Rem demands boycott


Rem demands boycott

Building Design
Friday, January 05, 2007

Koolhaas campaigns to overhaul star-studded design competitions after Gazprom HQ controversy

By Ellen Bennett

Rem Koolhaas has called on architecture’s superstars to join him in a campaign to overhaul the competition system, which he has condemned as “hideous” and a drain on resources and influence.

Koolhaas spoke out following BD’s revelation that Norman Foster, Rafael Viñoly and Kisho Kurokawa walked off the jury that selected RMJM for the Gazprom headquarters in St Petersburg (News December 8).

Koolhaas was also on the shortlist.

His outburst, in an exclusive interview with BD, won enthusiastic backing from Frank Duffy, founder of DEGW, who believes that the current system encourages clients to appoint architects on the basis of a single design rather than an ongoing relationship and shared vision.

“We are letting ourselves be drained of endless resources and huge amounts of ideas — all to no avail,” said Koolhaas. “I am on a campaign now to convince the world that this kind of competition is hopeless and that we should find more efficient forms of architectural competitions against each other.

“It is amazing how the best brains in the profession can be manoeuvred into a position of complete weakness when they should be in a position of strength.”

He added that he has repeatedly proposed a one-year boycott of the competition system to fellow architectural stars. Ironically, Koolhaas’s practice OMA has made its name by entering international competitions including Seattle Library, Porto’s Casa da Musica and the CCTV headquarters in Beijing.

Duffy, who believes Koolhaas is “absolutely right,” said he “would be amazed” if such a boycott ever happened because “it would be against the nature of architects”.

BD contacted leading practices including Richard Rogers Partnership, Foster & Partners, Herzog & de Meuron and Zaha Hadid, who all declined to comment on Koolhaas’ proposal.

But RIBA vice-president of professional services, Clare Wright, whose practice Wright & Wright made its name through winning open competitions, sounded a note of caution.

“The competition system is probably beneficial to less well established practices,” she commented.

“In the days before it, there was more of an old boys’ club where jobs went to people who knew people.”

The Gazprom competition, for the headquarters of the world’s largest energy company, was one of several to attract controversy last year when local architects condemned the decision to build a skyscraper in the historic Russian city of St Petersburg.

Three of the judges left the panel and the remaining politicians and businessmen selected RMJM from a shortlist that included Herzog & de Meuron, Jean Nouvel, Massimiliano Fuksas and Daniel Libeskind as well as Koolhaas.

Jan 5, 07 9:07 am

I don't trust thig guy. He's definitely got something up his sleave.

Jan 5, 07 9:25 am
vado retro

if the architects mentioned above are not "an old boys network" i don't know what the hell is...

Jan 5, 07 10:15 am

I'm glad Rem is finally standing up to those that support injustice and the oppression of the individual. Oh shit - those are his clients!

Jan 5, 07 10:35 am

he looks like nothing more than a spoiled, privileged, elite, rich child. he has no morals other than those that advance his precious 'ideas'. when his own tried and true, normal methods of see-no-evil opportunism don't work, he breaks out the whine and cheese.

notice that Rem and the other old boys aren't concerned or outraged about the ethics of a firm like Gazprom or a propaganda machine like CCTV and their respective government supporters. they care only for their precious 'ideas'... it's disgusting.

Rem and the old boys delight in bashing free market globalization's injustices out one corner of their mouths and tacit supporting and bolstering fascist and other oppressive regimes with their 'ideas' out the other corner.

effff Rem. his regime of selfish opportunism and entitlement deserve all the nails in their coffin the rest of the world can provide.

Jan 5, 07 12:20 pm

i think rem, zaha, h dem and the rest should just retire.

Jan 5, 07 12:31 pm

Mr. CCTV is our new moralist and ethical beacon? Would the elimination of the jury system benefit anyone but established cebrity architects like himself?

Jan 5, 07 12:49 pm
he has repeatedly proposed a one-year boycott of the competition system to fellow architectural stars

how about a ban on star architects entering competitions? especially if they have friends on the jury.

