Cornell University (Kumar Sebastian Coors Atre)



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    COOLhaas lecture

    By KumarAtre
    Apr 26, '05 9:09 PM EST

    Rem Koolhaas spoke last night. This morning, the Cornell Daily Sun ran an article so awful it inspired me to write my own...

    Of course, attendance was plenary. Kennedy hall had reached maximum capacity an hour before the lecture was to start. At T minus forty minutes, it was announced that He requires that the room be empty whilst making preparations, and the room was emptied. Ten minutes later, a wave of silence washed through the sea of anxious architects”¦ with Rem's head floating steady and fierce on its surface. Rem is in the building!

    In short, Koolhaas speaks as well as he writes. Inhumanly clever – to the point, in fact, that I found myself jotting down offhand comments and casual statements as great pearls of wisdom. What the performance lacked was the overt brand of sarcasm seen in his most recent publication; humor, as it were, was limited to sneaky allusions and a few bawdy graphics (each a non-sequitur par excellance for those not familiar with his, um, style).

    Rem had a few things to say about the current condition of architecture:

    As architects, our charge is the recovery of integrity in design, despite the blind enthusiasm of lay people who tempt us to continue pursuing projects more interested in effect than performance. This statement coincided with a slide demonstrated the Bilbao effect, courtesy of GreatBuildingsOnline. “We have attention, but little seriousness,” Rem declares, with an abnormally serious glance. In relating the public to architectural thought, architects have “a vast responsibility for protecting the thinking in ways that have very little to do with the thinking.”

    According to Koolhaas, the thinking itself has been stagnating as of late. Productive questioning on the urban scale reached a plateau after Venturi, flattening out and limiting subsequent thinkers to, “discussing the moments of flatness.” Rem described architecture as having so much gravity that though little rockets try to breach the outer limits, they are inevitably pulled back down to the pulsating mass of conformity.

    ”¦conformity and nostalgia. In 1882, historic preservation was limited to monuments two thousand years old. In the twentieth century, we were preserving artifacts three hundred years old. To be eligible for historic preservation in the sixties meant having been around for a number of decades. You can follow this trend up to this year, with the first building to be established as a national monument before its construction: ironically, Rem's anti-nostalgic concert hall in Porto.

    Nostalgia (conformity, stagnation, whatever), here, refers less to formal issues than to methodology. Architecture still operates within the brackets of what Rem calls “guild logic,” which has prevented investigations into the architectural potential of other media. Enter AMO, a new outlet for criticism – a mechanism allowing for the thinking and seriousness(?!) earlier mentioned”¦

    Publications like Content are intended to expand our notion of what defines architecture. “Is it a book or a magazine?” one cartoon monster asks, his other half answering, “Actually, I find the tension between the two super-interesting.” Interesting, certainly, but I wonder whether it's architecture. Theoretically provocative or not, architecture is about building, right?

    Architecture is made by architects:: Content was made by an architect:: Content is architecture”¦

    The grass is green:: frogs are green:: frogs are grass”¦

    If Rem spends more time publishing and less time building, does that mean the definition of architecture has been stretched out far enough to make room for publishing, or that the definition of Rem has changed from ‘architect' to ‘architect and publisher'? Does his producing a boogazine give architecture the freedom of a new realm of expression, or does it merely give architects that freedom, i.e. the freedom to not make buildings?

    Rem remarked that projects like Content afford him a critical voice outside of his architecture, so that he might isolate building and sarcasm. This, more than any other moment in the lecture, raised the hair on the back of my neck. For me, the media fetish is only as valuable as its contribution to architecture; I hope to God (Allah, Rem, whoever) it doesn't become a distraction from architecture. That said, I also hope for a better grasp of the dialogue between OMA's buildings and AMO's Content.

    At any rate, the people down at the Cornell Daily Sun would do well to check it out.

    The lecture was followed by a series of egregiously inappropriate questions, balanced out by one or two thoughtful ones, none of which will be discussed here.
    Buildings discussed include the Porto concert hall, the Dutch embassy in Berlin, CCTV, an installation in Brussels for the EU – you can read about these elsewhere.


    • raji

      This whole thing, how much you love Rem Koolhaas, and think he says important things, it's all a joke, right?

      Apr 26, 05 9:41 pm  · 

      raji, I haven't read the post above yet, but to quickly reply to your response - his statements hold more validity than many other so-called visionaries or great minds that architects and educators listen to these days.

      Apr 26, 05 10:08 pm  · 

      ok, now having read the rem article by Kumar...

      Kumar - read some Tschumi, that should clarify the "limits" of architecture you seem to be referring to.

      Koolhaas does not seperate his sarcasm, his buildings are full of tongue-in-cheek moments. They are curious and spatially invigorating. Janitors in his buildings love there jobs.

      Apr 26, 05 10:15 pm  · 

      umm.... yeah. that doesn't respond to my statement. but valid attempt.

      Apr 26, 05 11:19 pm  · 
      George Showman

      Great run-down, thanks for taking the time! I'm always happy to see other archinect blogs with long entries.

      I have somehow avoided reading anything of Rem's, so have only been exposed to him through the two or three appearances he has made at the GSAPP in the last three years. His prodding is certainly good for the profession, I think. His buildings and his attitude towards them I'm not as sure about, but I've never been to any of them.

