Spotlight: Rem Koolhaas

With the extensive list of acclaimed alumni of his firm, OMA, it is not a stretch to call Rem Koolhaas (born 17 November 1944) the godfather of contemporary architecture. Equal parts theorist and designer, over his 40-year career Koolhaas has revolutionized the way architects look at program and interaction of space, and today continues to design buildings that push the capabilities of architecture to new places.

Spotlight: Rem Koolhaas - More Images+ 34

© Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design via Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0
Maison Bordeaux. Image © Hans Werlemann, courtesy OMA

Remment Koolhaas was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. At the age of eight, Koolhaas’ father was given a position running a cultural program in Jakarta, Indonesia and subsequently moved his family to Asia. The family returned to Amsterdam three years later, where Koolhaas would later pursue filmmaking (a phase he believes still impacts his work today), until enrolling at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1968. Following continued studies at Cornell University and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City, Koolhaas returned to London to open his firm, OMA, alongside his wife Madelon Vriesendorp and Elia and Zoe Zenghelis. He also began teaching at his Alma Mater, during which time he met a young Zaha Hadid. Hadid soon joined OMA, and together the group began working on a series of highly conceptual, predominantly unbuilt projects, highlighted by the Dutch Parliament Building in The Hague.

Seattle Central Library / OMA + LMN. Image Courtesy of OMA

During this period, Koolhaas penned Delirious New York, an urbanist manifesto that would come to define his future architectural strategy. In the book, Koolhaas celebrates the city’s hyper-dense “culture of congestion” as a cultural incubator, a place where unprescribed interaction could lead to innovation and creativity. It was in this text that Koolhaas first proposed the idea of “cross-programming,” intentionally introducing unexpected program types within buildings of different typologies, such as running tracks within skyscrapers. The idea has since returned in various forms, such as in his unsuccessful proposal to include hospital units for the homeless within his design for the Seattle Central Library. The book is still considered today to be an essential piece of the architectural canon.

CCTV Headquarters. Image © Iwan Baan

Following Hadid’s departure from the firm, OMA received its first major commission, the Netherlands Dance Theater in The Hague. Completed in 1987, the building was a manifestation of many of the ideas from Delirious New York; the design features volumes of varying form and materiality colliding in unique ways to create new types of space and a visually stimulating composition. The success of that building, as well as continued acclaim for their unbuilt competition entries, gave OMA increased international recognition.

Kunsthal. Image © Flickr user kleiobird licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 1990s saw projects of widely varying scale for Koolhaas and OMA, from city master plans, in Euralille, France, to the Rotterdam Kunsthal (1992) to residential projects. The most widely renowned of these residential projects were the Villa Dall’Ava in Paris (1991) and the Maison Bordeaux (1999). In these houses, Koolhaas took cues from Modernist classics, in particular Villa Savoye and the Farnsworth House, blowing their designs into parts and reassembling them to suit the unique needs of the clients. Villa Dall’Ava featured a rooftop pool and a dynamic collage of materials raised 3 stories above the ground by slender, irregularly placed columns and a poured-in-place concrete wall. Private apartment units were connected by a shared glass living space below and the pool above. The design of Maison Bordeaux contained three floors of varying opacity relating to program type, connected by an oversized elevator that doubled as an office for the husband, who was a wheelchair user.

Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre / REX | OMA. Image © Tim Hursley

The following decade saw a massive expansion within OMA, with the founding of architectural think-tank and research group AMO in 1999. AMO has since contributed to designs for numerous exhibitions and events, including stores and runway shows for fashion house Prada. Key buildings from OMA in the 2000s include the Casa da Musica in Porto (2005), the Wyly Theater in Dallas (2009), the IIT-McCormick Tribune Center in Chicago (2001), and the Seattle Central Library (2004). In particular, the Seattle Library has had a profound impact on architectural approach and diagramming in architecture—the word-bubble programmatic diagram used to outline spatial relationships has since been utilized by architects worldwide. The library’s pivoting planes highlighting views of the city have also convinced critics that elegant form can be derived from focusing on user experience.

Since then, Koolhaas has had a hand in designing buildings worldwide, including the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, mixed-use building De Rotterdam, the Qatar National Library, and the Fondazione Prada in Milan.

De Rotterdam. Image © Michel van de Kar

In recent years, Rem Koolhaas’ discourse has ranged from breaking down architecture into its fundamental elements in his lauded directorship of the 2014 Venice Biennale, to the feasibility of smart cities, to studies on urbanization in Lagos, Nigeria. He has also often delved into the realm of skepticism, such as his claim that “people can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that's both liberating and alarming.”

Shenzhen Stock Exchange HQ. Image © Philippe Ruault

These claims have led to Koolhaas’ being called “the most controversial figure in architecture” and “an anti-architect,” but those descriptions fail to capture the career of a man who is always chasing the next step in architecture and how he can think bigger. By helping to spawn the careers of Bjarke Ingels, Ole Scheeren, Farshid Moussavi, Jeanne Gang, Winy Maas, and many many others, Koolhaas has perhaps found another way of thinking bigger: by creating the future.

See all of the work featured on ArchDaily by Rem Koolhaas' firm OMA via the thumbnails below, and further coverage of Koolhaas below those:

Spotlight: Rem Koolhaas - More Images+ 34

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

Rem Koolhaas and Eurolab Call for Creative Ideas on How to Re-Brand the EU

OMA founder Rem Koolhaas has joined his colleague Stephan Petermann and artist Wolfgang Tillmans in calling for ideas on re-branding the European Union, at a time when the EU is experiencing increased pressure from the rising tide of far-right nationalism.

Why is Rem Koolhaas the World's Most Controversial Architect?

Review: "REM" - A Retroactive, Redacted Study of the World's Greatest Living Architect

Rem Koolhaas' Current Fascinations: On Identity, Asia, the Biennale, & More

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

13 Things You Didn't Know About Rem Koolhaas

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

Why Rem Koolhaas Switched From Scriptwriting to Architecture

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

Rem Koolhaas on Prada, Preservation, Art and Architecture

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

Rem Koolhaas Sheds Light on Lagos

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

Watch Rem Koolhaas Present S,M,L,XL at the AA in 1995

Video: Rem Koolhaas and Peter Eisenman on today's critical architectural discourse issues

Rem Koolhaas to Lead OMA's Transformation of the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow

OMA has revealed plans for the renovation of the New Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val in Moscow that will increase the accessibility and visibility of the gallery's four sectors. Led by Rem Koolhaas, the scheme will use color and material to create a new visual identity and to establish a new link to the Moscow River.

17 Excerpts from OMA Publications To Read and Download

OMA's 15 Most Outrageous Unbuilt Skyscrapers

About this author
Cite: Patrick Lynch. "Spotlight: Rem Koolhaas" 17 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Casa da Musica. Image © Philippe Ruault


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