China Builds

Mainland China's only English MArch program

  • anchor

    European students interview Koolhaas: "learn Chinese and go study there!"

    Martijn de Geus
    Feb 12, '14 2:45 AM EST

    Just came across a very sincere and open interview with Rem, hosted by the University of Amsterdam, conducted by two students from the faculty of business and economics two years ago, in which he specifically talks about the relevance of China and the importance to engage with it personally:

    "From our research for the European Union (...) [we found that] there is an outrageous lack of curiosity and outrageous lack of vision in young, individual europeans. (..) in order to know how to live an interesting live and to prepare for a serious future, one should not just go to China but learn Chinese and study there! Engage."

    (from 49min 30seconds onwards)

    Good choice. 

    In addition he describes his experiences with Tsinghua University in Beijing, the host of this 'China Builds blog' where he proposed to present and comment on his provoking CCTV building design after it won the competition, but was heavily criticized by popular opinion. 
    Within the university (he describes) young and old scholars formed critical opinions in an open atmosphere that lead to a constructive acceptation and a worthwhile dialogue from both sides. 

    (from around 55min onwards)

    Rem Koolhaas interviewed by two students, on China, economy, Europe and the world.


    • Thayer-D

      Oh Remmy, how I love to hear you speak!  I finally understand why he's such a hot shot amongst the architectural elite.  Having started out as a journalist gave him a leg up in the most prized element of architecture today, linguistics.  Infact, he dosen't even produce drawings, which is unfortunatly more common than not.

      I love when non architects, especially smart ones speak with contemporary starchitects.  They aren't as easliy impressed by the jargon, have a tendancy to see through the bullshit, and more importantly, call them out on it.  When asked what's the Koolhaas style, you can bet he was tap dancing.  He writes about a building's design before actually starting the design, so the building will fit the "script" as he says.  Holly crap, that's the worst criticism you could have given an architect in the past, but not when you can bend words to mean anything.  I guess it's "form follows script" when he gets to his kindergarten chat.

      When a Chinese student askes the all to obvious question of why much of Beijing's heritage must be sacrifices for the anonymous glass structures he  puts up while his beloved Amsterdam is historically preserved in amber, he starts on about it having a strong center.  Nothing to do with the fact that Amsterdamians knew better than to sacrifice their heritage to S,M,L, XL, especially after what happened in Rotterdam.  Yet when an Italian student asks if his work will be considered as much of a mistake as much of modernism's legacy, he says he's spent half his career creating "amnesty" for those buildings, and that we should preserve them as "ideal" visions of their time.  Not so much for the Beijing furlongs.  He wants us to rediscover the "virtues" if the 1970's-1990's buildings that are being "aggresively" being demolished, as if their demolition was unrelated their lack of virtues, or that somehow people needed to re-discover them.  When asked what the weakness of today's architecture was, he states without irony, that it's the attempt to create "uniqueness and extravagance".  CCTV anyone?

      Surprisingly, he comes clean on why his buildings are so ugly right from the start when asked about beauty and it's role in architecture.  Maybe it's the Dutch nack for straight forwardness or simply that he hadn't had the time to pull up his bullshit force field in time, but Imagine such a question being asked by an archtiect, perish the thought.  Beauty... "we never deal with it openly or directly".  "The Dutch are slightly neurotic about admitting our interest in it".  "We can only achieve it if we are intellectually convinced".   Now is the time we dance on sprockets!

      Feb 12, 14 1:51 pm  · 
      Donatello D'Anconia


      For someone loathing the use of linguistics in architecture, you seem to enjoy it as your mode of representation. Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.

      Feb 13, 14 9:45 am  · 

      Donatello D'Anconia, you win the internet today.

      Feb 13, 14 10:09 am  · 

      Donatello, I don't "loath" the use of linguistics in architecture, in fact, I quite like a well spoken person, especially when there's a coherent logic to their words.   In Remmy's case I find his "brand" of bull shit artists amusing.  If you don't, I wouldn't let my comments ruffle your feathers.  That's a cool picture by the way.  You definitely win the internet today!!!

      Feb 13, 14 12:10 pm  · 


      Do you "loathe" correct grammar, or are you "loath" to use correct grammar?

