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Rem_Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas

Remment Lucas Koolhaas, , (born ) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and "Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design" at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, USA. Koolhaas studied at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at Cornell University in New York. Koolhaas is the principal of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, or OMA, and of its research-oriented counterpart AMO, currently based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In 2005 he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.

In 2000 Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008 Time put him in their top 100 of The World's Most Influential People.

Early life and career

Remment Koolhaas, usually abbreviated to Rem Koolhaas, was born on 17 November 1944 in Rotterdam, Netherlands to Anthonie Koolhaas (1912–1992) and Selinde Pietertje Roosenburg (born 1920). His father was a novelist, critic, and screenwriter. Two documentary films by Bert Haanstra for which his father wrote the scenarios were nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, one won a Golden Bear for Short Film. His maternal grandfather, Dirk Roosenburg (1887–1962), was a modernist architect. His grandfather had worked for Hendrik Petrus Berlage, before he opened his own practice. Rem Koolhaas has a brother, Thomas, and a sister, Annabel. The family lived consecutively in Rotterdam (until 1946), Amsterdam (1946–1952), Jakarta (1952–1955), and Amsterdam (from 1955).

His father had strongly supported the Indonesian cause for autonomy from the colonial Dutch in his writing. When the war of independence was won, he had been invited over to run a cultural programme for three years and the family moved to Jakarta in 1952. "It was a very important age for me," Koolhaas recalls, "and I really lived as an Asian.

Koolhaas first studied scriptwriting at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam. Koolhaas co-wrote The White Slave, a 1969 Dutch film noir, and later wrote an unproduced script for American soft-porn king Russ Meyer.

He then was a journalist for the Haagse Post before starting studies, in 1968, in architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, followed, in 1972, by further studies at Cornell University in New York.

Koolhaas first came to public and critical attention with OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the office he founded in 1975 together with architects Elia Zenghelis, Zoe Zenghelis and (Koolhaas's wife) Madelon Vriesendorp in London. They were later joined by one of Koolhaas's students, Zaha Hadid - who would soon go on to achieve success in her own right. An early work which would mark their difference from the then dominant postmodern classicism of the late 1970s, was their contribution to the Venice Biennale of 1980, curated by Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi, titled "Presence of the Past". Each architect had to design a stage-like "frontage" to a Potemkin-type internal street; and the OMA scheme was the only modernist scheme among them.

Other early critically received (yet unbuilt) projects included the Parc de la Villette, Paris (1982) and the residence for the President of Ireland (1981). The first large project by OMA to be built was the Kunsthal in Rotterdam (1992). These schemes would attempt to put into practice many of the findings Koolhaas made in his book Delirious New York (1978), which was written while he was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, directed by Peter Eisenman.

Theoretical position

Delirious New York

Delirious New York set the pace for Koolhaas's career. His work emphatically embraces the contradictions of two disciplines (architecture and urban design) that have struggled to maintain their humanist ideals of material honesty, the human scale and carefully crafted meaning in a rapidly globalising world that espouses material economy, machine scale and random meaning. Instead, Koolhaas celebrates the "chance-like" nature of city life: "The City is an addictive machine from which there is no escape." As Koolhaas himself has acknowledged, this approach had already been evident in the Japanese Metabolist Movement in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Another key aspect of architecture Koolhaas interrogates is the "Program": with the rise of modernism in the 20th century the "Program" became the key theme of architectural design. The notion of the Program involves "an act to edit function and human activities" as the pretext of architectural design: epitomised in the maxim Form follows function, first popularised by architect Louis Sullivan and Nicolas Cisneros at the beginning of the 20th century. The notion was first questioned in Delirious New York, in his analysis of high-rise architecture in Manhattan. An early design method derived from such thinking was "cross-programming", introducing unexpected functions in room programmes, such as running tracks in skyscrapers. More recently, Koolhaas (unsuccessfully) proposed the inclusion of hospital units for the homeless into the Seattle public Library project (2003).

