Chasing Rem: One Journalist’s Journey to Pin Down Koolhaas

© Gili Merin

The following article was originally published on Medium.

On a perfect autumn morning parks his black 1998 BMW along an Amsterdam canal. It’s not really a sports car, but rather the racing model that a child would draw. Moments later, he is placed behind an impressive desk. This is to be a normal working day. Not in his offices though. Today he deals with his appointments in an Amsterdam hotel. Does that sometimes, more efficient. But this morning, a journalist has been in front of him for more than half an hour. And the guy is saying what?

‘Just about everyone responds the same when I mention your name: He’s a very unpleasant man, right?
Halfway this remark Koolhaas leans back and moves away from the desktop.
He rocks back and forth.
And he nods.
Stuttering he says something like: ‘Yeah, that happens, yes. With people, yes.’
He seems embarrassed, even a little ashamed.
Outside assistants, clients, projects, calls about million dollar projects on different continents are waiting, but here, his head is so nude… those little ears that stick out to the sides… Can you describe a man of six feet tall as resembling a little injured bird?
Not much more comes out of him. The conversation is over.

Critical Round-Up: Venice Biennale 2014

© ArchDaily

With the first weekend of the Venice Biennale in the books, over the past few days reviews from critics have been flooding in. Each is eager to dispense their opinions on what has been one of the most highly anticipated Biennales in recent memory, and it seems that the event has not disappointed. From reviews of the festival as a whole to individual takes on the National Pavilions, read on after the break as we take a look at some of the most intriguing reviews so far.

ArchDaily at the 2014 Venice Biennale

at the preview of the Elements exhibit © ArchDaily

ArchDaily is excited to announce that we are now in to cover this year’s highly anticipated Biennale. Curated by the influential Rem Koolhaas, this edition of the biennale delves into the past to inform current architectural production.

For this year, Koolhaas proposed “Fundamentals” as the main theme for the Biennale. Rather than focusing on contemporary production (as the Biennale traditionally has), “Fundamentals” is divided into three large exhibits that look into the past, present and future of architecture: Absorbing Modernity 1924-2014 (National Pavilions), Elements (Central Pavilion), and Monditalia (Arsenale). You can learn more about these exhibits in our previous coverage.

So far, we’ve seen a tremendous effort in the content of the exhibitions. In “Absorbing Modernity,” 65 countries from every continent (even Antartica) show how modernity was manifested in their respective national contexts, bringing to light comprehensive archives and demonstrations of modernism’s storied and complex past. This retrospective looks into one of the most powerful movements in history, a time when architects aligned with the needs of society and set the foundations for an ideal future. The consequences of modernism -whether good or bad- have shaped our cities and highly influenced how we live. And now, Koolhaas hopes to help us understand why it should be thought of as a fundamental part of architectural education.

Stay tuned for more reports from Venice in our dedicated Venice Biennale 2014 section. For updates in real time, check out our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

This complete coverage is brought to you thanks to our partners at CEMEX.

Have We Reached the “End of Architecture”?

2014 / Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 . Image © Rem Koolhaas. Image Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

This year’s Venice Biennale, curated by OMA’s Rem Koolhaas, is “interested in the banal”. In an article in the Financial Times’, Edwin Heathcote discusses the paradox between exploring generic modernism at an event which celebrates the individual. Heathcote raises interesting questions about the extent to which world architecture has developed in modernity, ultimately arguing that, “in a way, architecture is over.” You can read the article, which neatly investigates the curatorial rationale behind this year’s Biennale, in full here.

International Jury for Venice Biennale Announced

Courtesy of Biennale 2014

The Venice Biennale 2014 has announced the make-up of the International Jury who will determine which National Pavilions will receive the Gold and Silver Lions June 7th. As decided by the Board of Directors, including chairman Paolo Baratta and director Rem Koolhaas, the jury represents experts from a variety of disciplinary fields, from four different continents (Asia, Africa, the Middle East, & Europe). Read on after the break for more on the five appointed jury-members.

