AD Interviews: Joshua Prince-Ramus / REX

We are back with our series of interviews. This time we had the chance to ask our usual set of questions to Joshua Prince-Ramus, founder of – Architecture PC. Previously, Prince-Ramus was the founding partner of OMA NY, where he was Partner in Charge of the Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas and the Seattle Central Library.

As of now, he has been developing one of the most interesting mix-use projects I have ever seen: The Museum Plaza in Luisville, Kentucky. He has also two ongoing projects, the Vakko headquarters in Turkey and the Wyly Theatre in Dallas.

This has been one of the most interesting interviews we have ever had. Joshua talked a lot on his approach to design and how to collaborate on a project.

But enough talk, just watch the interview – sorry for the audio, we are working to improve our interviews in the future.

After the break, some images of his practice.

Cite: Basulto, David. "AD Interviews: Joshua Prince-Ramus / REX" 10 Feb 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=12121>

21 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    maybe its a sign. rem burns down, rex starts building. but seriously, why all the rex hate? more good architecture is more good architecture. jealous much?

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Very interesting interview, REX is one of the few innovative firms in the US now I guess. Pity the sound is really making it defficult to understand. :)

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Could a transcript be provided of the interview?

    From what I have heard this is very interesting, but listening to the audio is proving painful!

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Its definitely an eerie series of events. I wrote a paper for one of my english classes on the REX approach, definitely one of the most interesting and logical ways to create intelligent design. This audio is a shame.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    same old dialog… these guys suck and so does the audio…. if they pride themselves
    on tech. lets put a little more effort into the av production… you cant even hear the guy….

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    look at the shot of the studio its totally empty… did everyone bail when the cameras started to roll or did they fire everyone…

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Sadly the audio is bad.
    He presents interesting ideas, something that strikes me as rare being Koolhaas’ pupil, for he presents pieces of architecture thata are more then questionable. I hope he retreats from the koolhaas formal lecture and presents solely his own.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I would like a transcript as well if that’s possible. It’s almost unintelligible, made worse by my crappy speakers….

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    theres so much ideas here… EXTREMELY BAD AUDIO! Please provide a subtitle… as you run thru listening, everything becomes a humming noise eventually

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Really interesting interview, I did my best to transcribe this as I was listening, so hopefully anybody who can’t put up with the terrible sound quality can get the gist of the content:

    -For REX architecture is about primarily investigating and reinventing typologies, challenging conventional typologies and either reinforcing them or reinventing them.

    -Architecture as a profession has gotten weak and marginalised to the point where it is seen as just providing aesthetic “window dressing”, either just a pretty sketch at the beginning of the project or prettifying decisions that were made without the involvement of architects. Architects should reclaim their traditional position as the authors of not just an initial sketch but of the processes that result in buildings, i.e. put themselves in control of Building Information Modelling systems, the authorship of contracts, cost estimation, procurement processes.

    -Most innovative architecture currently is happening in wealthy places where they don’t really need it, e.g. Dubai, instead of the places where they really need it due to increasing population pressure, existing urban areas like Bangladesh, Seoul, Shanghai.

    -Architects are much more concerned about their profile within the architectural world than in the wider world, which is a pity seeing as architects don’t get their work from other architects. It’s more interesting to debate architecture with an economist or a banker about how architecture can solve problems related to other fields.

    -Networking rarely leads to work but it leads to important insights that affect your work.

    -’Research’ has become something seen as a derogatory term, meaning thinking in abstraction without any practical application. They want research to be a throwback term similiar to how they see design, referring to investigation\engineering of real issues. With most of their projects they convince the client to let them suspend design early on for a 2-3 month period to allow a research phase, which is a very practical phase that sets out the issues confronting the project and what positions they collectively take on those issues (which become the genesis of the design). They want the client to feel empowered so they make this phase a collaborative one where the client assesses their findings and okays them.