      What I wanted to comment on, really, was your statement that
      architecture is about building, not publishing: I think while publication is frequently a distraction for architects, architecture is more than building. An important part of architecture is creating spaces for interaction between people, and creating interfaces between private and public spaces. It used to be that buildings were the dominant form of such spaces. These days, thanks to our increasingly interactive and navigable media, they are just one option.

      As for comments about whether Rem says "important" things, do you mean "important in helping you become a better architect" (in which case I might agree that he doesn't have that much to teach) or "important in shaping the profession and society so that it could actually MATTER whether you are a better architect or not"? Again, I don't know much about Rem, but surely his thoughtful scowl is a better public face for architecture than most of the sculptors and poets who get all the press?

      Apr 26, 05 11:27 pm  · 

      He asked everyone to leave the lecture hall for what? Any differences in the room AFTER that? What the hell are the curtains for on the stage? They're there so you can PREPARE your stuff while people sit down! It's only a lecture, not a heart surgery. Sooooo secretive the guy.........

      Having said that, I agree with aaronUF that stuff that he talks about, like globalism and skyscrapers, is right on. Anyone notice how this guy can now be called the Le Corbusier of our time?

      Le Corb was a great architect, but the publishing of his works (especially in the beginning of his career) certainly didn't hurt his reputation..........

      Apr 27, 05 12:00 am  · 


      I understand that writing is essential to ontology in architecture. I am not questioning the value of publication as a communicative tool or a generator of relevant thought.

      The creation of AMO as an entity distinct from OMA begs the question of what defines each. If Koolhaas' architectural production consists of publication and building, and suddenly publication is filed under a different heading, what is left? Building, all alone… no more sarcasm…

      This is my concern, especially in light of Rem's comment that AMO - in offering a faster, perhaps farther-reaching medium of expression - will limit his critical sarcasm to the realm of publishing, potentially leaving his architecture sucked dry of those well-known and well-loved "tongue-in-cheek" moments referred to above by "aaronUF."

      My concern, again, is NOT whether built and printed work exist in symbiosis, but rather what the ramifications of their nominal separation might be. I see the establishment of such a harsh duality as AMO-OMA as a risk.

      P.S. (for "raji")
      Earnesty is the new sarcasm. Just kidding, kind of...

      Apr 27, 05 12:29 am  · 

      i thought an interesting point was his diagram on oppositions: act/reflect, execute/observe, change/leave as it, intervene/abstain, but when he talked about housing in Beijing, the issue of preservvation was no longer a relationship about preservation/modernization, rather, preservation was part of the modernization repetoire. His comment was that preservation actually removed authenticity.

      The question about what is architecture is timeless. I feel certain that architecture is not only about building and most certainly extends into a wide range of categories. Building can be thought more as a manifestation of a strategy.

      Apr 27, 05 12:34 am  · 

      CLARIFICATION: (for "barbaric")

      I have made no value judgements about "the stuff he talks about."

      Koolhaas will not be compared to Le Corb. He made this very clear after a question regarding his synthesis of Le Corb's discourse.

      Apr 27, 05 12:38 am  · 

      by the way, a little of the subject, word on the street in NYC is that rem is quitting gsd to go to columbia next year and bring his friends with him (whatever that means). Does this rumor have anything to do with the new VOLUME collaboration between AMO+Archit+Columbia?

      the plot thickens.........

      Apr 27, 05 12:46 am  · 
      George Showman

      Interesting rumor, I have no idea. I forgot to register for Volume, too.

      RE the comments on architecture and publication, OMA and AMO, thanks for the clarification. Funny how it all goes back to Victor Hugo's "this will kill that."

      A lot of what's driving Rem's publication production, I think, is the drive to package and make available all the kinds of research done by architects, most of which is currently one-off for each project. He said as much when he last came to Columbia, in his pitch for voluME. Whether by shifting his focus he will lose his building edge, who knows. The gains for society at large might be significant if he spent even more time on publication, though.

      Apr 27, 05 12:56 am  · 

      Kumar, thanks for the lecture info and for your thoughts. Can you please exlain how "Koolhaas will not be compared to Le Corb"? You mean he doesn't want to be compared, or that there are no grounds for comparisions? Just cos he says so doesn't mean we can't compare them.

      2 other quick points: why do you say that you have made no vlaue judgement about what he said? Have I? Obviously you care about his work as you pray that it doesn't get interference from all these updates. I care about his work too. I have a wierd love/hate relationship with REM.

      "the stuff he talks about" was referring to things like the CCTV building and how skyscrapers are 'needless' in the landscape of many asian (asia pacific+middle east) countries in the rush for globalization (where people don't understand the buidings, they just understadn that they are icons of power and wealth)......

      salam man

      Apr 27, 05 1:15 am  · 

      I meant needles (as in pointy things) and not need-less. Damn freudian slip!!

      Apr 27, 05 1:26 am  · 

      Architecture is made by architects:: Content was made by an architect:: Content is architecture…

      The grass is green:: frogs are green:: frogs are grass…

      glossy paperback
      green amphibious skin

      aka: Strategic Camoflage

      Apr 27, 05 11:09 am  · 

      Koolhaas got super-defensive when asked about LeCorb, making it clear (albeit implicitly) that he prefers not to be compared to him. This defensiveness is, of course, due to how frequently the comparison is made...
      Apr 27, 05 3:16 pm  · 
      PROJECT x

      I also get super-defensive when I'm compared to LeCorb

      Apr 29, 05 5:05 am  · 

      and the Milstein hall?...

      Sep 20, 06 2:33 pm  · 

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