Rem Koolhaas: A Reluctant Architect

© Dominik Gigler

In honor of ’ birthday today, we are bringing you all things Koolhaas: 12 Fun Koolhaas quotes; a fabulous article by former New York Times critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff; this ArchDaily original editorial; and, later today, a Round-Up of all of OMA’s latest works. Stay tuned!

Imagine London, but not the way you know it. Imagine it physically separated, much like Berlin once was, into two zones: one of pleasure and one of practicality. Consider how the city would eventually appear as inhabitants rushed to the pleasure zone; how the zone of practicality would eventually, inevitably become bereft.

This is the London of a young Rem Koolhaas’ imaginings, written for his Thesis at the Architectural Association School in London in the late 60s. Before Delirious New Yorkbefore OMA, and much before the CCTV Tower, Koolhaas was inspired by this idea of the divided city – and it’s a fitting image to start thinking about the ever provocative, often controversial Rem: a man who stands with one foot in the world of desire and the other, reluctantly, in that of practicality; a man who would perhaps prefer the title of urban thinker, despite clearly being one of architecture’s great masters.

It’s exactly this in-between-ness, this reluctance to fit into one supposed role, that has been Koolhaas’ greatest asset, that has allowed him to approach the profession from such unlikely angles. Using the city’s freedoms as his inspiration, and rejecting as given the expectations of what architecture is(even questioning its relevance at all), Koolhaas, the “reluctant architect,” is also the most radical of our time, and the most vital for our future.

Why is Rem Koolhaas the World’s Most Controversial Architect?

© Dominik Gigler

In honor of Rem Koolhaas’ birthday today, we are printing a fascinating piece on his life and work written by Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The Times from 2004-2011. 

Rem Koolhaas has been causing trouble in the world of architecture since his student days in London in the early 1970s. Architects want to build, and as they age most are willing to tone down their work if it will land them a juicy commission. But Koolhaas, 67, has remained a first-rate provocateur who, even in our conservative times, just can’t seem to behave. His China Central Television headquarters building, completed this past May, was described by some critics as a cynical work of propaganda and by others (including this one) as a masterpiece. Earlier projects have alternately awed and infuriated those who have followed his career, including a proposal to transform part of the Museum of Modern Art into a kind of ministry of self-promotion called MoMA Inc. (rejected) and an addition to the Whitney Museum of American Art that would loom over the existing landmark building like a cat pawing a ball of yarn (dropped).

Koolhaas’ habit of shaking up established conventions has made him one of the most influential architects of his generation. A disproportionate number of the profession’s rising stars, including Winy Maas of the Dutch firm MVRDV and Bjarke Ingels of the Copenhagen-based BIG, did stints in his office. Architects dig through his books looking for ideas; students all over the world emulate him. The attraction lies, in part, in his ability to keep us off balance. Unlike other architects of his stature, such as Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, who have continued to refine their singular aesthetic visions over long careers, Koolhaas works like a conceptual artist—able to draw on a seemingly endless reservoir of ideas.

Insertion Below Chimney / Original Design Studio

© Zhang Siye – Wang Yuan – Sun Jialong

Architects: Original Design Studio
Location: Shanghai,
Design Team: Zhang Ming, Zhang Zi, Sun Jialong
Area: 3,000 sqm
Year: 2011
Photographs: Zhang Siye – Wang Yuan – Sun Jialong

Courtesy of PPMS Arquitetos Associados
Courtesy of PPMS Arquitetos Associados

Conference Center Reconstruction Second Prize Winning Proposal / PPMS Arquitetos Associados

Currently lacking an architectural identity capable of signaling the actual moment of the country, the second prize winning proposal for the reconstruction of the Conference Center provides a new image in Libreville, Gabon. The design by PPMS Arquitetos Associados… involves

Las Torres / Hierve-Diseñeria

© Rafael Gamo

Architects: Hierve-Diseñeria
Location: , México
Collaborators: Armando Niño de Rivera, Sugey Ramirez, Mikel Merodio, Jesus Ramirez, Gabriela Rosas
Partner: Alejandro Villarreal
Area: 8,502 sqm
Year: 2010
Photographs: Rafael Gamo

12 Classic Koolhaas Quotes

© wyly wonderment

Pritzker-Prize Laureate Remment Lucas Koolhaas (you probably know him as ”Rem”) turns 68 today. The co-founder of one of the world’s most renowned architecture firms, OMA, and an urban-planner/philosopher whose theories have provoked admiration (and ire) for over thirty years, Koolhaas is undeniably one of a kind.

