Why is everyone bashing OMA and Rem Koolhaas?



Yes, I've been there several times, hence the reason I commented on this post. Pretty much every other library I've been to is far more difficult to find books in, dividing stacks between difficult to find elevators and non-visible floors. What are some libraries that work far better? What doesn't work with the spiral stacks? Give me something specific other then 'it's crap.' All you have added to this thread is 'I don't like it, it's not good.' But why? I actually think it's a pleasant space to spend time in, but as someone else said earlier, that is just an opinion, not a critique on the design.

I think we're beginning to see the truth behind your opinions and frustrations with the comment about the homeless shelter. 'How dare those poor people congregate in public.. they should be hidden from our view! I want to have nothing to do with poor people! I just want to sit in my ivory tower like the Grinch and tape cardboard on my window to block all the homeless so I can eat my sushi lunch in peace.'

This one is certainly a Palin 2015 supporter. Maybe you can join her in a cabin in Alaska to get away from homeless people.

Jul 10, 13 12:37 pm

Gwharton, I found it rather appealing that the homeless spend so much time there, and a lot of them check their emails there, read books, and try to make themselves more acceptable to society. Futhermore, wasn;t the whole premise of the design that the library in this day and age should be more a space for congregation, rather than a library in the traditional sense?

But, finding books there is not difficult at all, as well. I spoke to a couple of employees that work there, and they absolutely LOVE the building.

Jul 10, 13 1:49 pm

The problem is that we lionize/demonize architects instead of buildings. OMA has done some great work, some of it not. Most of my gripes with his work are with the detailing, but that's common. Koolhaas likes to write so he is an easy target for the anti-archibablers, but he is far more coherent a Dutchman than many in his field who speak English as a first language. Plus as stated above, it's Office for Metropolitan Architecture, not Rem L. Koolhaas Master Architect. Compared to his peers, often I find his work the least offensive.

Jul 10, 13 2:11 pm



the inside is nice, so the outside doesn't need to be nice?  the library isn't open 24/7.  I know seattle's weather is often pretty miserable - but this is pretty cynical way to look at civic space - which is almost entirely street and sidewalk in cities.  Yes, there's a park right across the street, but aside from that trellis-y thing at the entry (which you can't really sit on), there's very little opportunity for public interaction with the envelope of the building.  it's all inside or outside - take your pick.  really the only thing you can do is urinate on it.


this is a problem in a lot of REM's work - he neglects edges and thresholds  - it's all about where spaces overlap, but there's rarely good edge conditions in his work.

Jul 10, 13 4:43 pm

What I said was:

"What the Seattle Public Library has done is add new dimensions (literally) to urban public space. If you think about it, there really not many interior public spaces that are free to entry or free in the sense of non-commercial. Even government buildings now have layers of security that make them less openly public. Whatever the SPL may do offensively to the street it more than makes for with the abundance of dymanic and engaging public space inside. Is there any other public space in downtown Seattle that can match?"

No where did I say or imply that if the inside is nice, then the outside doesn't need to be nice, thus I am not guilty of taking a cynical view of civic space. Now, after looking at large photographaps (in El Croquis 134/135) of all four sides of the library, the outside doesn't look all that offensive; granted it's all large scaled, but the streets don't look like they're really suffering because of the building. So again, what the library has done is create a whole new dimension of free public space on the inside, and this is something that is increasing rare when it comes to urban public space (which is exactly why the homeless are attracted to the space--Philadelphia's downtown public library, a great beaux-arts pile, also attracts homeless people because there really is no other free indoor public space).

You, toasteroven, say "really the only thing you can do is urinate on it," and at the same time you're trying to make it out that I'm the one that's cynical. Ha.


Jul 10, 13 5:54 pm

Cynical urine is the worst.

It does sound, gwharton, that you object mostly to the park-like use of the public spaces inside the building. You want more exclusion less inclusion ?

I've only seen a few OMA buildings in person. The buildings were very rich spatially and planning always exceptional. It's hard to understand what is objectionable about the office's work other than aesthetic quibbles.

The thing I find most interesting about their work is the ability to always work with culture without putting on airs (oma never claims to be misunderstood artists) and without defining their work as an aesthetic product. It's not an easy thing to do and still be relevant.

