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Excerpt: Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity

CCTV Headquarters in Beijing by OMA. Image © OMA / Philippe Ruault
CCTV Headquarters in Beijing by OMA. Image © OMA / Philippe Ruault

No matter what you think of it, these days there is no denying that a celebrity culture has a significant effect on the architecture world, with a small percentage of architects taking a large portion of the spotlight. Questioning this status quo, Vladimir Belogolovsky's new book "Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity" interrogates some of these famous architects to find out what they think of the culture which has elevated them to such heights. In this excerpt from the book's foreword, Belogolovsky asks how we got into this celebrity-loving architectural culture, and what it means for the buildings produced.

Not to be confused with other kinds of stars, the most popular of architects are identified as “starchitects.”* Is this a good thing? The notion of starchitecture is hated wholeheartedly by most of the leading architectural critics. They run away from addressing the issue because they think it has nothing to do with professional criticism. But what do the architects think? One of the architectural megastars, Rem Koolhaas, was astonishingly self-effacing in an interview for Hanno Rauterberg’s 2008 book Talking Architecture:

“I think what we are experiencing is the global triumph of eccentricity. Lots of extravagant buildings are being built, buildings that have no meaning, no functionality. It’s rather about spectacular shapes and, of course, the architects’ egos.”

Rem Koolhaas on Prada, Preservation, Art and Architecture

With the opening of the Fondazione Prada art galleries in May, OMA showed a different side to their practice, one focusing on preservation and assemblage rather than the iconography and diagrammatic layout that many associate with the firm. In this interview, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Koolhaas Talks Prada," Rem Koolhaas explains the reasoning behind this new approach, and how they attempted to avoid falling into the clichés of post-industrial art spaces.

When the Fondazione Prada opened its doors to a new permanent home in Milan dedicated to contemporary culture, it not only placed the Italian city firmly at the forefront of today’s global art world, but also introduced an ambitious new way of thinking about the relationship between architecture and art. The location—an original 1910 distillery in a distinctly gritty part of the city—comprised seven spaces including warehouses and three enormous brewing cisterns with a raw industrial quality that the architects, Dutch firm OMA, retained while adding three new buildings made of glass, white concrete, and aluminum foam. One, the centrally located Podium, is intended for temporary shows, while another—still under construction—is a nine-story tower that will house the foundation’s archives, art installations, and a restaurant. The third, a theater with a mirrored facade, features folding walls that allow the building to open onto a courtyard. In total, the collection of buildings provides nearly 120,000 square feet of exhibition space, more than twice that of the new Whitney Museum of American Art. Metropolis correspondent Catherine Shaw visited the site with Pritzker Prize–winning architect Rem Koolhaas to find out more about the challenges of creating a new cultural paradigm.

OMA’s approach to the exhibition pavilions is eclectic, though undeniably modern. (Note the Miesian detail of the vertical beam affixed to the building envelope). Image © Bas Princen - Fondazione Prada The Fondazione’s inaugural exhibition, the Serial Classic, explores questions of authenticity and imitation in classical antiquity. The lifesize sculptures are mounted on an intricate flooring system designed for the exhibition and composed of travertine, brushed aluminum, and perspex—all exposed along the edges. Image © Attilio Maranzano The gilded exhibition hall is the central focal point of the Fondazione. Called the Haunted House, the structure’s blank utilitarian features are draped in gold leaf, an ostensibly spontaneous extravagance that Koolhaas post-rationalizes on functionalist grounds. The building towers above the rest of the campus’s open-air spaces and warehouses, which all can be taken in from the Haunted House’s balconies. Image © Bas Princen - Fondazione Prada The Fondazione encompasses a veritable townscape consisting of warehouse hangars interwoven with the new buildings. The former are subtly spruced up, indicated by the linear orange markings repeated on their exterior. Elevation changes in the ground variegate the pedestrian’s experience of the compound while demarcating the Fondazione’s important nodes, such as the cinema clad in a mirrored veneer. Touches likes this lend the complex a haunting, almost surrealist dimension. Image © Bas Princen - Fondazione Prada

Ingrid Böck's "Six Canonical Projects by Rem Koolhaas" Dissects the Ideas that have Made Koolhaas' Career

Seattle Central Library. Image © Ramon Prat
Seattle Central Library. Image © Ramon Prat

First published in May, Six Canonical Projects by Rem Koolhaas by Ingrid Böck reveals the logic behind Koolhaas’ projects and the ideas and themes running through his career. Incredibly thorough in her analysis, Böck aims to correct what she views as an absence of complete studies on an architect who has had an enormous influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Böck presents these six projects, which include Koolhaas’ thesis project “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture,” Ville Nouvelle Melun-Sénart, Maison Bordeaux, the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, the Seattle Central Library, and the CCTV Headquarters, because they most directly explore six concepts prominent throughout Koolhaas’ work: Wall, Void, Montage, Trajectory, Infrastructure, and Shape.