      Feb 13, 14 3:57 pm  · 

      My bad Montauk123,

      I'm a horrible speller, but I'm curious, do you or donatello have any comments on the actual content of Rem's interview?  I found his boredom with urban issues and new found curiosity with the country side curious.  Are we allowed to question such things?  I'll defend Mr. Koolhaas's right to say and whatever he likes, but if he expects to be taken seriously, he should expect to be questioned.  Obviously, everyone knows the rules of the game he plays, but to be honest with you, it gets boring.  Like many of the students in the interview, sometimes it's interesting to look beyone the facade.

      Feb 13, 14 5:26 pm  · 
      Donatello D'Anconia


      I agree, his reversal towards an interest in the countryside versus his previous discourse on urbanism deserves questioning. Can you point out the part in your first post where you tried to begin this discussion?

      Maybe you should take an introspection of your own facade of bullshit jargon.

      Koolhaas' interest in the countryside is likely an extension of his interest in urbanism. The countryside represents the antithesis of urbanism, thereby allowing Koolhaas new opportunities for provocation.

      Feb 13, 14 5:53 pm  · 

      "If you want to prepare for the future go to China"...once there you will realize that we have no future. 

      Feb 13, 14 6:09 pm  · 


      I tried to begin this discussion by stating my opinion.   Your response was a pithy photo.  Did you require a written invitation to provide a civil rebutal?

      "Koolhaas' interest in the countryside is likely an extension of his interest in urbanism. The countryside represents the antithesis of urbanism, thereby allowing Koolhaas new opportunities for provocation."

      Except that he clearly stated his boredom with the idea of urbanism rather than some kind of binary dialectic as you imply.  Plus, you even state that he's simply looking opportunities to be provocative.  I would agree, that does seem to be very important to him, but rebel without a cause is hardly inspiring.  As for "deserving questioning", sounds like you don't have any.

      Feb 13, 14 7:53 pm  · 


      The only part of your response that is coherent is the part where you quote Dona D'Anc. While I do agree that this should be a content oriented discussion, I fail to see where you actually elevate the discussion to original, or at the very least, critical thinking. While Dona may offer a playful critique of your 'thoughts' and after your 'invitation' (all hail moderator Thayer) he offers insightful critique, at the very least he made a bunch of us laugh while you make us roll our eyes. 

      Rem has practiced architecture most likely longer than you have been alive. At his age and stature he has the right to be bored (and jaded), but we also have the right to be bored by him. 

      Perhaps your initial comment was to start an intelligent, high-level discussion? It seems you prefer defensive and combative rebuttals. Tact may not be in your vocabulary, but remember that no one likes a Thayer-Dick. 

      Feb 14, 14 12:23 am  · 

      The question about the role and relevance of countryside-talk is indeed quite intriguing. But its origins might be much more trivial than we might think, or let to believe. In origin, it seems not be to an extension of a his interest in urbanism, but more the result of a personal and accidental (?) form of boredom while being in the Swiss Alps.

      Here is a short recent history:

      "I'm about to start writing again...on the countryside. For some reason I was frequently in a single village in Switzerland, able to observe a number of changes. Initially I didn't think to look for a pattern but in the end a pattern became almost inevitable. It's become my highly personal preoccupation. The countryside is not what it used to be. It's become a completely artificial construction." [March 2012, Harvard Lecture]

      "Using Zizek’s words, he said “Nature is over, there is no nature anymore.” (Nature disappears) and therefore one could see the countryside as a place that people are disappeared.” The territory becomes an area for work and speculation; it is “the next big thing.”" [March 2012, Harvard Lecture]

      "Koolhaas first thought of writing a book about the countryside while walking with his longtime companion, the designer Petra Blaisse, in the Swiss Alps. (Koolhaas separated from his wife some years ago and now lives with Blaisse in Amsterdam.) Passing through a village, he was struck by how artificial it looked. “We came here with a certain regularity and I began to recognize certain patterns,” Koolhaas said. “The people had changed; the cows in the meadows looked different. And I realized we’ve worked on the subject a lot over the years, but we’ve never connected the dots. It has sort of been sublimated.” [November 2012, NewYorkTimes]

      The time-frame - about two years ago - of these statements/quotes are quite similar to the period when this featured interview was conducted. Probably more testing ideas around, shopping for reactions, thinking and analyzing while speaking about it. This all should be questioned indeed - thanks for stressing that Thayer-D -  and could one make the argument - and who better to surf that wave than a former journalist - that we live in times of architectural 'talking points'?