A generic world without starchitects is easy to imagine because its the cynical urinal world we live in. Somehow I can't bring myself to wish for more of it. BUT the cool thing about SPL is that it works great as civic building even if people piss on it.

Jul 10, 13 7:07 pm

That's great, Miles.  There are a lot of programmatic and "cultural" misses with the SPL.  There are some scaleless spaces, like the first photo shown, and it feels too techy in places.  Then, there is a missed understanding that Seattle has more library usage than any American city per capita, with its prevailing "read a book in niche like privacy on an overcast day with a cup of coffee" culture.  The library certainly doesn't allow for that.  (Well, coffee is a no go at any library).  However, it's just the crazy proportions, for the most part.  In Porto PT's Casa de Musica by Rem, the appearance of an asymmetrically cut gem, as seen when approaching it from the Metro a block away works, because it is a performance hall and grandeur is implicit.  But, SEA is still a second-tier metro area, and the library is a bit much.  The previous central library looked like a converted low-rise bank building and did not beckon anyone to come in.  However, that the author says they prefer the suburban Bellevue Library speaks volumes.  It's understandable, really.  The SPL doesn't mesh being a landmark with a respect for the values and vibes sought in the region's architecture.

Jul 10, 13 7:51 pm

OA- Rem, you cynical bastard! FUCK U!..

Rem- Hey O, I call you tomorrow. Thanks.

Jul 10, 13 8:09 pm

Oma? Kan ich eine tasse milch haben?

Jul 10, 13 9:10 pm
boy in a well

feelings . . .

nothing more than feelings.

the unassailable ground of feelings

as Labrouste was unavailable, they shoulda just built a copy of Hogwarts

but it has circulation problems of its own I guess.

yeah, the place does feel like a bit like a cheap nightclub or a cheap mod hotel. But I still think its worthwhile architecture and when I was in Seattle, it was full of people.

Jul 10, 13 9:54 pm

^ And McDonald's is a $100 billion corporation. Measuring success with popularity is essentially a measure of stupidity.

Jul 10, 13 11:02 pm
boy in a well

interesting move, miles . . .

very interesting . . .

Jul 10, 13 11:36 pm
boy in a well

but I think your sweet aphorism might be something of a McGuffin

Jul 11, 13 12:07 am

Spike - It took you half an hour to come up with that?

Jul 11, 13 12:09 am

What I admire most about rems work is that it lacks a signature style.  Most starchitects are like George Costanza who can't break out of that character. 

Jul 11, 13 1:27 am

I've never been one to 'curl up' in a library, so I don't really empathize with that argument, but I can understand where the author is coming from. The author also must have a bias against reading in public parks/areas in general though, such as on a bench in broad day light, on the train, etc., all of which I don't mind and often seek out, rather than a hidden corner in a public space. 

As far as the spiral stacks, I acknowledge it takes time to find books just like any other library, but my point was it is much easier to understand, intuitively. As I said before, I've been to countless libraries that are far more difficult to use.. once books are divided between floors, staircases, and elevators, the act of finding books becomes much more challenging than having them all on one continuous plain. You don't really need to consult a plan to find out where a certain stack is in SPL, just follow the path.

Just curious, has anyone been to libraries they feel function better, as far as finding books is concerned? I'm not talking about the Bellevue intimacy thing.

Jul 11, 13 9:40 am

^(and I'm confident there are other great examples)

Jul 11, 13 9:40 am

Seeing that the whole point of the library was that the library is not relevant as a traditional library anymore, where people curl up with books, a lot of the criticism is just nonsensical.On the other hand, the kids' area on the ground floor is rather awesome, my kid loved it.

Jul 11, 13 1:10 pm
boy in a well

Miles - What can I say? It was truly a sweet aphorism.

like a gelatinous treat that lost shape under the pressure of thoughtful consideration

Take it as a compliment.

Jul 11, 13 2:49 pm
boy in a well

Kids love it too!

Argument Officially Over.

