Rem Koolhaas’ Current Fascinations: On Identity, Asia, the Biennale, & More

Courtesy of Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture, and Design, via Flickr

In this interview, originally published in The Architectural Review, Andrew Mackenzie sits down with founder Rem Koolhaas to discuss the Venice Biennale, the extinction of national identities, his fascination with Asia, the link between De Rotterdam and Delirious New York, and the future of the profession.

Your proposition for this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale asks whether national identity has been, as you say, ‘sacrificed to modernity’. Some might view this as a project of reclamation, not unlike Frampton’s regionalism. How would you differentiate your proposition from Frampton’s?

Well, Kenneth Frampton is a smart guy, but the problem is that he looked at regionalism as an antidote to cosmopolitan development. In so doing he perverted the cause of regionalism, because suddenly regionalism was mobilised as a private cause that it couldn’t sustain. However, the question of national identity is an open one. For instance, at first sight is a very internationalist country, but looking closely you can see an enormous return of, not vernacular, but quasi-vernacular architecture and quasi-old fortresses that are newly built with a national flavour. Look at Zaandam, and that huge assemblage of so-called vernacular buildings.

Open Letters / Harvard Graduate School of Design

Courtesy of Open Letters

Launched in September 2013 by students at the Graduate School of Design, Open Letters is a print experiment that tests the epistolary form as a device for generating conversations about architecture and design. The project stems from an earnest curiosity about what people have to say to each other about architecture, landscapes, cities, ideas, history, practice, experience and learning. 

New issues are released every other Friday, each presenting one open letter, i.e. a letter addressed to a particular party, but intended for publication, about any topic relating to the design disciplines. Past correspondents have written to mentors, chairs, trees, mystical creatures, those in need of advice and to NCARB. All issues can be read online.

A Radical New Approach to Prison Design

© Glen Santayana

A recent topic that has been receiving attention among architects is the issue of designing prisons. The increased awareness of the problem has been spearheaded by Raphael Sperry, founder of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, who has been campaigning to have the AIA forbid members from designing execution chambers or solitary confinement units. At the other end of the scale, Deanna VanBuren, a principle of FOURM Design Studio and a member of ADPSR herself, has championed ‘restorative justice’, an approach to the justice system which emphasizes rehabilitation and reconciliation in order to prevent people from re-offending.

Now Glen Santayana, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, has used his thesis project to add to this debate, designing PriSchool – a prison which both integrates with a school of criminology and is embedded within the community. Could this radical approach to prison design really be an answer to the stretched prison system in the US (and elsewhere)? Read on after the break to find out more.

AD Interviews: Ben van Berkel, UNStudio on London’s Canaletto Tower

Ben van Berkel. Image © Inga Powilleit

ArchDaily recently spoke to Ben van Berkel, co-founder and principal architect at UNStudio, an international network of specialists in architecture, urban development and infrastructure based in the Netherlands. The office, which was founded in 1988, has completed projects around the world ranging from Rotterdam’s Erasmus Bridge to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. With over 81 built projects, and 54 currently in progress (including Raffles City in Hangzhou and Scotts Tower in Singapore), London’s Canaletto Tower (which is due to be completed in 2015) marks the practice’s first major project in the UK.

Are Ivy League Schools Really Offering the Best Architectural Education?

University’s Gund Hall. Image Courtesy of University

In Design Intelligence‘s annual rankings of US Architecture Schools, released earlier this month, there is certainly a lot to talk about. Of course, plenty will be said about what is shown immediately by the statistics, and rightly so – but just as interesting is what is revealed between the lines of this report, about the schools themselves and the culture they exist within. By taking the opinions of professional architects, teachers and students, the Design Intelligence report exposes a complex network which, when examined closely enough, reveals what some might see as a worrying trend within architectural education.

For Architects Only? How Kanye Exposed Architecture’s Bias

© Noam Dvir, Instagram User dvirnm

When Kanye West spoke with students at my alma mater on Sunday evening, he said “I really do believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be ‘architected.’” In the social media frenzy that followed, a recurring response that I saw on architecture-centric sites was to snicker at West’s use of the word “architect” as a verb. For many, this was symbolic of West’s ignorance and hubris as he presumed to talk about something without knowing anything.

