Reflections on the 2014 Venice Biennale

Fundamentals (Central Pavilion): Ceiling. Image © David Levene

Fundamentals, the title of the 2014 Venice Biennale, will close its doors in a matter of days (on the 23rd November). From the moment revealed the title for this year’s Biennale in January 2013, asking national curators to respond directly to the theme of ‘Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014’, there was an inkling that this Biennale would be in some way special. Having rejected offers to direct the Biennale in the past, the fact that Koolhaas chose to act not only as curator but also thematic co-ordinator of the complete international effort, was significant. This announcement led Peter Eisenman (one of Koolhaas’ earliest tutors and advocates) to state in one interview that “[Rem is] stating his end: the end of [his] career, the end of [his] hegemony, the end of [his] mythology, the end of everything, the end of architecture.”

Koolhaas’ Career in Film: 1,2,3 Group

1,2,3 Group: Samuel Meyering, Rem Kolhaas, , Rene Daalder, . Image courtesy of Rene Daalder. Via The Architecture Foundation

Before studying architecture at the Architectural Association in London, Rem Koolhaas embarked on a short but fruitful career in film as a member of 1,2,3 Group, a youthful band of five who shared different roles in front of and behind the camera in a kind of anti-auteur cinema.

The first film produced by the group came from the longtime friendship between Rem and scriptwriter and director Rene Daalder, who along with Jan de Bont, Frans Bromet and Samuel Meyering produced 1,2,3 Rhapsody (1965), a short film which featured Koolhaas as an actor in some scenes and a cameraman in others.

13 Things You Didn’t Know About Rem Koolhaas

A still from the film 1,2,3 Rhapsody (1965), in which Rem Koolhaas served as both cameraman and actor. . Image Courtesy of

1. When he was young he collaborated with the director Jan de Bont, whose credits would later include Speed and Twister.

2. Koolhaas dates his desire to become an architect to a speech he delivered to a group of architects at the University of Delft when he was 24. 

3. The drawings from his final project at the AA are the most requested items from MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Spotlight: Rem Koolhaas

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

The celebrated architect Remment (Rem) Koolhaas, the 2000 Pritzker Prize laureate and curator of the 2014 Venice Biennale, began his architectural education at the Architectural Association in London in 1968, eventually founding OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) with one of his former professors, Elia Zenghelis (along with Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp).

Despite OMA’s current ubiquity, the firm’s beginnings in 1975 were fairly modest. The commission of the high-profile Euralille project in 1989 was a turning point; the firm then began to move away from small scale projects (such as the Villa dall’Ava) to the large scale works that they’re known for today. Koolhaas’ firm is now known almost exclusively for large-scale works, such as the CCTV Headquarters (named the “Best Tall Building in the World” in 2013) and the Seattle Library (which is widely regarded as one of the most important buildings of the 21st century).

Help Us Honor Rem Koolhaas On His 70th Birthday

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

Rem Koolhaas, one of today’s most celebrated architects, has lived a significant year. With the closing of his much-talked about Venice Biennale just days away, the Dutchman also turns 70 years old this coming Monday. 

Koolhaas’ approach to architecture and architectural thinking holds tremendous importance and weight – so much so that Bjarke Ingels, one of his many protegés, has called him “the Le Corbusier of our time.”

In recognition of his contribution to the world of architecture (and on the occasion of his birthday) we’re asking you, our readers, to post video and/or visual tributes to to your social media accounts using the hasthtag #70. Has Koolhaas influenced the work of your studio or office? Show your support or appreciation in a short video clip! Would you like to share a portrait or illustration of or his projects? Do you have an anecdote or story? Be creative! We’ll be publishing our favorites on his birthday, so start tagging (#70) and stay tuned.

In Progress: Stadskantoor / OMA

© Ossip van Duivenbode

Architects: OMA
Location: Meent 119, 3011 JH Rotterdam,
Partners In Charge: , Reinier de Graaf
Associate: Alex de Jong
Project Team: Philippe Braun, Clarisa Garcia Fresco, Maaike Hawinkels, Andrew Linn, Takeshi Murakuni, Peter Rieff, Tom Tang, Sakine Dicle Uzanyayla, Mark Veldman
Interior Team: Saskia Simon, Andrea Giannotti, Ross O’Connell, Mafalda Rangel, Lucia Zamponi, Grisha Zotov
Area: 43370.0 sqm
Year: 2015
Photographs: Ossip van Duivenbode, Courtesy of OMA

Why China’s President Says “No More Weird Buildings”

The President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, has reportedly called for an end to the “weird buildings” being built in China, and particularly in the nation’s capital, Beijing. In a two hour speech at a literary symposium in Beijing last week, Mr Xi expressed his views that art should serve the people and be morally inspiring, identifying architectural projects such as OMA’s CCTV Headquarters as the kind of building that should no longer be constructed in Beijing.