Jul 11, 13 2:50 pm



Whatever the SPL may do offensively to the street it more than makes for with the abundance of dymanic and engaging public space inside


the most important public "space" is the edge condition, not just the space itself.  all the canted edges in this building basically say "keep off."  it forces you to be constantly participating collectively (under the watchful eye of everyone else) rather than temporarily inhabiting the periphery where one can take some respite and allow for more intimate social interaction.  I think gwharton's "criticism" - while somewhat crass - is actually pretty revealing- homeless people will tend to stay out of the middle of public spaces because they at least feel a little uncomfortable about their situation - if they're sitting out on the lounge chairs right in the middle of the fucking space it means they have no place else to go - which actually has the effect of making everyone else much less sympathetic toward them and makes the homeless individual feel even more invisible because everyone is now ignoring them - even the people who would normally interact with them on the edge condition.


geesh - I guess no one around here really gives a shit about the work of william whyte, jan gehl, chistopher alexander, etc... I guess we can all just continue talking about how the massing of the building isn't really offensive to the street, the entrancing (and somewhat disturbing) constant observation of human "flows," and something about materials we like and don't like.

Jul 11, 13 4:54 pm
vado retro

Libraries, whether an urban barnacle in Seattle or a gargoyle supporting brown block in Chicago are filled with people with time on their hands. They are there to get out the heat or the cold, read the paper, look at magazines file their unemployment on the computers, watch youtube etc. basically the same thing other people do at their jobs. Children like to go to the library for story time. Old people go there to read about their ailments. Foreigners like it for their hometown newspapers.  It isn't the best place to meet women unless you are helping them to file their unemployment forms for the week. Its a good place to get dvds.  Most have signs in the bathrooms stating that washing hair and or clothes is a no no. Some have coffee shops.

Jul 11, 13 4:56 pm

Wm whyte and Chris Alexander not really good fits for our world. Jan gehl is awesome. Not sure if he would hate Oma or not. I suspect not. Cuz he's an adult. And he knows about the secret life of libraries that vado accidentally let slip. That was very naughty.

what other buildings by Oma do y'all generically dislike? Is it just the library ?

Jul 11, 13 6:43 pm

They are there to (do) basically the same thing other people do at their jobs.

This is a brilliant observation.

Jul 12, 13 12:45 am

A cavernous place, where the halls are neon and the crowds are weird, but the light is always beautiful and the internet is always on

We can discuss other OMA buildings, but first a moment of appreciation from a Seattle resident.

Jul 12, 13 1:08 am

Well, let's see how divorced a lot of architects are from the general public. We love the library, they hate it. Oh no, wait its the other way around. Frustrated architects hate it, while the general public seems to love it .... noooooooo!

Okay, now lets use archi-banter to counter what the masses have to say.

Jul 12, 13 1:25 am

Some interesting photos.  The red walls are very ... ahem ... red.  Maybe WA can legalize prostitution like NV and they can devote part of the building to being a legal bordello.  You know, like they did with the city morgue in "The Night Shift" with Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton. The kids don't have to know what's going on.  Heck, it could even help pay off the bonds that much earlier.  I think that, for Seattleites who have embraced it, it's because they've been handed a landmark.  Venturi's Seattle Art Museum (SAM) was also embraced in its day because it was such as uptick from the then current art museum, and then it fell off the radar screen.  SAM - tasteful, restrained, conservative, quirky, and goofy, all at the same time.  I still don't know what to think of it, and no one really thinks of it that much, actually.

Jul 12, 13 2:04 am
boy in a well

best Observant post in ages. Nice job! Like a wine finally coming into it own. Delicious.

Jul 12, 13 7:19 am
boy in a well

I don't know who william whyte or jan gehl is. Should I read them before or after patrik Schumacher? Cuz im never going to read Schumacher.

there's only one canted edge that the public can interact with - the one across the street from the park. the perp sides are typical Seattle side streets for parking access and the opposite side is basically a large overhang over an entrance. No seating, but hey you wont get wet and the interactivity of the street is minimally maintained, perhaps in a more friendly way than the canted side.

I agree with Q - the most important space is the one you walk into. all this talk about overlap and edges seems like half-read homeless theory.

Yelp reviews?

Borromini would shit a curvy brick and then stab himself.

as opposed to just stabbing himself.