Except, of course, that “architect” is well recognized as a verb. Dictionaries say so, architects say so, and academics say so. If you’re architect Doug Patt and call yourself howtoarchitect on YouTube, you get a contract from MIT Press to write a book—called How to Architect. If you are the French philosopher Louis Marin, you can suggest that “the castle and gardens of Versailles ‘architect’ the Prince to make him not only the absolute of political power, but the center of the cosmos in its entirety,” and you will be counted among the most eminent semioticians of the twentieth century. If you are architecture theorist K. Michael Hays, you might stand up at an academic conference and say, “There are only certain things that can be done at this moment. Not just anything can be architected at this moment, right? There are limits.” When you do, people will nod and applaud.

But if you are Kanye West and you suggest that “everything needs to actually be ‘architected,’” it disqualifies you to speak about architecture.

Kanye West Drops In on Harvard’s GSD

© Noam Dvir, Instagram User dvirnm

UPDATE: The GSD AASU has released a statement on ’s invitation and visit, which you can find at the end of the post. Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the GSD, has also commented on the visit.

Kanye West surprised students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) last night by dropping in un-announced before his Sunday night concert at the TD Garden in Boston. He gave a short motivational speech to the crowd that quickly formed in the GSD’s signature “trays.” West told the students:

I just wanted to tell you guys: I really do believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be “architected.” [...] I believe that utopia is actually possible—but we’re led by the least noble, the least dignified, the least tasteful, the dumbest, and the most political. So in no way am I a politician—I’m usually at my best politically incorrect and very direct. I really appreciate you guys’ willingness to learn and hone your craft, and not be lazy about creation.

GSD student Sekou Cooke, writer of “Keep Talking Kanye: An Architect’s Defense of Kanye West,” confirmed to an ArchDaily editor that West had in fact seen his post defending West’s right to speak-up about architectural issues and act as a role model for young potential architects of color. Although his visit with the student body was unexpected, West had been invited by Harvard GSD’s African American Student Union (AASU). Following a meeting with the AASU’s core group of leaders—during which West led a conversation regarding under-represented minorities in the design disciplines—the star was inspired to briefly address the rest of the students. West also gifted 300 tickets to his show to the GSD. In fact, in an uncharacteristic moment of insecurity, West told the crowd of students:

Tonight, this show, if you come see it—um, I’m a bit self conscious because I’m showing it to architects. So the stage does have flaws in it. It’s an expression of emotion so give me a pass on that.

See images and video of West’s GSD visit, after the break…

SOHO China’s Zhang Xin on Balancing Design and Commercial Viability

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The list of architects that have collaborated with Zhang Xin’s development company, SOHO China, reads like the roster of an architectural dream team (which includes Zaha Hadid, Yung Ho Chang, Bjarke Ingels, Kengo Kuma, Kazuyo Sejima, Herzog & de Meuron, Thom Mayne, David Adjaye, Toyo Ito and others). So it’s no surprise that the self-made billionaire lectured to a packed house at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design last Thursday. Xin spoke about her commitment to and love of design, explaining that her company’s mission is to bring a variety of architectural languages to China. And though SOHO’s projects are certainly experimental, Xin contends that her developer mindset actually helps meliorate the architect’s propensity to take the experiment too far—all without sacrificing the impressive and iconic forms of SOHO’s building portfolio.

Watch Zhang Xin link her practice in real estate to larger global issues and catch a glimpse of two -designs currently under construction: Wangjing SOHO and Sky SOHO.

AD Interviews Eduardo Souto de Moura On His Latest Prize

Prtizker laureate Eduardo Souto de Moura accepts the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design at a ceremony held at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in September. Image © Yusuke Suzuki for Events

ArchDaily got the chance to briefly speak with Pritzker-prize winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura when he (along with the Porto Metro Authority) received the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design earlier this month. His design for the Metro system in Porto, Portugal garnered high praise from the jury, with member explaining that the project “shows generosity to the public realm unusual for contemporary infrastructure projects.” Upon receipt of the award, the head of the Porto Metro, João Velez Carvalho, thanked Souto de Moura for his efforts in this “urban revolution” and touted Porto as a destination in which people actively and enthusiastically seek out the architecture of Souto de Moura and fellow Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. 

Souto de Moura spent a few moments with us to describe both the challenges and rewards of working on a project that saw the completion of 60 new stations constructed in 10 years within the sensitive fabric of the city of Porto—a UNESCO World Heritage site.

ArchDaily: What is your opinion of architecture prizes?

Eduardo Souto de Moura: I won’t be modest, I like describing my opinion about them because the profession is so tough and difficult that is it complicated to achieve a high level of quality. So when you’re awarded a prize it’s like a confirmation of your effort. But the other thing is that a project is not the act of an individual, it’s a collective act. When there’s a prize, the press and the people, the “anonymous people,” go see the project and talk about it, critique it. That’s what gives me the motivation to continue in the profession. And every time it gets more difficult.

