Scene: The Q&A after the lecture. First question from curly haired over enthusiastic student.
"Would you teach at USC?"
We seriously arrived around 4:30 for the 5:30 doors open lecture and were among the first in line. However. USC students had a separate line as they got preference. Apparently everyone and their roommate is interested in what Rem has to say at USC and there were easily several hundred USC students in 300+ yard long line if not more. So even at the front of the non-USC line, it was looking like we might not even get into to the rumored to be 800 capacity auditorium.
One guy in the USC line we noticed was carrying a small model of the Seattle Public Library and a shirt with the library on it. I won't even comment on this and will let you draw your own conclusions.
Several red and gold suited pimply undergrads with headsets were on ego trips herding us around. Eventually word broke that they would open the top balcony levels and we got to go in.
Part II or The Middle
Have to say that the intro by the new USC dean was at best sincere. Very strange. The intro was mangled as he introduced Rem, brought him out on stage, then went on to talk more as Rem awkwardly stood on stage wondering if he should return backstage or not. He disappeared only to be called back out to receive an award, of which the trophy was a vitra miniature of the Saarinen tulip chair encased in clear acrylic.
Rem finally got to take the stage and seemed quite relaxed and very at ease. Others that have seen him later said he seemed much less intense and dogmatic as he has in the past.
The focus seemed to be on new directions that he was looking in. One being AMO, the antithesis (sorta) to OMA in which it dealt with not architecture and not urbanism but the other cultural aspects surrounding design that he was interested in. A few projects were looked at, particularly those in Dubai. He definitely was interested in a sort of aspect of preservation throughout. The project in Dubai seemed to question the appropriateness of high-end architectural tower design in an extreme environment. It was essentially a very thin, very tall box tower (maybe 20-30m wide at the base, 300m tall and almost as wide) that sat on a rotating base. He jokingly showed the wall obstructing some of the other buildings that are being/have been built in Dubai.
He also looked at the notion of "generic architecture" which seemed to be a way of him saying how you could systematize design and use it in a few variations for many buildings. In someways, I picture it as to what Frank Gehry has done. He has essentially a Frank Gehry "look" (for lack of a better word) with his swoopy melted shiny metal paneled boxes with sharp corners. But at the same time, it seemed to be a call for the opposite. Rather than trying to make signature buildings that defined themselves and the city/skyline in which the existed, perhaps it is important to be generic and be just another square in the patchwork quilt of urbanity.
The other project he looked as was the original competition for the Gazprom tower in St. Petersburg. It was eventually nixed but in the presentation he showed a diagram by H&dM which literally showed a cartoonish diagram of their scheme accompanied by gestural diagrams of the other competitors schemes at the bottom with x's through them. Interesting strategy for a competition. I think I'm going to use it for my boards in a few weeks.
He moved on to the museum at St. Petersburg which he's interested in the aspect of preserving decaying parts of the Hermitage and using them to be juxtaposed against the artwork. It seemed like more and more he was increasingly interested in the idea of preservation or historical acknowledgement in his work. The most interesting chart/diagram was one where he asserted that architects are primarily interested in change and execution. We choose to act rather than to reflect, etc. etc. In his work, he basically stated he was very curious as to being the non-architect; that is taking a much more passive role in the built environment or even design.
The lecture closed with a few generic and none-to-interesting questions. I wanted to ask him about this increasing desire or perhaps just fascination with preservation that he was on and how it could be paralleled or contrasted against say the Benjamin-ian idea of authenticity in art or even the idea of critical regionalism that Frampton advocates. Perhaps Rem is mellowing out in his old age? We can only wait and see.
If anything. It seems that Rem is beginning to take a drastic turn in the direction his research is intended. Perhaps those at the GSD working with him can offer a little more insight into the things he only began to elucidate.
PS. If you're ever in a dark lecture with slides, please refrain from taking flash photos. I know Rem is famous and all but flashes going off every few seconds for the first 10 minutes of the lecture were incredible annoying. And everyone knows your little point and shoot digital camera's flash is good for max 15 or so feet. It'll just be underexposed as always.