"Baby Rems" and the Small World of Architecture Internships

The world of architecture is small. So small in fact, that Rem Koolhaas has been credited with the creation of over forty practices worldwide, led by the likes of Zaha Hadid and Bjarke Ingels. Dubbed “Baby Rems” by Metropolis Magazine, this Koolhaas effect is hardly an isolated pattern, with manifestations far beyond the walls of OMA. The phenomenon has dominated the world of architecture, assisted by the prevalence and increasing necessity of internships for burgeoning architects.

In a recent article for Curbed, Patrick Sisson dug into the storied history of internships to uncover some unexpected connections between the world's most prolific architects. With the help of Sisson's list, we've compiled a record of the humble beginnings of the household names of architecture. Where did Frank Gehry get his start? Find out after the break.

Renzo Piano's pavilion at Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum. Image © Robert Laprelle Jeanne Gang worked on OMA's Maison Bordeaux. Image © Hans Werlemann, courtesy OMA Mies van der Rohe worked on Behren's AEG Turbine Factory. Image © Flickr CC user Joseph The Guaranty Building in Buffalo, New York by Louis Sullivan. Image Courtesy of Jack E. Boucher

Critical Round Up: OMA's Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

Founded in 2008 and named after the constructivist bus shelter that was its first, temporary home, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art is Russia's first private, non-profit art foundation. Relocating from a semi-industrial neighborhood on the northern edge of Moscow to Gorky Park, the Garage Museum's conversion of a Soviet era canteen and social club into Museum of Contemporary Art by OMA has so far been overshadowed by its more glamorous OMA counterpart which opened last month, the Milanese distillery conversion for Prada. Nevertheless, since opening last Friday the Garage Museum has attracted attention for Rem Koolhaas' shift towards preservation, something that has startled the critics. Find out more about what they thought after the break.

Yuri Palmin. Image © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Yuri Palmin. Image © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Yuri Palmin. Image © Garage Museum of Contemporary Art David X Prutting. Image © BFA.com

Rem Koolhaas On Preservation, The Fondazione Prada, And Tearing Down Part Of Paris

With the opening of their Fondazione Prada building in Milan at the start of this month, OMA got the chance to show off a skill that they don't get the chance to use very often: preservation. In this interview with Kultur Spiegel, Rem Koolhaas talks at length on the topic, explaining that he believes "we have to preserve history," not just architecture, and arguing that the rise in popularity of reusing old buildings comes from a shift toward comfort, security and sustainability over the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. "The dimensions and repertoire of what is worthy of preserving have expanded dramatically," he says, meaning that "we shouldn't tear down buildings that are still usable." Still, he says, that doesn't mean we shouldn't tear down and start again in some cases - an entire Parisian district beyond La Défense, for example. Read the full interview here.

The 17 Top Architect-Designed Products at Milan Design Week 2015

The 54th edition of Milan Design Week (also known as Salone del Mobile) recently came to a close. In celebration of its success, we have compiled a list of the most talked about architect-designed products showcased this year. Take a look after the break to see new products from Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield, and more. 

Soft / Nendo. Image Courtesy of Nendo Blur / Ron Arad. Image © Moroso via Dezeen Langley / David Chipperfield. Image © e15 Open / Rem Koolhaas. Image © Olivari via Domus

Rem Koolhaas: "Soon, Your House Could Betray You"

In the latest of a series of polemical arguments against smart citiesRem Koolhaas has penned perhaps his most complete analysis yet of the role that emerging technologies and the way they are implemented will affect our everyday lives, in an article over at Artforum. Taking on a wide range of issues, Koolhaas goes from criticizing developments in building technology as a "stealthy infiltration of architecture via its constituent elements" to questioning the commercial motivations of the (non-architects) who are creating these smart cities - even at one point implicating his other erstwhile recent interest, the countryside, where he says "a hyper-Cartesian order is being imposed." Find out more about Koolhaas' smart city thoughts at Artforum.