In honor of the occasion, today we’ll be bringing you all things Koolhaas: a fabulous article by former New York Times critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, a Round-Up of all of OMA’s latest works, an original ArchDaily editorial, and this list of from the architect himself – some poignant, all provocative (this is Koolhaas, after all). Such as this gem: “People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that’s both liberating and alarming…”

12 Classic Koolhaas Quotes, after the break…

In Criticism of Architecture:

“People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that’s both liberating and alarming. 

But the generic city, the general urban condition, is happening everywhere, and just the fact that it occurs in such enormous quantities must mean that it’s habitable. Architecture can’t do anything that the culture doesn’t. We all complain that we are confronted by urban environments that are completely similar. We say we want to create beauty, identity, quality, singularity. And yet, maybe in truth these cities that we have are desired. Maybe their very characterlessness provides the best context for living.” interview in Wired, July 1996  

“Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory – on its way to becoming. The words and ideas of architecture, once the official language of space, no longer seem capable of describing this proliferation of new conditions. But even as its utility is questioned in the real world, architectural language survives, its repertoire of concepts and metaphors resurrected to create clarity and definition in new, unfamiliar domains (think chatrooms, Web sites, and firewalls). Words that die in the real are reborn in the virtual.” - Note from , guest-editor of Wired, June 2003 

“Architecture has been defined in terms of one activity, and that activity is adding to the world. A few years ago I realized the profession was as if lobotomized – it was stuck conceiving of itself only in terms of adding things and not in terms of taking away or erasing things. The same intelligence for adding ought to also deal with its debris.”interview in Wired, July 1996 

“Junkspace is the sum total of our current architecture: we have built more than all previous history together, but we hardly register on the same scales. [...] It substitutes accumulation for hierarchy, addition for composition. More and more, more is more. Junkspace is overripe and undernourishing at the same time, a colossal security blanket that covers the earth. … Junkspace is like being condemned to a perpetual Jacuzzi with millions of your best friends.”- Article in Wired, June 2000

On Thinking and Writing:

When asked if he has a certain aspiration: “It’s very simple and it has nothing to do with identifiable goals. It is to keep thinking about what architecture can be, in whatever form. That is an answer, isn’t it?[...] continuity of thinking in whatever form, around whatever subject, is the real ambition.” —Interview with Jennifer Sigler in Index Magazine, 2000 

“I like thinking big. I always have. To me its very simple: if youre going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” -S, M, L, XL 

“There is an enormous, deliberate, and – I think – healthy discrepancy between what I write and what I do.” —interview in Wired, July 1996  

On his work:

“I’ve absolutely never thought about money or economic issues,but as an architect I think this is a strength. It allows me to be irresponsible and to invest in my work.” Smithsonian Mag, Septebmer 2012

Commenting on the ambiguity of his visions as either utopian or dystopian: “That has been my entire life story. Running against the current and running with the current. Sometimes running with the current is underestimated. The acceptance of certain realities doesn’t preclude idealism. It can lead to certain breakthroughs.”Smithsonian Mag, Septebmer 2012

“The unbuilt is the fantasy that underlies everything.” -  Article in Wired, June 2000


Describing the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in the late 60s: “flower power and terminal humanism. Goodness had become niceness. I felt incredibly uncomfortable.” - Article in Wired, June 2000

On New York City: ”‘Zero tolerance’ is a deadly mantra for a metropolis: What is a city if not a space of maximum license?”An article in Wired, June 2003 

Huangshan Mountain Village / MAD Architects

Courtesy of

MAD Architects just unveiled plans for a high-density village near the Huangshan Mountains (Yellow Mountain) in Province, central China. The low-rise residences echo the contours of the surrounding topography and offer unequalled access to one of China’s most famous landscapes. Their design affirms the inherent significance of this landscape. Composed in deference to the local topography, the village provides housing, a hotel and communal amenities organized in a linked configuration across the southern slope of Taiping Lake. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Officierenwijk Residential Zone Winning Proposal / META Architectuurbureau

Courtesy of META Architectuurbureau

Located in a forested area of , , the competition winning proposal for the Officierenwijk Residential Zone consists of 23 single-family houses, of which 17 can be classified as social housing and 6 as affordable housing. Designed by META Architectuurbureau, the different dwellings form, both on a functional as well as aesthetic level, a coherent whole with the façade playing an integral role to achieve this. More images and architects’ description after the break.