      Feb 14, 14 5:55 am  · 

      Metropolitain Monk,

      Thanks for the context.  It makes a little more sense than the off handed way in which he dismissed urbanism.  I agree that he's probably "shopping for reactions" as Donnatello intimated when stating that Koolhaas was looking for "new opportunities for provocation." That's something that always leaves me flat, like a rehersed show without sincerity, but it dosen't discount the fact he's capable of interesting insights, very likely due to his "outsider" perspective from when he was a journalist.

      His observations of the "country side" in Switzerland have the ring of truth, at least from the country side I've observed in many European countries.  Especially as an American where the scrub off of a highway interchange looks wilder than many a forest in Europe.  I think the explanation is simple though, Europe is crowded and has been trod over for milenia, by crowds.  At some point there isn't a plot of land that isn't cultivated, shaped, or culled.  Many replanted forests in parts of Europe are even a little sad with their orderly planted trees, and in Italy I know they cull the "natural" forests for dead wood (a smart idea to my mind).  It could also be he's a bit nostalgic becasue the view from one's youth isn't as informed as in latter years when one "intellectually" understands their surroundings if only from the larger visual memory one has to draw from.

      I once heard of a competition for what to do with an empty lot in Holland were the winning solution was to simply not touch it.  That seemes indicative of the condition throughout a lot of Europe, but especially the smaller countries.  In Switzerland, there's a lot of stage setting, but coming from Amsterdam as he does, the economic reasons for this should be apparent.  A lot of the world flocks to Europe to see the stage sets of medeaval towns, beaucolic farms, and coutry side and they are lucky to some degree that they don't have to make their living raping their land.(all though the Germans seem to be doing it for Brown coal now)  On the otherhand, it brings up issues of how much we comsume in our world to maintain this vaunted "consumer middle class life" that I also enjoy.

      Sometimes I wish there where a way to drastically alter the way we live so as to not require this bifurcation where the larger swaths of our ecosystem teeter on the brink of collapse while the designated world heritage sights get further and further laminated into a gross image of where we'd all like to live.  Obviously, this capitalist train we're stuck on will only stop for catastrophe, and there are several distopian senarios in the wings ready to bring down the house, but there are some looking beyond provocation..

      So I wish Rem could bring some of his interesting insights closer to the surface rather than employing them for the sake of his brand.  I wish he'd get in the the proverbial mud of what makes our economy devour so much of our planet that these disenyfied slivers of heritage don't have to exist in splendid isolation from how the rest of the planet is consumed.  I do appreciate his need to keep the large OMA practice employed, even if it means working for the Chinese thugocracy, soon to be the largest culprit of our planet's destruction.  Unfortunatly, the disonance of his words from his actions make him a larger target than others that make no pretence of being the starchitects that many aspire to.  

      Feb 14, 14 9:01 am  · 
      Donatello D'Anconia


      Apologies yo, I thought you would appreciate my non-linguistic representation, didn't realize it could so easily detract from that solid argument you crafted (that's what you were trying to do with your pithy opinion right?).

      Koolhaas' boredom does not negate a dialectic. Ruralism seems like a natural evolution from his interest in urbanism, opposed to a curiosity in phenomonology, parametricism, historicism, etc. I thought his interest in the countryside was obvious (as Metropolitan Monk has stated).

      I'm more curious about the relationship between Koolhaas' interests in China and the countryside. While China is becoming more urbanized, historically China's countryside was the stage for political action. Here I see an opportunity for provocation.

      With your extensive travels in China, what do you think deserves preserving and who should decide?

      Do you think it is possible as architects to "drastically alter the way we live"?



      Feb 14, 14 10:07 am  · 

      I've always thought that China is more a cautionary tale - while it can be good for our field economically in the short term - and currently very easy for a younger generation to pursue "interesting formal ideas," the rate of growth there is not sustainable and the type of development currently happening is going to cause some very serious problems maybe within 10-20 years.  There is going to be a backlash, and I wonder if our current "politically agnostic" formalism is going to end up on the wrong side of arch history.

      Feb 14, 14 11:04 am  · 

      It already is on the wrong side of history.  It's just so lost in the current semiotic swamp that many of our proffesional elite seem to be stuck on.  The constant search for novelty in architectural circles goes hand in hand with the corporate world's incessant branding of all their products as new and "must have".  Short term gain, long term pain.

