Rem Koolhaas 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.
Koolhaas’ habit of shaking up established conventions has made him one of the most influential architects of his generation. A disproportionate number of the profession’s rising stars, including Winy Maas of the Dutch firm MVRDV and Bjarke Ingels of the Copenhagen-based BIG, did stints in his office. Architects dig through his books looking for ideas; students all over the world emulate him. The attraction lies, in part, in his ability to keep us off balance.
Rem Koolhaas has been causing trouble in the world of architecture since his student days in London in the early 1970s. Architects want to build, and as they age most are willing to tone down their work if it will land them a juicy commission. But Koolhaas, 67, has remained a first-rate provocateur who, even in our conservative times, just can’t seem to behave.
Remment “Rem” Koolhaas was born in Rotterdam in 1944, during the Allied bombardment, and grew up in a family of cultured bohemians. A grandfather was an architect who built headquarter buildings for the Dutch airline KLM and the state social security administration; his father wrote magical realist novels and edited a leftist weekly paper. After the war, the family moved to Amsterdam, where Koolhaas spent afternoons playing in the rubble of the state archive building, which had been blown up by the resistance during the German occupation.
He 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 with O. Mathias Ungers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, followed by studies at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City.
In 1975 together with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp he founded his own architecture practice – OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture). They were later joined by one of Koolhaas’s students, Zaha Hadid – who would soon go on to achieve success in her own right. He is also a founder if OMA’s research-oriented counterpart AMO, operating in areas beyond the realm of architecture such as media, politics, renewable energy and fashion. Both companies are based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In 2005, he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.
In 1978 he published a book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. In 1995, his book S,M,L,XL summarized the work of OMA in “a novel about architecture”. He heads the work of both OMA and AMO, the research branch of OMA, Koolhaas is a professor at Harvard University where he conducts the Project on the City. In 2014, he was the director of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Fundamentals. In 2000, Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008, Time put him in their top 100 of The World’s Most Influential People
In October 2008, Rem Koolhaas was invited for a European “group of the wise” under the chairmanship of former Spanish prime minister Felipe González to help ‘design’ the future European Union. Other members include Nokia chairman Jorma Ollila, former European Commissioner Mario Monti and former president of Poland Lech Wałęsa.
Recently he has changed the organization of his office to a partnership. Partners next to him are Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu and managing partner Victor van der Chijs. Koolhaas now heads offices in Europe (OMA*AMO Rotterdam), North America (OMA*AMO Architecture PC New York) and Asia (OMA Beijing).
Following the signing of Treaties of Nice in May 2001, which made Brussels the de facto capital of the European Union, the then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt invited Rem Koolhaas to discuss the necessities and requirements of a European capital.
During these talks and as an impetus for further discussion, Koolhaas and his think-tank AMO suggested the development of a visual language. This idea inspired a series of drawings and drafts, including the “Barcode”. The barcode seeks to unite the flags of the EU member countries into a single, colourful symbol. In the current European flag, there is a fixed number of stars. In the barcode however, new Member States of the EU can be added without space constraints. Originally, the barcode displayed 15 EU countries. In 2004, the symbol was adapted to include the ten new Member States.
Since the time of the first drafts of the barcode it has very rarely been officially used by commercial or political institutions. During the Austrian EU Presidency 2006, it was officially used for the first time. The logo was used for the EU information campaign, but was very negatively criticized. In addition to the initially uproar caused by the Estonian flag stripes displayed incorrectly, the proposed flag failed to achieve its main objective as a symbol. Critics pointed the lack of capability to relate the signified (the mental concept, the European Union) with the signifier (the physical image, the stripes) as the major problem, as well as the presented justification for the order in which the color stripes were displayed (as every country in the EU should be regarded as equal in importance and priority).
Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal
The past thirty years have seen frantic attempts by architects to escape the domination of the “shoe-box” concert hall. Rather than struggle with the inescapable acoustic superiority of this traditional shape, the Casa da Musica attempts to reinvigorate the traditional concert hall in another way: by redefining the relationship between the hallowed interior and the general public outside. The Casa da Musica, the new home of the National Orchestra of Porto, stands on a new public square in the historic Rotunda da Boavista. It has a distinctive faceted form, made of white concrete, which remains solid and believable in an age of too many icons. Inside, the elevated 1,300-seat (shoe box-shaped) Grand Auditorium has corrugated glass facades at either end that open the hall to the city and offer Porto itself as a dramatic backdrop for performances. Casa da Musica reveals its contents without being didactic; at the same time, it casts the city in a new light.