Jul 12, 13 7:36 am

sameddoctor, the public also loves McDonalds, McMansions, Steven Segal movies, deep fried butter on a stick, new jeans that come ripped and stained, pants riding low to expose boxers, Hummers (at least they did for a while), really bad politicians enough to vote them in repeatedly, etc. 

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Everything they've ever "known" has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

Jul 12, 13 7:46 am
boy in a well

this is the problem with your framework miles - its indecisive. if a project is too successfully edgy - you can call it a success because its unpopular or unused. It can be unsuccessful on all fronts but be the only game in town and thus be consistently filled (ie popular). It can be unsuccessful on all fronts and just be popular (pomo, Seaside style). it could be a programmatic success and be unpopular aesthetically. It could be bad for people like McD and be popular. It could be aesthetically bad and be popular (pomo seaside style - wink wink).

etc etc infinitum.

this is why I called your comment a McGuffin. Could have called it a leaky bucket - it seeps in all directions, despite having a hatred for people at its core. I don't think anyone else is equating success and popularity - I think people are emphasizing that the place gets used as intended, despite its flaws. That's a version of success which develops popularity and does not participate in the characterization you're trying to place upon it.

The effect of linking the ehemmm 'avant garde' with McDonalds the way you did was a nice move. it was a good aphorism, but I think one that rings hollow if anyone spends thirty minutes to think about it.

im  a bottle and a half to the wind and I just wrote the post I was trying to avoid having to write. feeelings.......

nothing more than feeelings.....

best shit ever.

Jul 12, 13 8:23 am

It can be unsuccessful on all fronts but be the only game in town and thus be consistently filled (ie popular).


The place gets used, despite it's flaws

It seems we are in agreement. Where we differ seems to be that I think architects have a greater responsibility than what we see evidenced by the work of the most notable (for lack of a better term). It is certainly a cultural thing, influenced by money and media, neither of which are arbiters of success (for me).

Thus we seem to have boiled this down to semantics, specifically the definition of success. For some that would be money, or media exposure, or hordes of people (regardless of whether or not they were other options for them).

For me it's more about sustainability, environmental responsibility and programmatic functionality. Subjective aesthetics are the most visible and least important factor in regard to those qualities.

Starchitects are the darlings of a stupid, status-conscious society that is ignorant of fundamental principles.

Jul 12, 13 9:42 am

Great, you argue about how the "public" cannot use the civic edge of the builidng, and when when i post a Yelp review, which is of course, very "public", you come up in arms about it being very, lets say pedestrian. So what exactly are you trying to point out?

"For me it's more about sustainability, environmental responsibility and programmatic functionality. Subjective aesthetics are the most visible and least important factor in regard to those qualities." Great, hope this works out for you, or you are going to be bitter all your life. Oh, and I can argue that the SPL is one of the most sustainable libraries around because people actually use it, as opposed to many other downtown libraries.

By the way, if Rem ever read this forum, he would be jumping in joy that hes being compared to Disneyland or Mc Donalds. After all, did he not validate "dross" as a valid urban form?

Jul 12, 13 12:49 pm
chatter of clouds

I agree that the 'edge condition' is a moot issue in this case. Quondam is pretty much stating the obvious. That this building goes against a dominant culture of hermetic institutions-buildings exempts it from the being conceived within the rationale of remedial measures. Perhaps similarly, you wouldn't ask about the edge conditions or inside-outside interface of a covered alleyway or bazaar. The access to many bazaars is pretty abrupt.

Just to pose the question whether this rationale of remedial measures by creating a complex interface between the outside and the inside goes hand-in-hand with the increased now predominance of -spatial hermeticism? And cynically viewed , wouldn't the the latter be a ploy  to divert attention away from the underlying sociopathy of an institutionally parcelled urban environment...therefore an illusion.  Would you be happier with the illusion over a genuine affordment of a covered liberal space?

Jul 12, 13 1:40 pm

^ you are why this field is broken.

Jul 12, 13 2:35 pm

tammuz x, well put, and what an interesting question you pose. Who knows, "the rationale of remedial measures" may itself harbor an "underlying sociopathy of an institutionally parcelled" design 'intellegence'.

Thanks again, tammuz x, your two paragraphs just provided me with much insight, especially insight I myself have been seeking since last night. Lucky day I suppose, for earlier I went to the local branch of the free library to borrow Capote's Music for Chameleons, and on the small shelf of free (for the taking) books by the entry I found a paperback copy of Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings.

