extremely irresponsible in letting knowledge simply disappear between the different preoccupations. I still think that architectural dialectics are between buildings like Falling Water and Farnsworth House, and are therefore not deep enough.

Finally, he chides the literal greening of today’s sustainable architecture and suggests that the next direction or evolution in practice will be infrastructural and structural/systemic? Much like the work of Buckminster Fuller and Margaret Mead many years ago. Koolhaas points to one of OMA’s current projects, the Noordzee master plan for an energy/infrastructure network uniting the countries of the North Sea and reaching perhaps as far as the Sahara, as exemplary of this type of project.