    -Regarding the Museum Plaza project: there are really 3 clients; the developer, the financial backers (who wanted a contemporary art institute), and the city itself. The approach was unusual in that the extent of the commercial development was left up to the architects but they knew that the profit generated had to be enough to offset a lot of the capital costs for the art institution (which was set at a particular size). The architects regarded the necessity or not of the project as one for the city itself to make, as to whether the downtown required this sort of high-rise development.

    -It is a misnomer to call the modernist movement in architecture ‘modernism’. The aspirations of modernism itself were never really achieved through the modernist architectural movement. The modernist movement in architecture was really about totalitarianism, i.e. total control, whereas modernism\modernity really aspired to loss of control. Regarding mixed use projects, the challenge to an architect should be how to set up conflicts\synergies\interactions which could not have been predicted. Collisions and unknown interactions should be orchestrated by the architect (e.g. with the Louisville project, the lobby will have kids in bathing suits sharing space with people in tuxedos). Architecture is supposed to solve and produce, not to clean and fix. Sometimes the most interesting potentials are about friction and interaction.

    -There are so many specialists required for a complex project that even if architects want to be in control the authorship of building processes, it is a matter of being a good conductor of the other professions rather than trying to do everything themselves. When they work with a new consultant they want the consultant to tell them not how to do something in the conventional way but rather to list what particular problems must be overcome to do something the way they want (e.g. with the theatre consultant they work with, they wanted to know not how a proscenium theatre is typically built but what is the basic list of requirements for one and how they can manipulate them and imagine possible new solutions). They gained the trust of the consultant by getting them to realise that they are genuinely interested in understanding the problems involved in solving particular technical issues and that they will never suggest solutions that don’t honor the problem to the fullest.

    -With the Wyley Theatre they convinced the clients during the thinking process that they needed a building which was more like a tool as opposed to a piece of sculpture. This allowed them to take some of the budget out of ‘prettiness’ and move it into infrastructure. This discussion could not have been done with just the architects, it had to involve all consultants as only they know what the cost implications of increasing infrastructure are. They shifted the ambitions for the project to not talk about the architecture first but to talk about what the architecture can provide for the theatre company.

    -He talks about teaching a class of architecture students that had to design an opera house for a company in Istanbul, then present their designs to the managing & artistic director for the theatre and the vice mayor of the city. The students put their own particular desires and dreams into their designs (what he calls a conventional American approach). When they presented their designs the opera house artistic director slated their designs and responded that he didn’t care about their desires and visions, he wanted to see his visions put into practice as it would be his funding they were spending! They used this to teach the class that they needed to start within the realm of their client’s desires and constraints, not their own desires. They could either piggyback their own agenda onto that of the client, ignore the agenda of the client and just push their own agenda (in which case both would likely fail) or his own favoured approach which is to maximise the potential of constaints.

    -Most architecture schools are focused on teaching you how to design, and he thinks they can’t really succeed in teaching this. The 2 things a school can really teach you are firstly, how to be self-critical, and secondly to realise that what seems unsexy actually is real design (e.g. contract negotiation). He wishes that more architecture schools would realise the importance of infrastructure like contracts which are typically put way below design in terms of importance in teaching. Schools are focused much more on objects than processes. He uses the aluminium facade of the Wyley theatre as an example of how using processes like the procurement process is as important as understanding design.

    -When hiring people, intelligence is the main thing they look for. They would even hire non-architects over architects based on high intelligence.

    -They try to work in their practice in a Socratic method, which is how most law schools in the US teach. Everyone first puts in their ideas, then the ideas are critiqued, a conclusion is reached, then you give that conclusion back to the whole group who work on it some more and then it is critiqued again, etc. They like to emphasise critique over generation, i.e. they don’t care who comes up with the idea, just whether the idea is strong. Architects generally are too attached to the ownership of ideas, they think that critique of their ideas implies critique of themselves. When critique is most violent it is because the idea is most worth attacking or defending. Bad ideas are the ones nobody comments on. They used to think that people just learned their design process by osmosis, i.e. just being around the office, but they realised this isn’t really true so they started to do an in-house studio that does competition entries for the newer recruits to learn their methods.

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