Jul 12, 13 3:12 pm
chatter of clouds

"And cynically viewed , wouldn't the the latter be a ploy"

I meant to say the former not latter.

Quondam, mine was a 'continued reading' of your point. 

Also, I'm thinking that the desired interface between building and physical context would be subservient to the globally self replicating economic context. I mean that any such spatial interface would be largely conceived as profit engineering for the major institutions that are physically condensed within the building or for the hub of secondary institutions occupying the ground floor. What is good for institutions is what is good for the people and nay differentiation between. The  illusionary porosity - cappuccino froth- of the building at the level of minimum substance/significance and, yet,  maximum  accessibility, I.e.  the ground floor, typically houses other institutions to maximise the influx and movement of capital. The Seattle library seems to me the antithesis of this. Funny, I thought Rem was a doyen of archi-capitalism. This looks like it needs more thought..

Jul 12, 13 4:45 pm

tammuz x, just before I read your post above, I read (in the Labyrinth preface), "As for Kafka's precursors, Borges's erudition takes pleasure in finding them in Zeno of Elea, Kierkegaard and Robert Browning. In each of these authors there is some Kafka, but if Kafka had not written, nobody would have been able to notice it--whence this very Borgesian paradox" "Every writer creates his own precursors.""

Because of this thread I have a whole new appreciation of the Seattle Public Library--"a genuine affordment of a covered liberal space." Is this really something of a rare manifestation in today's urban realm? Can the SPL be seen as a truly new paradigm of "covered liberal space"? Is commerce-free, covered liberal space even a viable urban typology? Yes, "it needs more thought..

Jul 12, 13 6:36 pm

By the way, if Rem ever read this forum, he would be jumping in joy that hes being compared to Disneyland or Mc Donalds. After all, did he not validate "dross" as a valid urban form?

dross noun

1: the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal
2: waste or foreign matter : impurity
3: something that is base, trivial, or inferior

How high we aspire. Alas.

Jul 12, 13 6:39 pm

Miles, so you start by saying everyone hates it and then when it becomes clear that some people (possibly quite a few people) actually love it, you say everyone is stupid.  why not just say you don't like it and not worry about justifying it.  it would be more honest.

any architecture that is loved as much as mcdonalds is at least worth taking seriously. so little of what we do is ever accepted or understood by the public so im pretty interested in anything that can turn that trick.  except neo-classical.  But that's cool cuz you know everyone hates it, or if they like it they're stupid.  ok fine i just don't like neo-classical. 

@ spike, wm whyte was famous for measuring the effect of public space design ages ago.  he also wrote a truly ignorant book about suburbia that everyone should think about reading someday. Personally I think he has done a lot more harm than good.

jan gehl is an architect who is really very good at urban planning. its all public space centred, people on the streets sort of thing.  very cool.  not always necessary in my mind.  maybe rem could have done more, maybe it was not a real issue. i think it speaks more about the city than the OMA design approach.

Jul 12, 13 9:19 pm

Actually it was not Koolhaas, it was Lars Lerup (Stim and Dross).

But Miles, open your eyes, its a new world now and we are not stuck in the era of "clean" modernism....

Jul 12, 13 9:48 pm

will, read my posts. Not what you think I said but what I actually wrote.

I didn't say everyone hates "it" (SPL?) or everyone is stupid. I said popularity is a dubious measure of success, cited examples, and ended up with a definition of success. I also posted a critique of the SPL by a noted critic and an essay about architectural responsibility that uses SPL as a poor example. In fact I never mentioned my own opinion of SPL, although what I think of Koolhaas and other starchitects is pretty clear.

How you get from that to neoclassic style - or doc to "clean" modernism - is an absolute mystery to me. Are you completely unconscious of practical effects and consequences? Or is a pretty facade (in your eye, anyway) enough to allow you to forget them?

any architecture that is loved as much as McDonalds is at least worth taking seriously.

