Koolhaas, Rem

Koolhaas, Rem
born Nov. 17, 1944, Rotterdam, Neth.

Dutch architect.

After studying architecture in London and working in New York City, in 1975 he opened his own firm in Rotterdam and London. He first achieved recognition with his book Delirious New York (1978), which profiled Manhattan's architectural development, suggesting that it was an organic process created through a variety of cultural forces. His best-known projects are large-scale structures, including the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Lille, Fr., and a master plan for the MCA/Universal Studios site in Los Angeles. His book S, M, L, XL (1996) addressed the theme of size. In 1998 he won the design competition for a new campus centre at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000.

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▪ 1999

      In 1998 Rem Koolhaas, hailed by many as "the architect for the new millennium," was selected as the winner of the design competition for a new campus centre at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The proposed 9,300-sq m (100,000-sq ft) building—scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2000—would act as a bridge between the academic and residential areas of the school and would accommodate student organizations, dining and entertainment facilities, a bookstore, and a tribute to the campus's original designer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

      The legacy of Mies presented a unique challenge to those who participated in the competition. Any proposed addition to the campus could not ignore its strict Modernist style, nor could it follow the same model exactly. Koolhaas's plan acknowledged Mies by using simple geometric forms but was not constrained by Modernism's rigidity. For example, the one-story structure would contain crisscrossing passageways that would replicate the present-day flow of pedestrian traffic at the site. The plan quite literally embraced the urban setting with a stainless steel tunnel that would encircle the existing elevated train tracks and thereby allow trains to run directly above the building.

      With its decidedly urban character and its focus on integrating the new into an existing space, the IIT project meshed well with Koolhaas's career-long interest in cities and the urban environment. He was born in Rotterdam, Neth., in 1944 and worked as a journalist before becoming an architect. He studied at the Architectural Association School in London, worked for three years in the United States, and then in 1975 formed the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp, his wife. The firm had its headquarters in Rotterdam and offices in Berlin and London.

      Koolhaas first achieved recognition not as an architect but as a theorist when his book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan was published in 1978. It profiled the architectural development of Manhattan, suggesting that this was an organic process created through a variety of cultural forces. For Koolhaas the city functioned as a metaphor for the contemporary experience. In 1994-95 his designs were the subject of a show at New York City's Museum of Modern Art. OMA and Koolhaas frequently operated at this theoretical and conceptual level, conceiving of several works that as of 1998 remained unbuilt. Their best-known completed projects were large-scale structures: the Kunsthal in Rotterdam; the Grand Palais, an exhibition hall, in Lille, France; and a master plan for the MCA/Universal Studios site in Los Angeles. Appropriately, Koolhaas's second book addressed the theme of size. Entitled S, M, L, XL and published in 1996, it chronicled the accomplishments of OMA and architecture at the end of the 20th century.

BETH KESSLER

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▪ Dutch architect
born Nov. 17, 1944, Rotterdam, Netherlands

      Dutch architect known for buildings and writings that embrace the energy of modernity.

      Koolhaas worked as a journalist before becoming an architect. Changing his focus to architecture, from 1968 to 1972 he studied at the Architectural Association in London, and from 1972 to 1975 he studied at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In 1975 he formed the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp, his wife, with offices in Rotterdam and London.

      Koolhaas first achieved recognition not as an architect but as an urban theorist when his book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan was published in 1978. The book suggested that the architectural development of Manhattan was an organic process created through a variety of cultural forces. In this way, New York and other major cities functioned as a metaphor for contemporary experience. During this period Koolhaas and OMA frequently operated at a theoretical and conceptual level, conceiving of varied works that remained unbuilt, including the Parc de La Villette (1982–83) and Très Grande Bibliothèque (1989), both in Paris. One major work that was realized was the National Dance Theatre (1984–87) at The Hague, which was notable for its wavy roof and clearly divided series of spaces.

      In the 1990s Koolhaas and OMA saw several important works to fruition, including the Nexus Housing project (1989–91) in Fukuoka, Japan; the Kunsthal (1992) in Rotterdam; a private residence (1994–98) in Bordeaux, France; and the Educatorium (1993–97), a multipurpose building at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who developed a distinctive aesthetic, Koolhaas did not establish a constant look from project to project. Instead, he created architecture that, utilizing the best of modern technology and materials, spoke to the needs of a particular site and client. For instance, the Bordeaux house, made for a client in a wheelchair, utilized a dramatic glass room that acted as an elevator between the levels of the house. In these commissions, Koolhaas refused to refer to past styles (he called for an “end to sentimentality”), choosing instead to engage directly with the true gritty character of the modern world. For example, his Kunsthal dramatically engages with urban modernity through its electronic billboard and orange steel components.

      The combination of Koolhaas's theoretical writings with his fondness for asymmetry, challenging spatial explorations, and unexpected uses of colour led many to classify him as a deconstructivist (deconstruction). However, his work, unlike that of other deconstructivists, does not rely heavily on theory, and it is imbued with a strong sense of humanity and a concern for the role that architecture plays in everyday life, particularly in an urban context. This grounding in reality was reflected in Koolhaas's keen interest in urban planning, most notably in a master plan for a new city centre in Lille, France (1985–95), through which he transformed Lille into a business, entertainment, and residential centre. His celebrated Grand Palais, an elliptical structure utilizing plastic and aluminum, was at the centre of this plan.

      Koolhaas's second book, S, M, L, XL (1995), chronicles the accomplishments of OMA and architecture at the end of the 20th century. At the turn of the 21st century, Koolhaas and OMA received numerous commissions. Among the most noteworthy were a series of international stores for the Prada fashion house, the Netherlands embassy (1997–2003) in Berlin, a student centre at the Illinois Institute of Technology (1997–2003) in Chicago, the Seattle (Washington) Public Library (1999–2004), and the headquarters for Beijing's state-owned China Central Television (CCTV; 2004–08).

      Beginning in 1995, Koolhaas taught graduate seminars at Harvard University. Among his many honours was the Pritzker Prize in 2000; the foundation's president, Thomas J. Pritzker, described him as “a prophet of a new modern architecture.” In 2003 Koolhaas was awarded the Japan Art Association's Praemium Imperiale prize for architecture, and in 2004 he was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal.

Additional Reading
Jacques Lucan (ed.), OMA-Rem Koolhaas: Architecture, 1970–1990, trans. by David Block (1991; originally published in French, 1990); Patrice Goulet (ed.), Six Projects (1990), and Lille (1990); Aurora Cuito (ed.), Rem Koolhaas/OMA (2002); Veronique Patteeuw (comp. and ed.), Considering Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (2003).

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Universalium. 2010.

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