One Patio House / Polidura + Talhouk Arquitectos

© Aryeh Kornfeld

Architects: Polidura + Talhouk Arquitectos
Location: Comuna de Ñuñoa, Santiago de
Design Team: Antonio Polidura, Pablo Talhouk
Collaborators: Ignacio Caroca, Victor Lillo
Engineering: ALPA / Alfonso Pacheco, Guillermo Donoso
Area: 230 sqm
Year: 2012
Photographs: Courtesy of , © Aryeh Kornfeld

“La Asunción” School Extension / Romina Barbieri Petrelli, Miguel Díaz-Negrete, Pablo Martín Hevia

© Marcos Morilla

Architects: Romina Barbieri Petrelli, , Pablo Martín Hevia
Location: , Spain
Technical Architect: Miguel Díaz-Negrete Sanz
Area: 1,214.4 sqm
Year: 2009
Photographs: Marcos Morilla

© Huy Dao
© Huy Dao

Faliro Pier Competition Entry / Ksestudio

With the challenge of creating a new landmark on a floating platform, the ‘U-Topos’ proposal for the Faliro pier competition proposes a constructed “place”, a new “Land-” and a new “-mark”. Designed by Ksestudio…, in an attempt to optimize

Craigieburn Train Maintenance Facility / HBO+EMTB

© Dianna Snape

Architects: HBO+EMTB
Location: Melbourne,
Area: 20,000 sqm
Year: 2012
Photographs: Dianna Snape

Compiegne Bridge / Explorations Architecture

© Michel Denancé

Architects: Explorations Architecture
Location: , France
Design Team: , Agence Ter, Flint&Neill, Terrell
Photographs: Michel Denancé

Voronoi’s Corrals / decaARCHITECTURE

© Stale Eriksen

Architects: decaARCHITECTURE
Location: , Cyclades,
Design Team: Carlos Loperena, Alexandros Vaitsos, Eva Tsouni, Minna Colakis, Stefanos Nassopoulos, Jo Burtenshaw, Alison Katrii, Roza Giannopoulou
Construction: Carlos Loperena, Dimitra Palaiologou
Mechanical Engineer: George Kavoulakos
Structural Engineer: Christos Kaklamanis
Planting Consultant: Kalliopi Grammatikopoulou
Area: 300 sqm
Year: 2012
Photographs: Stale Eriksen, Courtesy of decaARCHITECTURE

Vadeggio-Cassarate Gallery / Cino Zucchi Architetti

Courtesy of

Architects: Cino Zucchi Architetti
Location: , Switzerland
Design Team: Cino Zucchi, Andrea Viganò, Luca Torri with Marco Alì, Marco Cerati
Client: Dipartimento del Territorio del Canton Ticino
Year: 2012
Photographs: Courtesy of Cino Zucchi Architetti

AD Architecture College Guide: Pasadena Art Center College of Design

Art Center’s South Campus, designed by Daly/Genik Architects

There’s a new program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Situated in the south campus designed by Kevin Daly of Daly/Genik, the Media Design Practices  program is a newly minted program that is an exciting new approach to design.

Why you may ask has the ArchDaily College Guide decided to examine a media program when its focus is architecture schools around the world? Simple. Because this is an innovative program that will impart new skills, enhance the ones you have, and help you find a job to boot. All of this can happen regardless of your undergraduate degree.

Read our full review after the break

E.J. Ourso College of Business / ikon.5 architects

© Brad Feinknopf

Architects: ikon.5 architects
Location: Louisiana State University, 3357 Highland Road, , LA 70802, USA
Year: 2012
Photographs: Brad Feinknopf

425 Park Avenue / Foster + Partners

Courtesy of Foster + Partners

As we announced in early October, British powerhouse Foster + Partners have been declared as winner of the six-month long, all-star competition to design the next “landmark” high rise on the prime site of 425 Park Avenue in City. The tapered, steel-frame office tower is planned to rise 687 feet to claim a spot on the City skyline by 2017. Upon competition, the world-class high rise is expected to achieve LEED Gold status and serve as an exemplar for sustainable office design.

Foster’s concept succeeded visions from , Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers (view all the proposals here). Construction is expected to begin in 2015, shortly after the completion of Foster’s first U.S. residential high rise, which broke ground this week in New York.

Details of 425 Park Avenue after the break…