      Feb 14, 14 11:43 am  · 

      it all just seems so helpless - that we're more or less following bad policy decisions and not bothering to push back or get involved.

      Feb 14, 14 9:33 pm  · 
      boy in a well

      whats all the hufflepuff about? I didn't see any bullshit and I definitely didn't see anyone calling Rem out. I did see Rem graciously stating a position to people who might not be familiar with his discourse and he gave a very good version of the discourse which he has been developing and working with over the years, perhaps the clearest version I've come across.

      quite nice, really. I don't know how this translated into Thayer's ' gotcha ' post above. well, I know how it did, but im not in the game of pulling Thayer's rhetoric apart anymore. I thought that shit was clear as a bell, even where its complexity refused simplicity. hopefully the video stays up for a good long while.

      Feb 15, 14 5:14 am  · 
      boy in a well


      you know, for kicks.

      who wants to dance with me?

      Feb 15, 14 5:25 am  · 

      You're right, boy in a well.  There were very clear passages, like when asked about beauty...

      "...we never deal with it openly or directly".  "The Dutch are slightly neurotic about admitting our interest in it".  "We can only achieve it if we are intellectually convinced".

      No bullshit there.  Can't play "gotcha" as Sarah Palin night say.  I also hope the video stays up for a good long while also.  

      Feb 15, 14 8:24 am  · 
      boy in a well

      hi thayer

      just quoting those bits of RK is a bit non-productive. what do you think you are saying or revealing by those simple quotations? He's a subtle cat, in a sense. I think his ideas about beauty probably need to be put through the same wringer as he puts his ideas about 'heroic' creativity. What discourse is he stepping out of and how to go forward when having stepped out of the common terms of a discourse ('beauty', 'creativity')? Also, his position on what is beautiful, in the context of the city, is going to be very different than most, probably tied up with all the 'mistakes' others see - and for which he tries to make a space. there's no gotcha to be had by saying he's secretly interested in beauty, without looking at why he's suspicious of the conversation around beauty. likewise, you can see how he has to politely reject his young interlocutors'  frameworks, like when the kiddos try to characterize his hermitage plan as interior architecture. Its not a rhetorical dodge to refuse the baggage of terminology.

      Feb 15, 14 9:15 am  · 

      Hi boy in a well,

      I know we won't agree on much, but I very much appreciate your change of tone.  Personally, I think his statements can stand on their own with out the psychoanalysis. Honestly, anyone with a cursory knowledge of modenrist history would know full well why he and many of his fellow latter day modernists have difficulty with the concpet of beauty, I'm just busting his chops.  In part, its subjective nature makes many uncomfortable, becasue in the end it puts all of us on the same level, and afterall, why did we all suffer throught architecture school if not to feel superior to others?  Like your dismissing these students of economics whom you refer to as "kiddos", this need to characterize society into good (proletariate) and bad (bourgeois) is a relic of a modernism, but in fairness, all of society seems to do it. 

      "Its not a rhetorical dodge to refuse the baggage of terminology."

      If by "baggage of terminology" you mean the definition of words both commonly understood and as defined in the Oxford dictionary, then you couldn't be more wrong.  Surely words carry with them associatoins and alternate meanings depending on the context, but when you parse common words, it degrades the whole purpose of communication.  When people do that intentionally, it's called dissembling.  Beauty, "We can only achieve it if we are intellectually convinced".  That's where the dessembling comes in handy.  Tell me again why Rem Koolhaas is "a subtle cat"?  Maybe I'll work through the baggage of terminology and finally get it.  I need to be intellectually convinced.

      Feb 15, 14 11:32 am  · 

      Sure, could you repeat the question?

      Feb 15, 14 4:48 pm  · 

      That's what I thought.  If you don't even know the question, what are you doing?

      Feb 16, 14 5:42 am  · 


      That sounds right.  The question was "What can business learn from architecture, specifically on beauty, creativity and (personal) brands?"  After dismissing branding first, something I tend to agree with him on, he said...

       "we never deal with it openly or directly". "The Dutch are slightly neurotic about admitting our interest in it". "We can only achieve it if we are intellectually convinced".

      He didn't answer what (if anything) business can learn from architecture on beauty or creativity, did he?  Mind you, he can answer anyway he'd like, but I took his words at face value, and to my mind, it sounds like what he thinks about the idea of 'beauty', since he described his creative process at some point latter on.  So no, he wasn't asked about beauty and its role in architecture.  He was asked "what can business learn from architecture, specifically on beauty, creativity and personal brands", and his answer doesn't reflect the actual question, just how he decided to answer.  That happens all the time, especially from those more politically minded.

