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Light Matters: The Missing Element At the Venice Biennale

“Elements of Architecture,” the Rem Koolhaas-curated exhibition at the 2014 Venice Biennale, delved into several remarkable structural as well as technical components of architecture, including floors, walls, doors, stairs and toilets. But why was light missing? 

My manifesto for the inclusion of light as a fundamental element of architecture — after the break. 

Drone Captures OMA'S Taipei Performing Arts Center Under Construction

Construction is underway for OMA’s Taipei’s Performing Arts Center! The project, started back in 2012, has generated a buzz in the architecture community for its peculiar form. Conceived as a number of theaters intersecting as a group of three simple geometries, the Performing Arts Center will provide flexible stage space to host experimental theater and art performances. This video—filmed by a drone—shows some of the preliminary structure that has already been erected. The building is expected to be completed in 2015.

Rem Koolhaas' "Elements": Uncovering Architecture's Origins, Assuring Its Future

ArchDaily has been asking architects "What is Architecture?" for over 6 years. It's a question that few interviewees answer without hesitation or bristling. But after asking over 200 architects, we've noticed a pattern: even though many people start very similarly, the answers soon diverge in a way that demonstrates the promise of the profession. And no matter how architecture is defined, the strong majority of architects hold an underlying belief in its ability to influence. 

When the ArchDaily team visited the Venice Biennale and entered the Central Pavilion of the Giardini, home to the Elements exhibition, we saw it as a dynamic, immersive, exhaustive response to the question "What is Architecture?" Visitors to the Biennale are introduced to architecture through its elements--the pieces, parts and fundamentals that comprise built structures around the globe. 

When Koolhaas chose to focus on Elements, he produced a text (in both book and exhibition format) that gives us the tools to understand what architecture is and how is it has evolved (or stagnated). Even though he didn't invite people to show projects in the traditional sense, the AD editors saw a hopeful undertone to Elements -- it is a resource that can be revisited over and over again, one that will arm the current and future designers of our built world with the knowledge they'll need to address the issues they have yet to even confront.

After the break, see images of the exhibition and read Koolhaas' curatorial statement. 

Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh Library of Historial Elemental Studies of Architecture. Elements of Architecture. Image © Nico Saieh

Video: Charles Jencks on the 2014 Venice Biennale

In this extended interview by the Architectural Review, Charles Jencks provides an in-depth description of the 2014 Venice Biennale and critiques his former student Rem Koolhaas' overall curation and theme: Fundamentals.

Arguing that the previous thirteen Biennales have, "more or less, tried to predict what is going to happen over the next five years," "Rem Koolhaas has changed the paradigm:" Rem's Biennale is about "the past of the present". Jencks, who describes Koolhaas as "the Corbusier of our time", suggests that his Biennale is about analysis rather than total synthesis. He has, however, "shown that research can be creative."

A Biennale of "Bold Reminders"

For CNN's George Webster, this year's Biennale is a "bold reminder that architecture is - or at least should be - about a great deal more than blueprints, digital renderings and scale models." Taking the British Pavilion as a case in point, Webster argues that Koolhaas' original thematic provocation has paid off, succeeding "because it places people - our history, culture and even our bodies - at the very heart of its thinking." Travelling through the pavilions of Romania, Germany, the Dominican Republic, and Russia, you can read the article in full here.

A Biennale of Knowledge: Rem Koolhaas on The Importance of the Archive

Curated by Rem Koolhaas, this year’s Biennale set high expectations in the architecture world, a fact reflected in the massive attendance during the preview. As Koolhaas stated at the awards ceremony, he took on the hard task of reinventing the Biennale, recognizing its influence in how architecture is exhibited around the world.

Under the title “Fundamentals,” Rem rallied this year’s curators to assemble a vast amount of knowledge, bringing to light research that had been hidden, forgotten, scattered, and/or previously unexamined, and making it available to the larger architectural community. This was achieved not only in the form and content of the Biennale, but also in the numerous publications produced by the curators (a practice which closely follows OMA/AMO traditions).

Yet this is actually a double-edged sword; in many pavilions, the density and depth of the content made it hard to understand at first glance. Architecture festivals and exhibitions tend to lean on experiential one-liners, but since “Fundamentals” was so focused on conveying ideas about architecture’s relationship to modernity over the past 100 years, it was a significant challenge to the curators. Many pavilions produced impressive publications, so that all the rich knowledge they unearthed may continue to influence architectural thought long after the Biennale ends in November.

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

The following article was originally published on Medium.

On a perfect autumn morning Rem Koolhaas 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 Rotterdam 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

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

ArchDaily is excited to announce that we are now in Venice 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.

Have We Reached the "End of Architecture"?

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

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

"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." - Rem Koolhaas

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

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?

Highlands, Scotland, 2005 by Page\Park Architects / Courtesy of Page\Park Architects. ImageA collaboration between Page\Park and Charles Jencks, Maggie's Centre Inverness at Highlands weaves together building and landscape in a unified composition. The design invokes the formal properties of mitosis or cell division; scaled up, they are manifested in the swirling landscape mounds and the center's spiraling form. "The cell is the unit of life: dynamic, really exciting, a factory of life itself, and I thought it was time to celebrate the cell," Jencks has said in the past. Fife, Scotland, 2006 by Zaha Hadid Architects / © Werner Huthmacher. ImageAll sharp angles and painted a sinister black, Zaha Hadid's Fife center isn't the first thing you'd expect from a Maggie's Centre. The exterior invited comparisons to a bunker, despite the airy, humane spaces within. "Zaha got a lot of criticism and her building is bloody good," Jencks says of his former student's design. The building was the architect's first in the UK. Manchester, England, 2016 by Fosters + Partners / Courtesy of Fosters + Partners. ImageThe next center is set to open in Manchester, where Norman Foster was born and raised. “Norman came to us, and I was waiting because he is an old friend of mine,” Jencks says. “He had cancer, and because of his own experiences, he was really interested in doing this. He’s got everything he’s ever wanted in this building.” Aberdeen, Scotland, 2013 by Snøhetta / © Philip Vile . ImageThe center's cocoon-like shell packs a big, Niemeyer-esque punch despite its modest proportions. The interiors, however, reveal a Scandinavian influence, with extensive timber coverings and exquisite stone accents. The building has been nicknamed "the Pebble" by locals.

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

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 pavilion'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 OMA'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

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

In this interview, originally published in The Architectural Review, Andrew Mackenzie sits down with OMA 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

As part of an initiative to raise money for the Transbay Transit Center, the City of San Francisco has sold a $72 million, city-owned parcel to developer Related of California that will pave the way for a 550-foot, OMA 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

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 Venice 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."