Rem Koolhaas is the architect who built deconstructivism’s legacy

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Continuing the series of revisions to deconstructivist architecture, we will introduce the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the driving force behind architect OMA.


From experimental exhibitions and pavilions to cities, regions and even countries, it is difficult for their designs to classify Koolhaas’s work.

But at the root of each project is a common thread, a constant pursuit of new approaches to creating structure, space and society.

Above: Rem Koolhaas. The illustration is by VesaS. Above: His CCTV building is an example of his deconstructivist work.

Koolhaas was one of the seven architects at the 1988 Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York at the Ingenious Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition.

The show aimed to define an architectural movement that rejects so-called pure forms in support of complexity and conflict – quality is considered more similar to human nature.

In some of the seven, the framework symbolized a perfect spirit, but for Koolhaas it was just the starting point for a radically unrestricted, utopian approach to architecture.

Rem Koolhaas
Koolhaas appeared at MoMA’s Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition.Photo by Fred Ernst

The talent of Dutch architects lies in their ability to dream and realize big dreams.

Ideas and research are central to his practice, but his building is more than just an intellectual exercise. Koolhaas’s buildings are as exciting as the concepts behind them, while other deconstructists struggle to transform their abstract ideas into constructed forms.

When he won the Pritzker Prize in 2000, long before the Seattle Public Library-Central Library or CCTV headquarters, which defines his career, was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the judge called Koolhaas “Foresight and Practitioner, Philosopher and Practitioner, Theory. A rare combination of a house and a prophet. “

Seattle Central Library
The Seattle Central Library is one of his deconstructivist buildings.Photo courtesy of: Philippe Ruault, courtesy of OMA

It is through Koolhaas that the deconstructivist movement finds its lasting legacy. OMA has produced some of the most important architectural works of the last 50 years, across buildings, books and exhibitions.

This office has created a new generation of influential architects. Zaha Hadid, Bjarke Ingels, Jeanne Gang, Winy Maas and Ole Scheeren are all one of the people who learned to work at Koolhaas.

Architecture that shapes society

The chaotic childhood formed an important starting point for Koolhaas’ career. He was born in 1944 in the city of Rotterdam, which has not recovered from the devastation of World War II for years.

Later, at the age of eight, his parents moved to Jakarta, where his father was a supporter of the Indonesian battle for autonomy from the colonial Netherlands, where he conducted a cultural program.

In both Jakarta and Rotterdam, he returned four years later, but Koolhaas was fascinated by the possibility of reinventing the city.

Delicious New York
Koolhaas wrote “Delirious New York”

This interest deepened with his visit to Moscow at the age of 18, and Koolhaas began pursuing an architectural career rather than screenwriting, as originally intended.

“When I came to Russia, I realized for the first time that architecture was a profession that could define the content of society, not shape or building,” he explained in an interview at the Moscow City Forum. .. In 2018.

Delicious New York
This book contains “Retroactive Manifest of Manhattan”

Koolhaas was the first to realize these ideas in a graduate project at the AA School in London. There, starting from the urban conditions of the Berlin Wall, he designed a swath of “strong metropolitan desirability” throughout London and divided the city into utopia. Ruin on one side and the other.

Shortly thereafter, the 1978 book Delirious New York appeared. Koolhaas uses his talents to create a “Retroactive Manhattan Manifest” that shows how a typical urban grid can promote the depth of human fantasy and ambition. It was a deconstructivist work, but it was infused with a unique blend of Koolhaas’s intelligence and satire.

“The big cities are trying to reach the mythical point that the world is made entirely by humans, so it fits perfectly with his desires,” he writes.

Vision Megastructure

Koolhaas co-founded OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) in 1975 and has been the de facto leader of the studio ever since.

He initially had three partners, Maderon Frisendorp, Elia Zengelis, and Zoe Zengelis, but later joined other key figures such as Reinil de Graf and Ellen van Loan. ..

From the beginning, the focus was on design competitions, especially those that fit the scale of Koolhaas’ ambitions. These projects weren’t lucrative and required large investments with no guarantee of compensation, but they offered creative freedom.

Koolhaas told Smithsonian in 2012, “I’ve never thought about money or economic issues, but I think this is a strength for an architect. I’ll be irresponsible and able to invest in my work.” Told.

Design to win the competition in The Hague City Hall
His design of The Hague Municipal Hall was not realized

The concept of Coolhaas architecture as a “chaotic adventure” began to take shape in early works such as the Dutch Dance Theater in 1987 and the Kunstal Rotterdam in 1992.

But his vision of an all-encompassing megastructure set up in Delirious New York, of course, took time to come to fruition.

Seattle Central Library
Seattle Central Library was a crucial project

Following a series of unrealized plans from the 1980s to the 90s, such as the competitive design of The Hague City Hall and the abandoned proposal of Universal Studios’ LA headquarters, Koolhaas is more than just an idea man. I was able to prove that. He has been involved in projects such as the 1994 Eurallille Redevelopment, the 1995 Educational Institution, and the 2003 Seattle Central Library.

In these buildings, OMA showed how to apply new logic to existing building models in a fascinating way.

Rewrite the rule book

As the new millennium progressed, so did Koolhaas’s rhetoric. He and DeGraaf set up a dedicated laboratory, AMO, to coin the term “junk space”, which refers to a new way of thinking, focusing on the space of buildings such as shopping malls and airports.

But most importantly, he turned his attention to China and later to the Middle East.

CCTV headquarters threw the building rules out the window.Photo by Philippe Ruault

The slow pace of development in the west suppressed OMA, while the east provided freedom to move at a pace. As Koolhaas pointed out a student room at the University of California, Berkeley in 2000, as Wired reported, about 500 square kilometers of development is done each year in the Pearl River Delta region of China, with the equivalent of Paris2. It has doubled.

In 2012, CCTV headquarters in Beijing became the first in a series of OMA projects that seriously threw architectural rulebooks out the window.

Rotterdam
Photo courtesy of: Ossip van Duivenbode, courtesy of OMA

Unlike other skyscrapers before that, this angular looped tower was described by New York Times critic Nikolai Ourosov as “probably the greatest piece of architecture built this century.”

OMA was still making progress in Europe with projects like the “Vertical City” Rotterdam in 2013, but the East has become a testbed for the company’s big ideas.

Skyscrapers, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2013, the Qatar National Library in 2017, and the long-delayed Taipei Performing Arts Center, which opens this year, are all breaking new ground.

Night shot of Taipei Performing Arts Center
Photo by Chris Stwards, courtesy of OMA.

From now on, I feel that the challenge is never too small. The latest attraction of Koolhaas, who has conquered the metropolitan area, is the future of the countryside and its transformation with technology.

Meanwhile, OMA continues to make increasingly bold and noisy proposals for buildings and landscapes around the world.

Koolhaas has come a long way since the 1988 MoMA exhibition. His own deconstructivist brand goes beyond simply using structures to reflect human complexity. He uses that complexity to shape society, fashion and culture and demand progress.

Deconstructivist series logo
Illustration by Jack Bedford

Deconstructivism is one of the most influential architectural movements of the 20th century. Our series introduces the buildings and works of key supporters such as Eisenman, Koolhaas, Gary, Hadid, Libeskind, Chumi and Prix.

Read the Deconstructivism Series ›

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