      Let me ask you a couple of questions, if you don't mind.

      How is 'Dutch neurosis' relevant to the question posed? What does being 'intellectually convinced' have to do with business learning about beauty's role in architecture? And why does he "never deal with it directly"?  Feel free to answer anyway you like.

      Feb 16, 14 2:02 pm  · 

      I think it's a stupid question.  That's my answer.  Architecture is practiced differently by different people.  It would be more pertinent to have asked how business can learn from Koolhaas.  The only thing architects have in common is that they engage in business, so maybe the question should have been, what can architects learn from business?

      As far as what I think of beauty, most of us have a sense of it despite how subjective and context specific it can be.  I also think it makes many architects nervous becasue you can't "convince" someone of it intellectully, it's something you feel.  Abstract ideas can be beautiful, like love, but the actual thing is primarily felt, not understood.  That explains why Rem dosen't 'deal with it directly' or why he hid behind 'dutch neurosis' to avoid admitting his interest in it.  Becasue it opens you up to direct criticism from everyone, and in the game he plays, that's not the smartest move, especially if your all about your 'brand'.  But you know all this, what with all the books you keep telling people you've read.

      Maybe it would be more helpful to say it has nothing to do with the computer mashups you seem to love posting with abstract forms superimposed on some historical plan or form.   Also, what's up with all your sexual references in architecture??? Here's a sample,  "...with the shift from real vagina to sex-toy vagina, there is also a shift from real intercourse to masturbation. Sex-toy vagina (stadium) as cup of the world--sperm-bank bonanza--give so Fußball will live! Surely the symbology is by now obvious. wink wink".  Again, answer at will.

      Wait, I think I'm getting the disconnect... Like Rem, you might be confusing beauty with erudition, as noble an aim as that is.  I wonder how many architects have had a post on Archinect devoted to answering why so many people don't like them:

      Why is everyone bashing OMA and Rem Koolhaas?

      Leave REM alone!!!

      Feb 17, 14 7:54 am  · 

      Maybe you could tell me how many more books you've read, it's really impressive!!!

      Feb 17, 14 10:05 am  · 

      Thayer-D,  I am down with you all in dudessssssssss.

      Donatello D'Anconia your pretentious words slips sorry bro,

      Ps. I read the first 3 commends and start typing this.

      "learn Chinese and go study there?"  oh pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeee  I'm a foreigner, working in China. "Don't you follow those who are not in your position" and that's my word. Pick it up who to believe hahahahaha.

      Personally, and I must say personally I think REM is nothing. I flip through his books and that's it. No, I don't give him any more chance to influence me. hahaha.

      To all the people, please be selective in what you want to approach. Because for me that's creativity that doesn't teach in school but family. It's your DNA dude. It's like you are listening to Justin Beiber. I can't say you're wrong though. My suggest to those who "read a lot" is to go walk around in those buildings and see it for yourself if it works or not. Walk without ( or pretending ) knowing who design it. Cut all the bullsh!t out. No super hero, media + propaganda here please. Doing so, require a lot of intellectual part, which most doesn't have. Like I said..DNA dude, go natural, no bullsh!t

      Personally again, I think the best architect living is Peter Zumthor. 

      Ps. I know I'm not good in English, but hey... see you in GSD 2014  ;)


      Feb 17, 14 10:32 am  · 
      Donatello D'Anconia


      Bro, you used my pithy posting methods without even answering my stupid questions! Did the lack of jargon confuse you?

      Happy Prez Day!


      Feb 17, 14 10:44 am  · 
      Donatello D'Anconia


      LOL I hope you are joking about the GSD, because with your love of Zumthor and hate of pretension, you are entering the wrong world homie ;)

      Are you sure you aren't confusing my pretension with your lack of English literacy?

      Hope those degrees keep you warm at night!

      Feb 17, 14 11:00 am  · 

      Block this user

      Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

    • Back to Entry List...
  • ×Search in:

About this Blog

In the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, Beijing, the English Program for Master Architecture (EPMA) provides a nationally accredited post-professional program in integrated architectural design. It combines a global network with local implementation. The program is focused on the construction of the human habitat, and the application of advanced building technologies.

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

Recent Entries