I'm aghast that you think McD's is loved for it's architecture (golden arches aren't architecture, they're signage). McD's is "loved" because of aggressive marketing to children with free toys and poisonous, dirt cheap food substitute (pink slime and sugar). Between that and the deforestation of the Amazon to raise ever increasing amounts of cattle for "beef" (pink slime) I couldn't care if they had the most exquisite architecture ever produced as it would only be a monument to the rest of their practices. Or is profit your measure of success?

Jul 12, 13 11:09 pm

Ha, I do not know who mentioned Mc Donalds here, but here is the yelp review for a Micky Ds in Seattle

Jul 13, 13 11:11 am

^I dont think he was referring to 'the architecture of McDonalds' rather its popularity as a brand, style (of food and everything else) and institution. Ironically, in Europe, McDonalds tend to be much more up market in their interior design (and are often located in renovated historic buildings).

I find it hilarious that this conversation focuses on one building of OMA (now a 300 person corporate powerhouse). Rem is best understood and critiqued through his writing. The buildings are somewhat of an afterthought, though now produced in such volume (well, unbuilt projects included) that they become an essay or oevre in their own right. One can imagine how much Rem is actually involved in most projects. There are, I believe 6 or 7 other partners. The man is in his late 70s, though i'm sure sleeps little, and have heard tell via the grapevine that he doesn't drink a wick of alcohol ever. At any rate, you may not like Rem's buildings (or le Corbusier's), but it would be a little silly to underestimate the explosive influence of his writing, diagramming, design process etc. His writing has brought cultural critique firmly into the profession. He has used diagrams and created the fetish we now see for them, and to very successfully spatially plan (in plan and section) his buildings. I would even go so far as his design process, akin to creating multiple options at every stage of design, and at any juncture caused by a new question, has spread endemically throughout the industry. Perhaps it has always been this way, but it seems like a relentless business-ification, of fordist-production line like consequences, of the design process. It allows design to become a simple series of steps, or decisions to be made by a project architect, having been given an overview by the never ending work of minions. I could go on to discuss his self-promotion, the research work of AMO (now with Prada as its patron) or his production of books in itself. These aspects of his work are also spreading like wildfire through the avante-garde (starchitects) and even the mass design industry, partly through his many many progeny.

n.b. I prefer to use the term 'the avante-garde' instead of starchitects. Most of these companies from my knowledge are prolific, but run on small budgets, often possible through the use of hordes of interns. This 'poor-but-famous' situation seems best described as 'the avante-garde'. They do not make up a large share of architectural revenues, let alone of the construction industry as a whole. 

Jul 13, 13 12:04 pm
chatter of clouds

Why do you find it hilarious? Are you actually laughing? Or is it a smug expression signifying moral of some moral 

Some of us found it interesting to discuss a specific building of his; in what way does that 

Jul 13, 13 1:13 pm
chatter of clouds


Do you really find this hilarious? Are you LOLing? Or was it a smug expression signifying nothing more than a baseless admonishment to make it appear that your post has more substance than the others' above - while obviously nothing you said actually detracts from the validity of digressing into a postulation on one of his seminal built projects. You are not, for example,able to make your point without offending our intelligence? Must we offend yours in return and inform you that the content of your post, rotterdamarchitect, is already beknownst to us. Did you really provide any, any insight besides the one into your smugness? 

Jul 13, 13 1:32 pm

Sorry I should correct it to be 'I find it a little limited'. Also, i find you're response to be a little like an emotional ad-homonym attack. I was just trying to contribute to the discussion and provoke a response, but you havn't responded to anything I've said, already understand these things to be true, or given with Koolhaas? Enlighten me, as obviously I havn't understood the situation. I was trying to open up the floor to a discussion of the architect, rather than just one building. 

Jul 13, 13 3:17 pm
chatter of clouds

Its limited because it is our choice to limit it not because we were primed to be oblivious objects of your ignominious hilarity but because it 1. Is an interesting digression 2.  sheds light on-or more truthfully teases out- the possibilities of bigger pictures. 

It is not an ad hominem attack on your person. It is a reaction to your trivialization of others' well intentioned contributions (and I'm reacting because I'm involved). If you take that backlash personally, then you need to trace it back to the origin of you offence initiating  person. 

Open the floor for yourself but don't close another for others. No need to enlighten you further. 

Jul 13, 13 4:01 pm

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