AD Interviews: Iñaki Abalos

Yesterday, was announced as the new Chair of the Department of Architecture at Harvard GSD; he will begin on July 1st, 2013.

Abalos is a renowned Spanish architect, with much experience in both the academy and the professional field. He started his career together with Juan Herreros at the highly acclaimed firm Abalos + Herreros (1984-2006), and has been working since 2006 with Renata Sentkiewicz at Abalos+Sentkiewicz.

Highspeed Train Station in Logroño / Abalos+Sentkiewicz © Jose Hevia

His work always tries to find a balance between technical precision and the integration with the environment and landscape. This has evolved into the concept of “Thermodynamic Beauty”, a concept embodied in his buildings and constantly evolving throughout his academic efforts, which have included the authorship of several books and professorships at the ESTA Madrid, Harvard, Columbia, EPF Laussane, Princeton, Cornell and the BIArch Barcelona. At the GSD he was acting as Professor in Residence, leading studios, lectures, and seminars related to his focus on technology and history, the thermal properties of architecture and the integration of natural elements.

Abalos will soon lead one of the most influential architecture schools in the world, a tremendous responsibility given the challenges of , which we discuss in this interview. He also talks about how architects lost their authority after post-modernism, and suggests that we could get it back by cultivating a problem solving expertise on the world’s greatest challenges: climate change, the high density of the cities, and more.

AD Interviews: Preston Scott Cohen

I first learned about Preston Scott Cohen’s work when I read about the Goodman House, a simple and elegant operation of a concrete shell housing an ancient Dutch barn frame. But after further investigation, I was surprised to see a constant spatial and formal research of his work, that we have witnessed in the latest three public buildings from his office and featured on ArchDaily.

On one side we have the Nanjing Performing Arts Center, a curved roof related to the surroundings with a tower that anchors the project on the extended landscape. Also in , the Taiyuan Museum (under construction) continues the geometric explorations with a tessellated surface that wraps a series of different spaces which alternate with courtyards that maintain a relation with the exterior.

When we visited Preston in Boston for this interview we had the chance to see a preview of his latest work, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (also shown during construction at AD),  recently completed and now in final preparations to receive the art pieces and finally be open to the public.  The exterior geometry of the building has a dynamic look, due to the changing shadows, while the interior features a careful use of natural light in the exhibitions spaces thanks to a lightfall that crosses the building.

Preston is also the Chair of the Department of Architecture of GSD, a role that allowed us to talk about the challenges of architectural education.

The challenges of architectural education

Our profession is very particular. We react very fast to current issues with our ideas, yet our buildings can take quite some time to be erected. For example, the project of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange building by OMA in China was the physical image of the new Chinese economy back in 2006. Five years later this new economy has taken the world by storm yet the building is still under construction.

Also, the exchange of knowledge in the age of information has made our profession move at an unprecedented speed, and thanks to the Internet the new ideas are not coming from the usual centers (New York, Milan, ) but rather from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In this new panorama, architectural education has to move faster, and smarter. It’s not about teaching how to use the latest tools, bur rather how to be part of a new world.

When we visited Preston Scott Cohen, Chair of the Architecture Department at , we asked him about the challenges that architectural education is facing today, such as how our field is expanding to work on areas that were totally out of our scope until a few years ago.

With more than 120 architecture schools in the US, there are several perspectives about this. It would be great if you could tell us your opinion about this important matter.

Video: ‘Cloud City’ by Tomas Saraceno

Through May 17th, Tomas Saraceno’s ‘Cloud City’ at the Carpenter City is one of three major works of the exhibition, The Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy is an “exploration of the emerging domain of experimental spatial practice where the concerns of art, design, and activism are powerfully converging today.”

Curator’s Statement from Sanford Kwinter

In the project presented here on the terrace of the renowned Le Corbusier–designed Carpenter Center, Saraceno will erect and dock an air-filled, 7-meter-tall, 14-sided, irregular, transparent structure loaded with solar cells, sensors, recorders, and transmitters intended not only to record the environment but to incorporate and be integrated into it as well.* In collaboration with various space agencies and local amateur operators, the apparatus, or a confederacy of others like it, has the potential to be launched into free space to interact with the urban ocean above.