A Rare Look Inside OMA's CCTV Building in Beijing

Since the building's construction concluded in 2012, images of OMA's CCTV Headquarters have permeated the media. But inside views of this mutant skyscraper -- characterized by a soaring 72 meter cantilever -- have remained rare. Until now, that is. Images originally published by International Design and shared on WeChat by 广电独家 reveal the interior of OMA's CCTV Headquarters, including Emmy-winning set designer Jim Fenhagen's news studios. 

Take a peek inside the meeting rooms, hallways and control centers of CTBUH's 2013 Best Tall Building Worldwide. 

Koolhaas Denounces Plagiarism Rumors Surrounding Zaera-Polo's Princeton Resignation

This past October Alejandro Zaera-Polo abruptly resigned from his position as Dean of Princeton’s School of Architecture amidst plagiarism rumors. The resignation, requested by University President Christopher Eisgruber, was the result of Zaera-Polo's removal of citations from his contribution to the “Facade” section of the Elements of Architecture exhibition at the 2014 Venice Biennale

Claiming the rumors to be “demonstrably false,” Zaera-Polo has issued a “clarifying statement” outlining the purpose of his Biennale text to be polemic, and nonacademic, therefore it did not breach “any moral, ethical, or other applicable standards.” An email in support of Zaera-Polo sent by Rem Koolhaas to Eisgruber three days before the resignation has also released, denouncing any wrongdoing from Koolhaas’ perspective as the Biennale’s director.

Read Koolhaas' email, Zaera-Polo's clarification statement and a response from Princeton in full, after the break.

Elements of Venice

The following is an excerpt from Giulia Foscari's Elements of Venice, a book that applies the dissection strategy Rem Koolhaas explored in "Elements of Architecture” at this year's Venice Biennale. The book aims to demystify the notion that Venice has remained unchanged throughout its history and addresses contemporary issues along with strictly historical considerations. Read on for a preview of Elements of Venice, including Rem Koolhaas' introduction to the book. 

Rem Koolhaas and Dasha Zhukova: “Art Partners” Reinventing Moscow's Garage Museum

Rem Koolhaas and art philanthropist Dasha Zhukova will be gracing the WSJ. Magazine’s February cover as “art partners” embarking on a transformation that will turn a ruined Brezhnev-era Communist landmark - the Vremena Goda in Moscow’s Gorky Park - into the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art’s new home. “The building is basically a found object,” said Koolhaas, regarding his “raw” design and intent to preserve the structure’s decay. “We are embracing it as it is.” 

Video: Rem Koolhaas and Nest CEO Tony Fadell on Architecture and Technology

How will technology that began in Silicon Valley change global urbanism and the elements of architecture? In this video from the 2014 Venice Biennale, inventor, designer and entrepreneur Tony Fadell discusses technology and its emerging impact on architecture with Rem Koolhaas. As a co-founder of Nest Labs, Fadell played a major role in developing the first Apple iPod and has taken his knowledge of interactive user interface with him to change one of the most basic interface elements in our homes – the thermostat. With adaptive technologies becoming increasingly prevalent in our daily lives, Koolhaas discusses the potential ramifications of technological architecture with concerns ranging from privacy to individual freedoms and more. 

A Day at Stanford With Rem Koolhaas

Delving deeper into his recent engagement with smart cities, earlier this year Rem Koolhaas took a trip to California to visit the technology companies of Silicon Valley. While he was there, he managed to find time for a brief visit to Stanford University's School of Architecture, leading to this engaging profile by Pooja Bhatia for OZY; replete with snappy one-liners such as “So, what are you disrupting?” from the man who is notoriously difficult to get along with, the article offers an interesting insight into Koolhaas' ideas, both past and present. Read the article in full here.

Rem Koolhaas Asks: Are Smart Cities Condemned to Be Stupid?

Originally published by the European Commission as part of their "Digital Minds for a New Europe" series, this article is an edited transcript of a talk given by Rem Koolhaas at the High Level Group meeting on Smart Cities, Brussels, 24 September 2014.

I had a sinking feeling as I was listening to the talks by these prominent figures in the field of smart cities because the city used to be the domain of the architect, and now, frankly, they have made it their domain. This transfer of authority has been achieved in a clever way by calling their city smart – and by calling it smart, our city is condemned to being stupid. Here are some thoughts on the smart city, some of which are critical; but in the end, it is clear that those in the digital realm and architects will have to work together.

Reflections on the 2014 Venice Biennale

Fundamentals, the title of the 2014 Venice Biennale, will close its doors in a matter of days (on the 23rd November). From the moment Rem Koolhaas 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.”

13 Things You Didn't Know About Rem Koolhaas

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)

Koolhaas' Career in Film: 1,2,3 Group

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.