Architectural practice requires a degree of intimacy and insight into complex sets of forces. While building is architecture’s bread and butter, it’s not always the best format to make a statement. It’s sometimes not even the most appropriate language to respond to a brief. Volume spoke with Reinier de Graaf of OMA/AMO about how research and media can become a vessel for political agendas.
This week, OMA has unveiled their latest project in London, Holland Green. Working alongside Allies & Morrison, the firm has created three new luxury residential buildings on a site of significant cultural importance: the former home of the Commonwealth Institute, designed by Sir Robert Matthew, one of the founding partners of RMJM. As a result, OMA and Allies & Morrison’s Holland Green project involved much more than just adding fuel to the fire of London’s booming luxury residential market—it also involved an extensive conversion to the original 1962 Commonwealth Institute exhibition hall, funded through the scheme’s profitable residential offering, to prepare the heritage building for its new tenants the Design Museum.
ArchDaily spoke with Reinier de Graaf, the partner in charge of the project at OMA, to discuss the development’s social aspirations, the challenges of the London context, and the story behind the project.
As the first month of 2016 draws to a close, we decided to tap into our network and ask an esteemed group of architects, critics, theorists and educators to tell us what they are looking forward to this year in architecture.
What are you looking forward to in architecture this year?
Last year, Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century took the world of economics by storm. His historical analysis and critique of the capitalist system fed perfectly into the wider narrative being constructed in the wake of the global financial crisis. But what lessons does Piketty hold for architects? In an article for The Architect's Newspaper, OMA partner Reinier de Graaf examines the way that the development of architecture in the 21st century mirrored that of economics, as the design of buildings became simultaneously a symptom and a cause of trends in capital. Read the full article - including de Graaf's question for the architects of the 21st century - here.
The Real Estate Architecture Laboratory (REAL) have today announced a Kickstarter campaign in preparation for the launch of their flagship publication, the Real Review. Produced by an independent team of editors and designers, this bi-monthly magazine intends to "revive the review as a writing form" to a general readership within the architectural sphere and its orbital subjects.
The Real Review will be "a printed object of exceptional quality, featuring engaging texts by leading international commentators," alongside providing "a highly visible platform for emerging writers." Confirmed authors at this time include, among others, Assemble, Pier Vittorio Aureli (Dogma, AA), Reinier de Graaf (OMA), Sam Jacob (Sam Jacob Studio), and a rostra of journalists including the Financial Times' architecture critic Edwin Heathcote.
"Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall’s demise, it is as though a large part of the twentieth century never happened," writes OMA principle Reinier de Graaf in his article for Metropolis Magazine "The Other Truth". "An entire period has been erased from public consciousness, almost like a blank frame in a film." Through the course of the article, de Graaf outlines how the West has rewritten the history of the cold war, erasing the "other truth" that existed for nearly half a century in East Berlin, the USSR, and other soviet-aligned states - a truth that we forget to our peril. It may not be immediately architectural, but the essay provides an interesting look into the political thoughts of de Graaf who, as the principle of one of architecture's most prominent research organizations in AMO, has an important influence on the profession's understanding of the wider world. Read the article in full here.
This weekend, the first planning session of the Global Parliament of Mayors took place in Amsterdam: a platform for mayors from across the world, triggered by Benjamin Barber’s book: If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities.
In this book the current political system and its leaders is dismissed as dysfunctional. Defined by borders and with an inevitable focus on national interests, they are not an effective vehicle to govern a world defined by interdependence. Mayors, presiding over cities with their more open, networked structure and cosmopolitan demographics, so the book argues, could do it better.
It is of no surprise that this book has been welcomed by the same political class as the one it praises: mayors. As was apparent during the first planning session of the GPM: a conference about mayors, for mayors, attended by mayors, moderated by mayors and hosted by a mayor, all triggered by a book about mayors.
I recognize many of the book’s observations. Many mayors are impressive figures and time appears to be on their side. Nation states (particularly the large ones) have an increasingly hard time and, in the context of a process of globalization, cities, and particularly small city-states, increasingly emerge victorious. Cities have first-hand experience with many of the things that occur in globalization’s wake, such as immigration and cultural and religious diversity, and are generally less dogmatic and more practical in dealing with them.
So far so good.
While the final products of OMA's oeuvre are well-documented and widely published, a large portion of the Dutch firm's work goes unrecognized and relatively unnoticed: the contextual, solution-oriented research undertaken by AMO. Although OMA’s lesser-known twin, AMO is vital to OMA’s approach, allowing the firm to delve into a world of context and explore possibilities beyond the built form.
It was with this in mind that we sat down with Reinier de Graaf, a partner at the firm. In addition to the building and masterplan projects he also manages on the OMA side of things, de Graaf has been the director of AMO since 2002, overseeing a diverse portfolio of projects. Over the past few years, AMO's energies have fueled the creation of the curriculum at Strelka; a "roadmap" for a de-carbonized power grid for the EU; and an exhibition that celebrated the architect as civil servant.
From our very first question (what is OMA's mission?), de Graaf answered with his characteristic aversion to "general terms," explaining that "[OMA's] mission is to explore unexpected subjects [...] without a preconceived mission."
"The Community" might be the most frequently used term over the last 50 years of Architectural and Urban discourse. For decades, "the community" has served as a legitimization for anything from Team X to New Urbanism, from Celebration to "vancouverism". But what is "the community"? Where should we look for the proper definition? How did communities appear in the past and how do they form today? Can 'the community" influence the design of its own space, territoiry or context? If yes, what could be the relationship between the community and architecture in the future?
In his Strelka talk Reinier de Graaf is trying to answer these and other, even more complex questions.
Via the Strelka Institute.