Seattle Central Library in Seattle, USA
At a moment when libraries are perceived to be under threat from a shrinking public realm on one side and digitization on the other, the Seattle Central Library creates a civic space for the circulation of knowledge in all media, and an innovative organizing system for an ever-growing physical collection – the Books Spiral. The library’s various programs are intuitively arranged across five platforms and four flowing “in between” planes, which together dictate the building’s distinctive faceted shape, offering the city an inspiring building that is robust in both its elegance and its logic.
The Indefinite Hangar: Prada Spring/Summer 2016 Men’s Show in Milan, Italy
For the SS 2016 Prada men’s show AMO investigates the perception of continuous space through an invasion of the ceiling. Plastic sheets hang down acting as a virtual mold that defines the catwalk and seating areas, while the concrete ground area acts as the negative of the above scene.
The fiberglass and polycarbonate stalactites manipulate the proportions and perspectives of the brutal and industrial space. These alternating levels of views and transparencies introduce the guests to a blurred horizon. Arranged in elliptical benches that are determined by the ceiling installation, they never perceive the room as a whole. The wall, floor and seats, covered in concrete, emerge as a remnant, disturbing the boundaries between seating and catwalk.
Nhow Hotel in Rotterdam, Netherlands
The OMA designed nhow hotel opened its doors on January 10, 2014. Nhow Rotterdam is the third nhow hotel to open after Berlin and Milan and has a focus on art and architecture. The hotel aims to function as a platform for artists, designers and new talent. Artworks which are displayed in the hotel are continually renewed to allow for different atmospheres at each visit.
The hotel resides in the ‘De Rotterdam’ mixed-use building, designed by OMA and completed in November 2013. Next to the interiors of the hotel rooms, OMA also designed the bar / kitchen, congress center, hotel lobby and espresso bar.
Key features of the interior design are the materialization in concrete and steel with elements of gold; stage devices such as theater spots and video projectors; LED neon lighting and signage; the restaurant bar, back-lit and made with acrylic; and the crafted brass reception desk in the entrance lobby.
The CCTV headquarters aims at an alternative to the exhausted typology of the skyscraper. Instead of competing in the race for ultimate height and style within a traditional two-dimensional tower ‘soaring’ skyward, CCTV’s loop poses a truly three-dimensional experience, culminating in a 75-metre cantilever. The building is visible from most of Beijing; it sometimes comes across as big and sometimes small, from some angles strong and from others soft.
CCTV’s form facilitates the combination of the entire process of TV-making in a loop of interconnected activities. Two towers rise from a common production studio platform, the Plinth. Each tower has a different character: Tower 1 serves as editing area and offices, and the lower Tower 2 is dedicated to news broadcasting. They are joined by a cantilevering bridge for administration, the Overhang.
The innovative structure of the building is the result of long term collaboration between European and Chinese engineers to achieve new possibilities for the high-rise. The forces at work within the structure are rendered visible on the façade: a web of triangulated steel tubes – diagrids – that, instead of forming a regular pattern of diamonds, become dense in areas of greater stress, looser and more open in areas requiring less support. The façade itself becomes a visual manifestation of the building’s structure.
De Rotterdam building in Rotterdam, Netherlands
De Rotterdam is conceived as a vertical city: three interconnected mixed-use towers accommodating offices, apartments, a hotel, conference facilities, shops, restaurants, and cafes. The project began in 1997. Construction started at the end of 2009, with completion in 2013. The towers are part of the ongoing redevelopment of the old harbour district of Wilhelminapier, next to the Erasmus Bridge, and aim to reinstate the vibrant urban activity – trade, transport, leisure – once familiar to the neighbourhood. De Rotterdam is named after one of the ships on the Holland America Line, which departed from the Wilhelminapier in decades past, carrying thousands of Europeans emigrating to the US.
The three towers reach 150m high, with a gross floor area of approximately 162,000m2, making De Rotterdam the largest building in the Netherlands. OMA’s architectural concept produces more than sheer size: urban density and diversity – both in the program and the form – are the guiding principles of the project. De Rotterdam’s stacked towers are arranged in a subtly irregular cluster that refuses to resolve into a singular form and produces intriguing new views from different perspectives. Similarly, the definition of the building changes according to its multiple uses internally.
The various programs of this urban complex are organized into distinct blocks, providing both clarity and synergy: residents and office workers alike can use the fitness facilities, restaurants, and conference rooms of the hotel. And these private users of the building have contact with the general public on the ground floor, with its waterfront cafes. The lobbies for the offices, hotel, and apartments are located in the plinth – a long elevated hall that serves as a general traffic hub for De Rotterdam’s wide variety of users.
