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.

Koolhaas' email sent September 30, 2014:

Dear President Eisgruber,

As overall curator of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, I invited a number of intellectuals to collaborate on one of its core exhibitions, Elements of Architecture. Alejandro Zaera-Polo was the obvious choice for the Facade, given his outstanding and original body of research and published writing on this element. I invited him to make a major contribution both the the catalogue and to the exhibition, which he fulfilled to our satisfaction and to the satisfaction of the publisher, Marsilo, and the authorities of the Biennale.

The point from the beginning was to make a publication accessible to any reader. The catalogue is intended as a polemic, not an academic document. Zaera Polo also explicitly announced this at the beginning of his contribution. As such, Princeton's expectation of citations for Alejandro's text - which was conceived, with us, as a polemical tale full of speculation - seems a category error.

However, as has always been intended, the catalogue will be followed in the near future by a second edition, under a different publisher, in which we will have the opportunity to establish the traditional level of academic standard for all contributions.

As a curator of the Biennale, with my name as the lead on the text, I am comfortable with the material as published.


Rem Koolhaas

Curator Venice Biennale 2014

Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design, Harvard University

Zaera-Polo’s clarifying statement:

To whom it may concern:

I am making the following statement in order to finally clarify the reasons for my sudden resignation from the Post of Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University on October 30 2014. This is now imperative not just in respect to the rumors spread on the internet about plagiarism and disagreement with the direction in respect to my work on the Venice Biennale 2014, which are demonstrably false, but to address even worse rumors caused by the abruptness of my resignation. The abrupt and unexplained timing of my resignation has produced an endless stream of sometimes grotesque rumors. I am issuing this statement to address those rumors for once and for all.

My sudden departure as Dean was requested by President Eisgruber following my acknowledgement that I had removed all citations from my contribution to the publication accompanying the Exhibition Elements of Architecture at the Venice Biennale 2014.

While I acknowledge that my actions were unorthodox in an academic setting, I do not believe that I have breached any moral, ethical, or other applicable standards. I would like here to describe factually my actions in respect to the Venice Biennale Exhibition and Publication, and provide some evidence which I believe to be clarifying in this respect.

1. I acted in the context of a non-academic engagement, with the agreement of the overall author and the chief editor of the publication, and following the polemical — rather than academic — intent of the project. I enclose the letters sent by Rem Koolhaas, Overall Curator of the 2014 Venice Biennale and James Westcott, Chief Editor of the Elements of Architecture Publication, sent to President Eisgruber on September 30th, in this respect. (09.30.14RK to CE.pdf and 09.30.14JW to CE.pdf). The purpose of removing the citations was to diminish the academic tone of the text and write it into a more casual narrative to make it more accessible for the general public.

2. The Biennale publication was to be followed by a freestanding book, to be published imminently by Taschen, which will meet all the academic standards in terms of acknowledgement of sources and otherwise. All sources of the text would be fully acknowledged in the final version.

3. I did include in the publication for the Biennale a disclaimer, which explicitly states the non-academic nature of the document, its speculative and polemic intent, and its non-suitability as a source:

This is not an academic paper, but a historical speculation, a technological fiction not suitable as an exhaustive source but as a trigger of ideas in which we firmly believe. It is not thoroughly researched nor peer-reviewed. It is partial, opinionated, and inexact. But we hope it will fertilize many minds, spin off different forms of scholarship, and originate a new form of thinking about facades. It is, in short, a standard type of architectural writing, aimed at the construction of a new reality, rather at the faithful reproduction of a pre-existing one.”

While compiling the information for the text and writing it into a narrative, I did incur inadvertently in a few instances of paraphrasis, which would have required citation if they were to meet strict academic standards. In three of these cases, the published text did not follow our approved version, because of a misunderstanding with the publishers. The actual list of the instances included in the published document is enclosed here in a detailed document where the exact nature of the information sourced can be accessed. (instances of paraphrased unacknowledged sources.pdf) This document demonstrates that the sources were used only for factual information which is easily available from multiple sources on internet. I believe their paraphrastic structure is entirely irrelevant to the content and meaning of the text.

I hope that this factual evidence of the circumstances surrounding my resignation as Dean of the School of Architecture in order to dispel at once the absurd rumors which have been maliciously circulated.

Unlike other academic disciplines, design is a synthetic practice. the design education institutions which are succeeding to affect the real are already engaging with technical innovation, entrepreneurship and the public, and developing protocols which are closer to those used in a research team or a production office than to a conventional academic tutoring. In the field of architecture, the development of hybrid structures between practice, research and education constitute an increasingly successful model of education for architects. I have been teaching along these lines for over 20 years, and many of my former students and collaborators are now friends and colleagues, in the profession and the academia. I believe that the best education today is delivered through research and a direct engagement with the outside —with the industry, the community or the public at large— rather than through a retreat into a self-referential system which does not take into account the broader audiences that make the work significant and enable individuals to develop a truly transformative practice. In this spirit, I look forward to continue to sustain a parallel academic practice in the future, as a full member of the faculty of the School of Architecture in Princeton University.


Alejandro Zaera-Polo

Princeton's response to Zaera-Polo's clarification statement:

While we normally do not comment on personnel matters, we do need to point out that Professor Zaero-Polo’s statement regarding the circumstances surrounding his resignation as dean of the School of Architecture is inaccurate and incomplete. He was asked to step down in large measure because of statements he made in writing that indicated he was unfamiliar with the University’s policies on plagiarism and that he may have directed his collaborators to breach the rules of the University. 

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Cite: Karissa Rosenfield. "Koolhaas Denounces Plagiarism Rumors Surrounding Zaera-Polo's Princeton Resignation " 16 Mar 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/610084/koolhaas-denounces-plagiarism-rumors-surrounding-zaera-polo-s-princeton-resignation> ISSN 0719-8884

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