OR a one year ban on star architects using academic institutions (and the future loans of students) to do all the research for forthcoming books and talks which they personally profit from?

Jan 5, 07 2:12 pm
chatter of clouds

this is interesting though:

"this kind of competition is hopeless and that we should find more efficient forms of architectural competitions against each other. "


"the current system encourages clients to appoint architects on the basis of a single design rather than an ongoing relationship and shared vision."


"We are letting ourselves be drained of endless resources and huge amounts of ideas — all to no avail"

so basically espousing a form of competition based on a rational process rather a whimsical choice of fancy at the very end. .
there is an implication of bastardizing the competition form and conventional practice form through referring to an 'ongoing relationship and shared vision'. koolhaas didn't rule out competition per se ('this kind of competition')...i guess it would work out this way for the client:

invite/submit- choose parties with the more relevant/interesting takes- work with those parties- filter out with the aid of public....

i like the idea of making the client more intelligent.

Jan 5, 07 2:41 pm

or choose jury members with more relevant/interesting takes.

Jan 5, 07 2:45 pm

Amazing isn't it. It all comes out now.

I agree with Cameron....i say a ubiquitous ban of all starchitects from entering any competition. And they should not be banned from using academic institutions just for one should be a permanent ban altogether. Either that, or if research is done.....make it a book by those that did the legwork, the students. let them have all the limelight.

Jan 5, 07 2:49 pm

maybe rem should start designing better buildings that will win competitions

Jan 5, 07 3:00 pm

i am boycotting all competitions except the ones that have been rigged such that i am sure to win.

Jan 5, 07 3:03 pm

it affects the reputation of the profession and the publics' view that we are a bunch of cry baby nancy boys.

When you try and talk to someone about the power of good design in a community and they reply "why do we need a bunch of prima donnas to tell us what to do?", you have a long way to rectify the overall view of the relevance of the profession.

Squirrelly, no ban but I do think the profits should payoff the students loans. And before anyone asks we paid our contributors and are donating all the proceeds....

Jan 5, 07 3:03 pm
vado retro

the public wouldnt know rem if he bit them in the ass. this is not necessarily a criticism of the public.

Jan 5, 07 3:13 pm

It seems quite childish, nancy-boy cry-baby like to accuse Rem about his alleged ideological shortcomings quite this simplistically ("we don't talk with terrorists" seems to be the dogmatic line of thought of many contributors to this discussion...) - also, his students are not forced to do anything - actually, I heard they are more than willing to work on issues Koolhaas deems important and then get their research/texts published in a very visible way.

Anyway, the argument against this competition seems pretty straightforward: the specialists that were supposed to be on the jury (and that the competitors thought would be on on the jury when they chose to participate & use their time and resources) walked out (ousted by the politicians/bussiness interests - one could guess) and so the whole thing turned into a farce. Hard not to see a legitimate reason for anger - eventhough it is Rem that's being angry.

"boycott" sounds like too strong a word still.

Jan 5, 07 3:24 pm

Yes Cameron....that's a good point!
Better yet, for the students to be debt free also once outta school!

ochona is right on!

Jan 5, 07 3:27 pm

this comes from someone whose career has depended entirely on winning competitions. but as someone pointed out, im sure he has something up his sleeve (a new book, maybe?)

Jan 5, 07 3:28 pm

The argument against this competition definitely is easy - the jury disintegrated and it is obvious things went pair-shaped. To call for a boycott [for star-architects] is stupid and comes off as childish - certainly for the general public.

As for academic work if you research and write a major part of a publication and it sold in large numbers - shouldn't you be compensated. Also are you saying that if a student says you do not want research work in a studio they would slide through the trays unnoticed - i don't think so.

Jan 5, 07 3:36 pm

for those who know the inside story of the WTC competition - what is the difference here?

Jan 5, 07 3:36 pm

it's not a 'we don't talk to 'terrorists' critique at all'. the point is that Rem and the old boys justify their designs and research (if we're speaking about the GSD) as 'good' in explicitly moral terms.

