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Rem Koolhaas: The Architect of Tomorrow?

Posted by
on July 08, 2014 at 03:57 PM

The architetcural output of architect Rem Koolhaas is so different that scholars have difficulty classifying it - into a theory or style. Is Koolhaas's work Deconstructivist, Modernist, or Structuralist? That question may remain unanswered forever; but undoubtedly Koolhaas's work is awe-inspiring and will leave its impact on the history of world architecture. 

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Age has not tempered Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who at 67, continues to shake up the cultural landscape with his provocative designs. It’s not the regular mishmash of designs and ideas that you find over at the OMA, where he serves as principal architect - but then again,  the master architect, and celebrated designer has often been termed as a visionary and a philosopher. Known to be one of the most widely-known contemporary stalwarts, Koolhaas has always looked at the fame with some amount of suspicion. 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 had remained a first-rate provocateur who seems to have remained true to his craft.

That didn’t stop him from capitalizing on his reputation and designing some of the most flamboyantly distinctive edifices of this era, including the Beijing headquarters of the CCTV broadcasting company, with its two tilted towers joined at the top and bottom to frame a dramatic void. Aside from the new World Trade Center, it’s hard to think of a more contentious architectural project in the last few years than The CCTV Building, the headquarters of China Cable - the building has often been fondly termed as the  ‘Beijing robot’ . Some once said it was physically impossible, others were discouraged by the fire that delayed its completion, and others still said it looked like a pair of pants, but the CCTV headquarters building in Beijing ,may yet  be the greatest work of architecture built in this century. The structure was initially built as two separate towers which finally converged at the top in 2007, joined by a 75-meter cantilever. The connecting section is a marvel of modern architecture, appearing precarious despite being fully structurally sound. Mr. Koolhaas, has always been interested in making buildings that expose the conflicting energies at work in society, and the CCTV building is the ultimate expression of that aim, beginning with the slippery symbolism of its exterior. The building has been a highly visible part of the cityscape in this nation’s capital since late in the last decade, rising across an elevated freeway from the generic towers of Beijing’s new business district.  It speaks of the growing face of china’s power- Its two 50-story legs, which house offices and production studios, are joined at the top by a 13-story bridge whose angled form juts out precariously over a plaza. Everything is magnanimous about the building, and there are no qualms about it.

Rem Koolhaas is, in fact, so different that scholars have difficulty classifying him . His McCormick Tribune Campus center is a prime example of that notion, a reinvigoration of Mies Van Der Rohe’s original master plan. A concrete and stainless steel tube encloses the commuter rail over the Campus Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, raising an underground system to visual heights. The site was previously a heavily used student parking lot with tracks of the elevated train passing overhead. Koolhaas tracked movements of students across the lot, which led to diagonal passageways as the center's interior thoroughfares. Functions that were ancillary, and spread out over the campus were focused onto these pathways, such as the Post office and the Library. A major design challenge was the noise of the public transit tracks passing over the lot. The solution was to enclose a 160 m section of the tracks in a stainless steel tube passing over the building. The tube's support structure is completely independent of the building's, to minimize vibration passing between them.

These designs, like the 2004 Seattle public Library, defy labels. The building , an uneven stack of slabs shrink-wrapped in a glass-and-steel web, was at once an evocative memorial to the conventional library and a monument to the new Information Age. The Library appears to be made up of unrelated, disharmonious abstract forms, having no visual logic. And yet the free-flowing arrangement of rooms is founded in logic and functionality. Rem Koolhaas' radical, Deconstructivist design for the Seattle Public Library has been praised, and questioned. Some have said the design looks like a glass book opening up and ushering in a new age of library use. Although the library is an unusual shape from the outside, the architects' philosophy was to let the building's required functions dictate what it should look like, rather than imposing a structure and making the functions conform to that. The traditional notion of a library as a place devoted solely to books has changed in the information age. Although the design includes book stacks, emphasis is placed on spacious community spaces and areas for media such as technology, photography, and video.

Koolhaas's work is as much about ideas as it is buildings, and there are as many ideas as there are buildings, which are a lot. He became famous for his writings and social commentary before any of his designs were constructed. And, some of his most celebrated designs are still only on the drawing board. Yet Koolhaas’ most provocative, and in many ways least understood contribution to the cultural landscape is as an urban thinker. Koolhaas has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in search of commissions. Along the way, he has written half a dozen books on the evolution of the contemporary metropolis and designed master plans for, among other places, suburban Paris, the Libyan desert and Hong Kong. Not only that, he has worked extensively in combining the worlds of theatre, fashion and architecture, apart from giving proposals for the design of the European Union flag.

Rem Koolhaas is, in fact, so different that scholars have difficulty classifying him. Is Koolhaas's work Deconstructivist, Modernist, or Structuralist? That will always be a question that shall remain unanswered. What can’t be denied is the fact that he is different,  and in today’s art-imitates-art world, that is the most crucial thing to be.

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