Harvard GSD Releases Video of Study Abroad Studio with Rem Koolhaas

via TheHarvardGSD’s youtube channel

“We encounter similarities and difference, but what we encounter more than anything else is how intensely all these seemingly stable elements are evolving in time. Sometimes with acceleration, sometimes with moments of stagnation, but actually they are constantly changing. So what seemed to be a look at the repertoire is actually turning into a look at how nothing is stable.” –

The has released a video from the Fall 2013 study abroad studio in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The students who relocated to Rotterdam for last year’s fall semester worked on the “Elements of Architecture” exhibition that will open in the Central Pavilion during the 2014 International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, Italy. Watch Rem and the students reflect on their research, after the break…

The Story of Maggie’s Centres: How 17 Architects Came to Tackle Cancer Care

Dundee, Scotland, 2003 by Frank Gehry / Courtesy of Maggie’s Centres. ImageThe third center was designed by Frank Gehry, a close friend of Maggie’s. “Frank gave us so much publicity, and allowed us to raise the money,” Jencks says. Each center is self-financed through donations.

Maggie’s Centres are the legacy of Margaret Keswick Jencks, a terminally ill woman who had the notion that cancer treatment environments and their results could be drastically improved through good design. Her vision was realized and continues to be realized today by numerous architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Snøhetta - just to name a few. Originally appearing in Metropolis Magazine as Living with Cancer,” this article by Samuel Medina features images of Maggie’s Centres around the world, taking a closer look at the organization’s roots and its continued success through the aid of architects.

It was May 1993, and writer and designer Margaret Keswick Jencks sat in a windowless corridor of a small Scottish hospital, dreading what would come next. The prognosis was bad—her cancer had returned—but the waiting, and the waiting room, were draining. Over the next two years until her death, she returned several times for chemo drips. In such neglected, thoughtless spaces, she wrote, patients like herself were left to “wilt” under the desiccating glare of fluorescent lights.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a private, light-filled space in which to await the results of the next bout of tests, or from which to contemplate, in silence, the findings? If architecture could demoralize patients—could “contribute to extreme and mental enervation,” as Keswick Jencks observed—could it not also prove restorative?

This is the central idea behind the experiment Keswick Jencks, or “Maggie,” started with her husband, architectural historian and theorist Charles Jencks, more than two decades ago. Their mission—to provide free, global care for cancer patients through great architecture—has since expanded to encompass 17 building projects (“Maggie’s Centres”), many of them by celebrated architects like Richard Rogers and Rem Koolhaas.

5 Years Later, A Look Back on OMA’s Prada Transformer

© Iwan Baan

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of OMA’s Prada Transformer. This fantastical temporary structure, erected in 2009 adjacent to Gyeonghui Palace in Seoul, Korea, is one of Rem Koolhaas’ most popular projects to date. Composed of a stark white membrane stretched across four steel frame shapes, The Transformer was often referred to as an “anti-blob” –a hexagon, a rectangle, a cross, and a circle leaning against each other to create a tetrahedron-like object reminiscent of a circus tent.  The name Transformer came from the idea that any one of the ’s sides could serve as the building’s floor, allowing for four unique spaces in one building devoted to exhibitions of modern art, fashion and design.

The Prada Transformer played host to four such events, being lifted up and repositioned onto a different face each time via crane. The first was a garment exhibition, displayed using the hexagonal  floor plan.  The second, a film festival that took place on the rectangular floor plan.  A fashion show was staged using the Transformer’s circular floor plan, and an art installation was shown using the cruciform floor plan.  As patron Miuccia Prada stated in an interview with The New York Times, “In my mind they [the arts] may be mixed but I want to keep them separate… So the Transformer concept was not for a generic space, but to be very specific, with all things separate in one building.”

We asked ’s Vincent McIlduff to tell us more about this project. See his answers, a photo gallery and a time-lapse video of the transformation after the break!

OMA Tops BIG, Büro Ole Scheeren to Design Axel Springer Campus in Berlin

’s winning proposal for the Axel Springer Campus in . Image Courtesy of Axel Springer SE

After deliberating over the stellar proposals of three renowned firmsBIG, Büro Ole Scheeren, and OMA, Berlin-based media company AXEL SPRINGER SE has just announced that Rem Koolhaas’ design is the winning proposal for their new office building.