See also: Top Interior Designers | Patrick Jouin
OMA is a leading international partnership practicing architecture, urbanism, and cultural analysis. OMA’s buildings and masterplans around the world insist on intelligent forms while inventing new possibilities for content and everyday use. OMA is led by ten partners – Rem Koolhaas, Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu, Iyad Alsaka, David Gianotten, Chris van Duijn, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Jason Long and Michael Kokora – and maintains offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha and Dubai.
OMA’s recently completed projects include Fondazione Prada in Milan (2015); G-Star Headquarters in Amsterdam (2014); Shenzhen Stock Exchange (2013); De Rotterdam, a large mixed-use tower in the Netherlands (2013); CCTV Headquarters in Beijing (2012); New Court, the headquarters for Rothschild Bank in London (2011); Milstein Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (2011); and Maggie’s Centre, a cancer care centre in Glasgow (2011). Earlier buildings include Casa da Música in Porto (2005), Seattle Central Library (2004), and Netherlands Embassy in Berlin (2003).
The counterpart to OMA’s architectural practice is AMO, a research studio based in Rotterdam. While OMA remains dedicated to the realization of buildings and masterplans, AMO operates in areas beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture, including media, politics, sociology, renewable energy, technology, fashion, curating, publishing, and graphic design.
AMO often works in parallel with OMA’s clients to fertilize architecture with intelligence from this array of disciplines. This is the case with Prada: AMO’s research into identity, in-store technology, and new possibilities of content-production in fashion helped generate OMA’s architectural designs for new Prada epicenter stores in New York and Los Angeles. In 2004, AMO was commissioned by the European Union to study its visual communication, and designed a coloured “barcode” flag – combining the flags of all member states – that was used during the Austrian presidency of the EU.
AMO has worked with Universal Studios, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Heineken, Ikea, Condé Nast and Harvard University, produced exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (on the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg) and Venice Architecture Biennale (on the development of the Gulf in 2006, on Preservation in 2010, and Architecture by Civil Servants in 2012), and guest-edited issues of the magazines Wired and Domus. Recent projects include a plan for a Europe-wide renewable energy grid, a 720-page book on the Metabolism architecture movement (Project Japan, Taschen, 2010) and the educational program of Strelka, a new postgraduate school in Moscow.
OMA Rotterdam: the head office is working on a master plan for the White City area of London; a harbour redevelopment and contemporary art Museum in Riga, the Cordoba Congress Centre in Spain; the redevelopment of the Mercati Generali in Rome, an architectural centre, offices and housing in Copenhagen, the new head office of Rothschild Bank in London and multi-use towers in Rotterdam and The Hague. It is also working on various masterplans in the Netherlands and Belgium and shopping centres in Rotterdam and Ostrava. In addition the Rotterdam office has a number of activities in the Middle East including office and residential towers and master plans in Dubai, three master plans in Ras -Al-Khaimah and several public buildings in Qatar. With his Rotterdam office Koolhaas is also designing a science center for Hamburg’s Hafencity.
OMA New York: the office in Manhattan is now designing an extension of Cornell University (NY), 111 First Street, a high rise residential building and hotel in Jersey City (NJ) and a high end residential tower with CAA screening room at One Madison Park in NYC.
OMA Beijing: In Asia, Koolhaas was working with his team on the office’s largest project to date, the 575,000 m2 China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) and Television Cultural Center (TVCC), both completed in Beijing in 2008. (However, the TVCC was damaged by an enormous fire in 2009.) Other projects in completion include the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange and a lush residential tower and residential masterplan in Singapore.
The influence of OMA has impacted many architecture students and architects who have worked at the office during their careers. Architects such as Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang), Amale Andraos and Dan Wood (WORKac) are just some of the names of the many architects that have worked in the office.
There is a potentially sinister dimension to, before you know it, being surrounded by a house full of sensors that can follow you on the moment of entry, to the moment you set your bedroom temperature, to the moment you set your likely return to your house. It creates, in my feeling, unhealthy knowledge of your personal behaviour preferences. Somehow we are almost perfectly happy to have no privacy anymore. Particularly for somebody of my generation, it is totally astonishing that in the 1970s we marched for privacy, and here we are surrendering our privacy almost with eagerness. Interview for Dezeen, May 2015
There are ways – like how the Surrealists were able to combine an umbrella and a sewing machine in the same picture – that architecture can experiment with contrasts. Rotterdam is a city where experimentation is very legitimate because it was entirely destroyed [during the war], so the whole idea of context is very relative here. Interview for Dezeen, November 2013
I think it’s boring if a single building is the same from every angle. That is almost inevitable for skyscrapers. Interview for Dezeen, November 2013
Journalists think that architects today can be wilful or playful but the pressure we work under is really extreme. I’m not complaining about it, but the idea that we can do what we want is deeply misplaced in whatever country or environment. Interview for Dezeen, November 2013