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

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.

The monograph is subtitled Essays on the History of Ideas, which represents it almost as well as its formal title, placing Koolhaas’ work within a lineage of architects and architectural theorists just as much as it discusses Koolhaas’ individual projects. Böck synthesizes a remarkable amount of theory into logical, legible discussions on the ideas surrounding Koolhaas’ architecture, helping to trace the path of development in his approach to design.

The introduction opens to a quote from French philosopher Roland Barthes that Böck uses to ask a series of questions that underlie her investigation into Koolhaas’ life: “How can we identify conceptual ideas that recur as constant themes over an extended period of time? How can we conceptualize changes and adaptations within these motifs? What is the function of the architect himself in this discourse and of his claim of reference and originality?” Her answers to these questions in the context of Koolhaas’ career tell us not only how, but also provide fascinating and insightful understandings of Koolhaas’ work in the process.

Böck divides each of the book's six sections into several shorter subcategories that expand on particular ideas that relate to and affect Koolhaas’ architecture. Böck’s study places the six categories in chronological order - but instead of showing a linear progression of evolution, the book portrays an accumulation of individual, related ideas that begin to impact Koolhaas’ writing and built projects.

The introduction to Six Canonical Projects by Rem Koolhaas. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

At the beginning of each chapter, vivid pictures, renderings, and conceptual drawings of Koolhaas’ projects accompany descriptions of the projects, but overall stylistically the monograph favors stark text-based descriptions and discussions, accompanied by images when necessary to illustrate a specific point. Despite this tendency towards text, the images that are included are well-chosen, providing a visual reference for complicated theoretical ideas, and the images Böck chooses to are frequently interesting work by themselves (see Michael Webb’s Suitaloon on page 121, and the Perisphere Project with the Democracity exhibition on page 279).

The Suitaloon. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers
The Perisphere. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

“Wall,” the monograph’s first chapter, examines Koolhaas’ “Exodus” project, made during his time at the Architectural Association. Although the project itself is, in some senses, a wall, the chapter investigates the topic in a much more thematic way than the pairing of the title and this project would suggest. Böck’s analysis looks at concepts of enclosure and freedom, creating comparisons between Koolhaas and architects who have explored similar themes, and providing examples of related projects Koolhaas was involved in, such as the Panopticon Prison and Nexus World Housing to assert the presence of “Wall” as she defines it in Koolhaas’ work.

Excerpt from 1. Wall: Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, London 1972. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

“Void” continues this pattern, beginning with an important theme in Koolhaas’ work, and analyzing the theme’s implications while placing it in context with the architecture, writing, and theory of related architects. The primary project in the chapter is the Ville Nouvelle Melun-Sénart, which proposes introducing large voids into a city; Böck analyzes this project to bring attention to Koolhaas’ ideas of surrender to the city and consider Koolhaas’ ideas on what planning - or a lack thereof - can offer. A particularly insightful part of this chapter discusses Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin and points out the connections and divergences between Koolhaas and Le Corbusier’s views on urbanism.

Excerpt from 2. Void: Ville Nouvelle Melun-Sénart, Paris 1987. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

The third chapter considers the Maison Bordeaux and compares it to the Villa dall’Ava (also by Koolhaas) in a study of "montage" within Koolhaas’ work. For Böck, this appears in Koolhaas’ architecture in promenade through spaces, as well as a merging of disassembled ideas from modernism. An unexpected but prudent reference to Salvador Dalí and the “Paranoid Critical Method” create a particularly interesting section in which Böck asserts that “for Koolhaas, modern architecture is literally a paranoid critical activity reinforced by calculations and structures in order to bring together the rational and the irrational (or unconscious) side of the human mind.”

Excerpt from 3. Montage: Maison à Bordeaux, France 1994-1998. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

Chapter four explores an idea Böck calls "Trajectory," an idea that deals with motion sequence, or as she describes it on page 23, "a kind of filmic reality that serves as narrative of historical events and layers." Focusing on the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, this chapter covers an immense number of topics; it transitions between studies of how the Dutch Embassy helps visitors reinterpret Berlin to general theories on how architecture can encourage new understandings of society and culture. Particularly notable are the discussions of dérive, a concept in which characteristics of locations subconsciously influence travel through space, and Koolhaas' ideas on Junkspace, as manifestations of Böck's "trajectory" on a larger scale.

Excerpt from 4. Trajectory: Dutch Embassy, Berlin 1999-2003. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

Revealing ways in which Koolhaas encourages social encounters independent from the initial architectural design, the fifth chapter "Infrastructure" presents the Seattle Central Library as a starting point for a discussion on different types of unprescribed interaction. Böck pinpoints some interesting concepts on public space, discussing Koolhaas' views on the effect of air-conditioning and shopping on public space.

Excerpt from 5. Infrastructure: Public Library, Seattle 1999-2004. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

Finally "Shape," an analysis based off the most recent project in the monograph, the CCTV Headquarters, looks at the implications of building shape in relation to surroundings, as well as the aesthetic qualities of shape and their ability to affect the way cities are perceived. This chapter presents Koolhaas' views on the need for strategies that look past the traditional skyscraper by embracing new shapes, and Böck reveals the presence of these ideas in Koolhaas' work in a thought-provoking way.

Excerpt from 6. Shape: CCTV, Beijing 2002-2008. Image Courtesy of Jovis Publishers

Throughout the monograph, readers will find compelling presentations and images of Koolhaas' architecture, historical and theoretical background surrounding Koolhaas' work, and insightful quotes that thoroughly portray Koolhaas' career from its inception to the present day. Böck's adept handling of the thought surrounding Koolhaas' work makes it an analysis that is essential for readers who want to gain a complete understanding of the place of Rem Koolhaas in the architecture community.

Six Canonical Projects by Rem Koolhaas

About this author
Cite: Patrick Kunkel. "Ingrid Böck's "Six Canonical Projects by Rem Koolhaas" Dissects the Ideas that have Made Koolhaas' Career" 28 Jul 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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