The task of the competition was to create additional space for the media company, particularly its digital offers, and thus design a workplace fit for the future of online media. Koolhaas’ design, which features a large 30-meter high atrium or “open valley” with interconnected terraces and public workspaces for both individual, collaborative, and mobile work, won favor with the jury for its forward-thinking concept. As Dr. Mathias Döpfner, Chief Executive Officer of Axel Springer SE, commented: “[Koolhaas] presented the conceptually and esthetically most radical model. The fundamental innovation of working environments will support the cultural transformation towards a digital publishing house.”

For his part, Koolhaas had this to say: “It is a wonderful occasion to build in Berlin again, on this historical site of all places, for a client who has mobilized architecture to help perform a radical change…a workplace in all its dimensions.”

See more of OMA’s winning proposal, after the break…

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 the Netherlands 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.

OMA to Design 550-Foot Residential Tower in San Francisco

Site Image. Via Curbed

As part of an initiative to raise money for the Transbay Transit Center, the City of has sold a $72 million, city-owned parcel to developer Related of California that will pave the way for a 550-foot, New York-designed residential tower. Located on Folsom Street, between First and Fremont streets, the new tower will be a mix of condominiums and rental apartments, of which 27 percent must be affordable to residents making 60 percent of the area’s median income ($58,250 for a family of four, according to SFGate). We will keep you posted as more details become available. 

5 Ways Koolhaas’ Biennale Will Be Different From the Rest

Paolo Baratta and . © Giorgio Zucchiatti. Image Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

As Rem Koolhaas completes the introductory press circuit for the 2014 Venice Biennale, we’re learning more about one of the most anticipated Biennales in recent memory. Here’s what we’ve gleaned from Oliver Wainwright’s revealing story in today’s Guardian:

1. Koolhaas has been asked to direct the Biennale before, but hasn’t accepted until now. “I have been asked to direct it a number of times before, but I held out for two conditions: that I have a year and a half to plan it, and that I can sever all connections with contemporary architecture – which is not in particularly good health.”

Latest Details Released on Koolhaas’ Venice Biennale 2014 “Fundamentals”

Elements of Architecture Stair – Models at the Friedrich Mielke Institute of Scalology. © . Image Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

UPDATE: In a press conference on Monday,  Biennale director Paolo Baratta and curator Rem Koolhaas expressed their commitment to using the event to highlight “things that architects can’t ignore.” These “Fundamentals” get back to the basic inventions of modernity, thus individual exhibitions will look to the “elementary particles of architecture.” Paying special attention to the developments of the past century, Baratta and Koolhaas hope that the event will serve as “a reference point and source of inspiration for architecture.”

The Biennale website has posted new images and an expanded description of the Biennale and its events:

Fundamentals consists of three interlocking exhibitions – Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014Elements of Architectureand Monditalia – that together illuminate the past, present and future of our discipline. After several architecture Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will look at histories, attempt to reconstruct how architecture finds itself in its current situation, and speculate on its future.”

Read on to learn more about architecture’s most celebrated exhibition.

Venice Biennale 2014: Full List of National Participants Revealed

A few hours ago in , Rem Koolhaas presented his curatorial vision for “Fundamentals” in a live-streamed opening press conference. As we reported last year, “Fundamentals” will focus on architecture rather than architects and history rather than contemporaneity. Koolhaas will not just curate an exhibition of his own, but will be coordinating the “collective effort of all national pavilions.”

This year’s exhibition features the participation of 65 countries–including 11 first-time participants (Azerbaijan, Côte d’Ivoire, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand and Turkey). See the complete list of national participants–which includes collaborations with Jacques Tati, Hans Ulrich Obrist, FAT, Iñaki Ábalos and others–after the break.

Click here to see all of ArchDaily’s previous coverage of the 2014 . And stay tuned… we’ll be bringing you on-the-ground reports from Venice when the Biennale launches in the first week of June!