With ’s construction boom being one of the most talked about features of today’s architecture scene – and many a Western practice relying on their extravagant projects to prop up their studios – the Chinese leader’s comments have the potential to affect the landscape of architectural practice worldwide. But what is behind these sentiments? Read on after the break to find out.

Video: Rem Koolhaas Answers Questions From Fans as Part of ‘REM’ Kickstarter

In December of last year, we brought you news of Tomas Koolhaas campaign to fund a documentary about his father, Rem Koolhaas. Well, not only was Koolhaas’ REM documentary fully funded, three generous backers offered up $500 each in return for one question to be answered directly by Rem Koolhaas himself. The video above is the result of those questions, in which Koolhaas responds to questions on urbanism in the developed country of the Netherlands compared to still-developing India, as well as a question about how his early work in film-making and scriptwriting influenced his architectural career.

Watch the video above and read on after the break for a synopsis of Koolhaas’ answers

Rem Koolhaas: How the Age of the Decision Maker Impacts Building Design

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How does contemporary architecture differ around the world and what causes these differences? In this video of a discussion between Rem Koolhaas and Nest C.E.O Tony Fadell at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, Koolhaas gives some interesting insights into his experience with decision-makers around the world. Watch the video above and read Vanity Fair’s full article here to learn more about this seldom-considered factor in building design. 

Rem’s Kit of Parts: Exhaustive and Exhausting, Mad and Maddening

Courtesy of OMA

In “Elements,” an exhibition and accompanying book for the 2014 Venice Architecture BiennaleRem Koolhaas seeks to explore the omnipresent components of buildings that have never been intentionally articulated by architectural theory. Breaking down the history of architecture into its fundamental components, the text is divided into 15 volumes and functions as “a technophilic treatise on the state of architectural thinking in the twenty-first century.” Despite providing lessons in architectural history, does the book deliver a compelling synthesis of all its parts? In his full review of the book for Metropolis Magazine, Samuel Medina argues that Koolhaas “fails to unpack the language of his argument,” resulting in a book that is “ambitious, overreaching, maddening” – much like the exhibition itself. Read the full review here.

Rem Koolhaas and the New Frontline of Transformation

© Flickr CC User Giulio Bernardi

When you abandon the countryside in favour of the city, what do you leave behind? In a recent essay for Icon Magazine, OMA co-founder Rem Koolhaas deliberates on the intersection between the two, arguing that “our current obsession with only the city is highly irresponsible because you cannot understand the city without understanding the countryside.”

“The countryside is now the frontline of transformation,” Koolhaas says, describing a new type of hybridized urban-countryside where no stone is left unturned. Koolhaas refers to this land as ”the intermediate,” describing it as “a well-manicured place where surface appearances bear almost no relation to what is actually happening on the land and in the buildings.” The countryside, Koolhaas argues, is no longer a sober second thought for the urban dweller but a facsimile of the failures of city life. Read the essay in full, here.

AR Issues: A Biennale for Critical Times

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this post, we take you back to AR’s July 2014 issue, which focused on this year’s Venice Biennale. In her introduction, AR Editor Catherine Slessor argues that while previous Biennales have been hopelessly out of touch, this year Rem Koolhaas has initiated a critical conversation at a crucial moment in time.

In its giddy, self-referential way, the Venice Architecture Biennale always seems blissfully detached from the real world. Set in the preposterous, decaying stage set that is modern Venice, the press vernissage is a frenzied bacchanal, as the global cognoscenti descend like locusts on a fragile urban eco-system already bludgeoned by battalions of tourists and hulking cruise ships.

Design With Empathy: An Exhibit Honoring Maggie’s Architecture of Cancer Care

Snohetta – Maggie’s Aberdeen, 2013. Image Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

Organized by the New York School of Interior Design, and curated for CMOA by Raymund Ryan, curator of architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art is hosting a new exhibit: Maggie’s Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care. Opening September 13, the exhibit showcases the extraordinary Maggie’s Centres, works of integrated architecture designed to address essential human needs and the everyday challenges of cancer patients undergoing treatment. The work of Frank Gehry, Piers Gough, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, and Richard Rogers have been selected to be included in the exhibition, and provide insight into how some of the most influential architects of our age have sought to positively alter the look, and more significantly, the feel, of healthcare facilities.