Video: Olafur Eliasson ‘Three to Now’

Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Three to Now’ is part of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design exhibition, The Divine Comedy. On display at Gund Hall through May 17th this major work is a piece of an “exploration of the emerging domain of experimental spatial practice where the concerns of art, design, and activism are powerfully converging today.”

Curator’s Statement from Sanford Kwinter

It may be said that Eliasson, like Duchamp, does not produce works of art. Rather, he organizes and transforms conditions of experience. The widely known Weather Project at the Tate Modern in in 2003 is a primary example. Every Eliasson work entails the production of a machine that activates other machines—in particular, the sensation-producing body-machines of the viewers themselves. In the exhibition presented here are displayed 54 experiment-machines (they could also be called “perceiving machines”) that each explores an aspect of how the human body and nervous system orients itself in space and time by tapping clues implicitly or explicitly from its environment, from which it innovates its own irreducibly unique “life in space.”

Video: ‘Untitled’ by Ai Weiwei

Running through May 17th at the Northwest Labs, the much anticipated exhibition, The Divine Comedy, features major works including Ai Weiwei’s ‘Untitled’. The Divine Comedy exhibition is an “exploration of the emerging domain of experimental spatial practice where the concerns of art, design, and activism are powerfully converging today.”

Curator’s Statement from Sanford Kwinter

The work Untitled, presented here, makes public the findings of a year-long “Citizens’ Investigation” of the May 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake initiated by the Ai Weiwei Studio on behalf of the thousands of student victims of the disaster.* The survey covered 150 schools in 74 towns to amass the names of the deceased children, their birth dates, and the name of the schools they attended and in which they were killed. The investigation uncovered the subsequently widely reported fact that the defective “tofu construction” of school buildings played a principal role in the disproportionately high mortality rate of schoolchildren, a fact that was strenuously covered up by government authorities. Five thousand three hundred thirty-five backpacks are arrayed here, each in commemoration of a child documented by the “Citizens’ Investigation.” In a sound piece accompanying the work titled Remembrance, the names of the victims are recited.

Jacques Herzog Lecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Photography by , © Vitra

This coming Thursday, May 5th Harvard University Graduate School of Design will host , of Pritzker Prize winning Herzog de Meuron. The lecture, from 4pm-5pm, will be held at the Piper Auditorium and is free and open to the public. It will also be streaming live on the GSD webcast page. Further information about this upcoming lecture can be found here.

Fumihiko Maki 2011 AIA Gold Medal Winner

© Imogene Tudor

In recognition of his contributions to architecture in both theory and practice Fumihiko Maki was recently named the 2011 AIA Gold Medal Winner. Maki, arguably one of Japan’s most distinguished living architects, will be honored with the award in New Orleans at the AIA National Convention.

“He has a unique style of Modernism that is infused with an ephemeral quality and elegance which reflects his Japanese origin. What stands out most about Mr. Maki is the consistent quality of his work at the highest caliber and the creation of ineffable atmospheres; his buildings convey a quiet and elegant moment of reflection,” colleague Toshiko Mori, FAIA, said of Maki.

Also noteworthy is Fumihiko Maki’s close working relationship with each employee. Forty architects, urban planners, and administrative personnel, make up the staff of Maki and Associates, which is the type of working environment where each member is involved in and responsible for all aspects of projects. Maki himself is at the head of each commission and maintains the leadership role through to completion, including construction supervision. Established in 1965 Maki and Associates throughout its 42 years has been based in , Japan. Maki studied at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art, but has spent the majority of his life in Japan.

Examples of Maki’s work include:

The Spiral in Tokyo, Japan
The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California
The Kaze-No-Oka Crematorium in Kyushu, Japan
Triad in Nagano, Japan
The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Maki is the 67th AIA Gold Medalist and joins a prestigious list including Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Renzo Piano, I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Santiago Calatrava and last year’s recipient, Peter Bohlin, FAIA.

He has received numerous awards including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993.

May events at Harvard GSD

Harvard University Graduate School of Design hosts some great lectures featuring some of the world’s most important architects. Here are some of their May events:

May 3 / Ecological Urbanism Book Launch Reception
May 6 / Jaime Moreno lecture
May 6 / Michael Rock of 2×4, “A Brief History of Screens”
May 7 / Bob Peck, Commissioner, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration, Loeb Fellow ’78, “From the Federal Government and here to help”
May 8 / Palladio Oggi: Palladio and the Present Symposium (*in New York City)

You can find more on each event on the GSD official website, which is constantly adding new events. Every event is free and open to the public.