In OMA’s De Rotterdam, Furniture Transforms 60-meters into Multi-Functional, Versatile Space

’s De Rotterdam, a project 15 years in the making, is designed to maximize the number of functions possible in 44 floors. In addition to shops, hotels and office space, this “vertical city” also contains apartments that use transformable furniture to pack a variety of uses into small spaces. Chairs double as wall art and sofas flip into beds, showing that a 60 square meter apartment is more versatile than we think. 

Developer Wim De Lathauwer explains, ”Why would we only think in quantity of bedrooms and square meters, while many of these spaces are used only sporadically?…In The Netherlands we are simply not used to this way of thinking. De is the ideal project when it comes to maximizing the joy of every square meter. We deal with an audience who understands this and yearns for this extra quality. Even in the large apartments the office, wardrobe- and guest room are combined in one space. Actually, it is very logical.” You can see the dynamic furniture, designed by Clei Italia, in the video below. 

Read more about The Netherlands’ largest building here

The Berlage Archive: Rem Koolhaas + Kenneth Frampton (1998)

ArchDaily has teamed up with the The Berlage to provide exclusive access to their newly digitized archive of lectures. The Berlage is a postgraduate international institute where some of the world’s most renowned architects, thinkers, designers, photographers and other professionals come to share, exchange and critically reflect upon their ideas. Over the last 23 years, The Berlage has built up an extensive lecture archive of seminal lectures. Thanks to this partnership now we can now share them with you. ArchDaily is committed to providing inspiration and knowledge to architects all over the world, so please look forward to monthly publications of these lectures during the coming year, which include talks by Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog, Toyo Ito, and more.

This 1998 lecture reflects Rem Koolhaas’ desire to initiate a direct meeting of the critic and the architect, so it’s no surprise that the he called upon to join him in conversation. (Koolhaas–with his tendency toward polemic, hyperbolic statements–even refers to Frampton as “maybe the only critic left.”) The two spend a significant time debating the role of the critic, often disagreeing and playfully challenging the other’s theories.

Recorded at a time when the Office for Metropolitan Architecture was working on the Educatorium, the Maison à Bordeaux and the recently completed De Rotterdam, the conversation also delves into discussions of China’s emergent urbanization (which was, in 1998, still relatively young) as well as “the star system.”

VIDEO: What We Can Learn From Tall Buildings

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What do you think the North American, Asian and Western European tall building communities most need to learn from each other? This is precisely what the Center on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat () sat down to ask five leading architects, whose responses formed an eclectic and meaningful overview on the state of tall building worldwide. As Rem Koolhaas noted, each region has their own journey that is worth understanding, such as the Arab world’s transition from “extravagance to rationality” or Asia’s hyper-focus on project realization. However, as James Goettsch points out, “not every building has to be something remarkable.” It’s alright for some buildings to be nothing more than “good citizens.”

Watch all five responses in the short video above.

AD Interviews: David Gianotten / OMA

During the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, we had the opportunity to speak with David Gianotten, partner-in-charge of OMA’s Hong Kong office. Gianotten launched the Dutch firm’s Asian headquarters in 2009, where he supervises major projects such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and the Taipei Performing Arts Centre.

Standing outside of the recently completed Stock Exchange headquarters, he answered our questions about urbanization, innovation and the intricacies of running an office in an environment with such rapid urban growth. has proven an experiment of economic openness and is a vivid example of China’s recent growth. The city’s skyline is practically a physical graph of an upward-trending economy, with buildings designed by nearly every internationally renowned architecture firm. But OMA’s Stock Exchange building stands apart from the rest not only because of its impeccable construction (a rarity in the fast-paced building booms of Chinese ), but also because it houses the institution that lists China’s biggest companies.

The 254 meter tower is an elegant structure that combines pure volumes with an exoskeleton grid clad in translucent glass. It represents a characteristic OMA-approach to innovative architectural solutions, made possible by extensive programmatic and technical research.

Read the full interview (which includes Gianotten’s insights on the study of architecture, the role of architects, and the importance of simplicity when communicating complex innovation) after the break.