One can only imagine that as a child Rem Koolhaas must have spent a lot of time in time out. There is a pouting posture embedded in his rather refined comportment. When being interviewed, Koolhaas engages in a delayed satellite-type of dynamic before answering questions. It is as if he is processing the unadulterated folly of the pedestrian mind. While listening, and watching him speak one does not know whether his pseudo-defensive air is intentional or sub-conscious. This observation is in direct harmony with the polarizing, and arguably ingenuous architect born Remment Koolhas. Humility is not his strongest character trait, mysterious social and architectural commentary is.
Born in 1944 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, this Dutch architect is a dominant figure in today’s architecture circles. Critics have argued that Koolhaas ignores all consideration for beauty and taste. In essence, many wonder whether his modern designs are an outgrowth of his love for designing, or his hate for the same. Whether it be glass floors, figure eight stairs or translucent walls, the rub for many is that his personality is more confusing than his designs. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2004, Koolhas admitted that he “detest” the current architectural system. This explains much.
Before any of his drawings were built, his writings and social commentary had established their own reputation. His firm, Office for Metropolitan architecture (OMA) birthed another entity, AMO, its philosophical, conceptual twin. Through AMO, Koolhaas has taken on diverse subjects such as changing the European flag. One of his flag renditions was a bar code.
He is Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and is credited with authoring the campus center design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He also authored the very nice Prada Epicenter in Los Angeles. The scope of his projects is rather astounding from a 575,000m2 Asian based headquarters, studio,
and cultural center for China’s national broadcaster, China Central Television, to the grand renovation of a Beijing bookstore, one of the largest in the world.
This eclectic existence has rendered a wide variety of awards and commendations, yet not without consequence. Some of his most notable recognitions include: Pritzker Prize (2000), Praemium Imperiale (2003) Royal Gold Medal (2004). Other projects that have been equally loved and hated include: The Casa da Música in Porto, The Seattle Central Library, and the Netherlands Embassy Berlin.
The Seattle Library is beyond description. Its abstract, seemingly unpredictable form, for many, has no visual or architectural logic. Yet, the library is praised for its internal design and the functionality it achieves. It is this stark contradiction within the same project that leads the variety of opinions about the man, his mind and his work. The Pritzer Prize Jury took the position that one must understand a Rem Koolhaas design is as much about the depth of idea as it is the building that results, a rather gracious commentary.
His 2004 published book “Content” is the rarest of products. For starters, the cover is covered with political and pop culture photos that one would expect more from a Mad Magazine than from a world-renowned architect, thinker. The book is self-described as, “an explosion in an idea factory, or a wild party thrown by a Pritzker Prize-winner.” The mood of “Content” is considerably more delirious than the Koolhas 1978 classic manifesto by the same name.
“Content” is designed as a disposable magazine with mysterious rants and seemingly on purpose abstracts. In one portion of the book a woman is depicted leaving her infrared heat signature on a tombstone. In another, Vermeer paintings are paired with scenes from TV's reality show Big Brother. Ironically, the book title serves as a reminder of what a book should actually have.
Other published writings include: Mutations (2001), Great Leap Forward (2002), The Harvard Guide to Shopping, (2002 published by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design), The Gulf, S, M, L, XL, and Ubiquitous China among others.
For many, the only lasting, logical impression of Koolhaas architecture does not emanate from his buildings but rather from his writings in the Delirious Manifesto. In it, he aggressively exposes the contradictions of architecture and urban design practices. He argues for the trapping nature of urban existence and the pivotal role modern architectural theory plays in the spiraling system called the city. Koolhaas writes in Delirious, "The City is an addictive machine from which there is no escape." The same can possibly be said of the man, his ideas, and his work.