ArchDaily’s Most Useful Articles of All Time

As summer draws to an end and we enter into the last quarter of 2014, we decided to round-up a selection of the most useful we’ve published over the past three years. Ranging from The 40 Architecture Documentaries to Watch in 2014 to The 10 Most Overlooked Women in Architectural History, we’ve also brought together app guides, career tips, and city guides. Alongside links to open-source files and cut-out people, we’ve also featured book recommendations, study tips, and links to our complete coverage of some of the world’s major architectural events and prizes. Delve into our collection and discover what our readers have found most useful!

Beyond Starchitects: An Architectural Revolution at the 2014 Venice Biennale

Bahrain’s analysis of in the Arabic nations is arguably contrary to the theme of ‘Absorbing Modernity’. Image © Nico Saieh

“The Biennale reveals that modernism was never a style. It was a cultural, political, and social practice,” says Sarah Williams Goldhagen in her recent article for New Republic, The Great Architect Rebellion of 2014. This year, the Venice Biennale dissects the notion of modernism by providing a hefty cross-section of architectural history in the central pavilion. However contrary to Koolhaas‘ prescriptive brief, the 65 national pavilions show modernism was not just a movement, but a socially-driven, culturally attuned reaction to the “exigencies of life in a rapidly changing and developing world.” Unexpected moments define the 2014 : from Niemeyer‘s desire to launch Brazil into the first world through architectural creation, to South Korea‘s unveiling of a deep modernist tradition with influence across the nation. This Biennale proved to be truly rebellious – read Goldhagen’s article from New Republic here to find out why.

OMA’s Taipei Performing Arts Center (TPAC) Tops Out

Courtesy of OMA; Photography by Philippe Ruault

OMA‘s Taipei Performing Arts Center (TPAC) has topped out in a ceremony including Taipei’s mayor Hau Lung-pin, and OMA’s Partners in charge of the project, Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten. Even in its current skeletal state, the rigidly geometric form is clearly expressed with it’s central cube supporting three protruding auditoriums, two cubic and one spherical. The design of the TPAC is in many ways experimental, incorporating a looped public path which shows off the building’s backstage areas, and flexible auditoriums which can even be combined, offering extraordinary stage spaces that allow performances which would be impossible in any other theater.

Ahead of the topping out ceremony we spoke to partner in charge David Gianotten, who explained the building’s design concepts and the challenges (or rather, surprising lack of challenges) in the construction, and told us “you will only understand it when you have seen it. It’s super exciting, we encourage everybody that loves architecture to come and see it because it’s spectacular.”

Read on after the break for the full interview

The Berlage Archive: Elia Zenghelis (2001)

In this 2001 lecture titled “Architecture is Propaganda,” seminal architect, educator, and co-founder of OMA Elia Zenghelis discusses the development of ideologies that shape architectural discourse vis-a-vis architectural education. Arguing that architectural education is motivated by religious, socio-political, and economic principles, Zenghelis makes the case that the war-torn 20th century has been an era of upheaval and conflict, resulting in the loss of historical context and a confused state for artists and architects. Proposing the idea that architecture is a servant of power, and is thus intrinsically intertwined with political and societal trends, Zenghelis urges a return to a contextualized understanding of architectural history in order for contemporary architects to develop a sensitive and nuanced approach to their practice. 

Discussing his relationships and collaborations with former students and colleagues Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Eisenman, as well as the political and architectural legacy of such giants as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, Elia Zenghelis provides a compelling conversation about the inherent role of architecture in political discourse.

Don’t miss the other lectures in The Berlage Archive series

Rem Koolhaas Sheds Light on Lagos

In this interview conducted by the Brigtje van der Haak maker of the documentary Lagos Wide & Close, Rem Koolhaas discusses his research on the urbanization of Nigeria‘s largest city, Lagos. While this research is as yet unpublished, Koolhaas discusses external influences on the city’s architecture, how his visits have affected his view of the profession, and Lagos’ future potential. The documentary by van der Haak, released on DVD in 2004, is an interactive exploration of Lagos from a multitude of scales. Now, it has been adapted for the web, and can be viewed in its entirety here!