S,M,L,XL

The next landmark publication by Koolhaas was S,M,L,XL, together with Bruce Mau and Hans Werlemann (1995),a 1376-page tome combining essays, manifestos, diaries, fiction, travelogues, and meditations on the contemporary city. The layout of the huge book transformed architectural publishing, and such books - full-colour graphics and dense texts - have since become common. Ostensibly, S,M,L,XL gives a record of the actual implementation of "Manhattanism" throughout the various (mostly un-) realized projects and texts OMA had generated up to that time. The part lexicon-type layout spawned a number of concepts that have become common in later architectural theory, in particular "Bigness": 'old' architectural principles (composition, scale, proportion, detail) no longer apply when a building acquires Bigness. This was demonstrated in OMA's scheme for the development of "Euralille" (1990-94), a new centre for the city of Lille in France, a city returned to prominence by its position on the new rail route from Paris to London via the Channel Tunnel. OMA sited a train station, two centres for commerce and trade, an urban park, and 'Congrexpo' (a contemporary Grand Palais with a large concert hall, three auditoria and an exhibition space). In another essay in the book, titled "The Generic City", Koolhaas declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now...” For Koolhaas architecture and the city are said to be superseded by Bigness.

Project on the city

Koolhaas's next landmark publications were a product of his position as professor at Harvard University, in the design school's "Project on the City"; firstly the 720-page Mutations, followed by The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002) and The Great Leap Forward (2002). All three books involved Koolhaas's students analysing what others would regard as "non-cities", sprawling conglomerates such as Lagos in Nigeria, west Africa, which the authors argue are highly functional despite a lack of infrastructure. The authors also examine the influence of shopping habits and the recent rapid growth of cities in China. Critics of the books have criticised Koolhaas for being cynical - as if Western capitalism and globalization demolish all cultural identity - highlighted in the notion expounded in the books that "In the end, there will be little else for us to do but shop". However, such cynicism can alternatively be read as a "realism" about the transformation of cultural life, where airports and even museums (due to finance problems) rely just as much on operating gift shops.

When it comes to transforming these observations into practice, Koolhaas mobilizes what he regards as the omnipotent forces of urbanism into unique design forms and connections organised along the lines of present day society. Koolhaas continuously incorporates his observations of the contemporary city within his design activities: calling such a condition the ‘culture of congestion’. Again, shopping is examined for "intellectual comfort", whilst the unregulated taste and densification of Chinese cities is analysed according to "performance", a criterion involving variables with debatable credibility: density, newness, shape, size, money etc. For example, in his design for the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing (2006, under construction), Koolhaas did not opt for the stereotypical skyscraper, often used to symbolise and landmark such government enterprises, but instead designed a series of volumes which not only tie together the numerous departments onto the nebulous site, but also introduced routes (again, the concept of cross-programming) for the general public through the site, allowing them some degree of access to the production procedure. Through his ruthlessly raw approach, Koolhaas hopes to extract the architect from the anxiety of a dead profession and resurrect a contemporary sublime, however fleeting it may be.

In 2003 Content, a 544-page magazine-style book was published by Koolhaas, giving an overview of the last decade of OMA projects including his designs for the Prada shops, the Seattle Public Library, a plan to save Cambridge from Harvard by rechanneling the Charles River, Lagos' future as Earth's third-biggest town, as well as interviews with Martha Stewart and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

AMO

In the late nineties, while working on the design for the new headquarters for Universal (currently Vivendi), OMA was first exposed to the full pace of change that engulfed the world of media and with it the increasing importance of the virtual domain. It led Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) to create a new company, AMO, exclusively dedicated to the investigation and performance in this realm. He is heading the think tank ever since with Reinier de Graaf.

Volume Magazine

In 2005 Rem Koolhaas co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman. Volume Magazine - the collaborative project by Archis (Amsterdam), AMO Rotterdam and C-lab (Columbia University NY) - is a dynamic experimental think tank devoted to the process of spatial and cultural reflexivity. It goes beyond architecture’s definition of ‘making buildings’ and reaches out for global views on architecture and design, broader attitudes to social structures, and creating environments to live in. Volume Magazine creates the agenda. The magazine stands for a journalism which detects and anticipates, is proactive and even pre-emptive - a journalism which uncovers potentialities, rather than covering done deals.

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