Anyone who's seem Rem or Ole speak recently, I've seen Ole three times and Rem twice in New York in the past 3 months, knows that they are utterly without nuance in their depiction of Chinese society and the CCTV company. Quiet the opposite. Rem and Ole are positively Bush White House-like in their blind adherence to presentation of issues as it suits them, not necessarily as they are in reality.

You get a whole lot about how lovely the notions of 'collective' life are in communist China complete with the Chinese govt's own propaganda image and you get absolutely zero about how that same government imprisons and executes, starves and controls, evicts (from CCTV's own site) residents without compensation. The ends (the built ideas) seem to justify any means for Rem and the old boys.

Rem began his lecture at Columbia with a kind of light hearted chuckle about how Gazprom may be a 'questionable' company but gave it not a second thought.

It's Rem who's the most Bush-like and un-nuanced, not those who dare to run against the sycophantic current of uncritical cheerleading coming from the rest of the architectural community.

Jan 5, 07 4:04 pm
chatter of clouds

helsinki makes sense. this is too much deliberately anti-discursive negativity. it would be far better to see it as an opportunity to intelligently probe around with the idea than to dimiss it and turn on koolhaas as an angry mob. so friggin what if he entered and won competitions and (and not but) criticizes the way they're run? on par, can't we all be much more sustainable with our designs though sustainability is hopefully a topic that is a concern of ours?

and if we were to make human rem into an architectural absolute, is there a religious clause that says the devil can't be self critical?

Jan 5, 07 4:15 pm

Well I would agree Ive found Rems ideas about China lately to be the slightest bit self-serving. Whether its a stretch to compare Morphosis' work with the US government and our own slightly fucked judicial system, I guess I cant decide. Is this the old bag of out one's ass to get in and somehow architecturally manipulate these organizations from the inside? I havent been to china, and I havent seen Rem speak in years, so I guess I couldnt say.

But I dont know if this is really specifically about geopolitics. It seems just a reaction against competitions for which the victor has been chosen before the designs are presented. I think the WTC is perfectly analogous. Whatever winds have blown about Rems political ideas, I dont think its a bad idea that competitions be designed to adhere to certain standards of fairness.

Jan 5, 07 4:21 pm

can we just boycott rem altogether for a year or so?
(i am sure he could use some time off)

Jan 5, 07 4:25 pm

anyone wanna place bets as to when rem enters his next competition

Jan 5, 07 4:25 pm

my favorite two stories about rem:

1. there was this debate (man, i wish i'd been there) or panel or whatever that featured both rem and andres duany. the highlight of the debate was duany lobbing at rem, "imagine believing in something."

2. i was at IIT six years ago to hear him talk about the new student center. of course, his presentation was more about his upcoming new book, "magical me," which incidentally was beg--oh wait, that was harry potter. i'm sorry, i think about rem and my mind immediately wanders. anwyay, he was talking about his upcoming book and talking about his bemusement about lagos. he showed this highway interchange underneath which was a gigantic slum and he raved on about how amusing it was, how resourceful, etc.

this guy must be trying to promote another book, because if there is anyone who has benefited from the competition system, it would be rem.

Jan 5, 07 4:26 pm

I don't think he is being 'self-critical' more critical of competition organizers and companies who put out shortlisted competitions. Self Critical would be if he came out and said OMA has a number of faults one of which is the way we go for jobs, namely though short-listed competitions.

I don't think the topic or issue is being dismissed but if this was the entertainment industry it would be like George Clooney complaining he didn't get the leading role in a movie. After not winning a $20M role he threatens that he and all the other A-list actors will not audition for any films for a year, because the producers are choosing actors based on their audition for a particular role and not for their relationship and shared vision.

I threw in my 2-cent suggestions to improve the competition process --- perhaps a separate thread should be started on ways to improve the competition system (or scrap it)

Jan 5, 07 4:27 pm
chatter of clouds

cameron - there was this clause : "and if we were to make human rem into an architectural absolute"

implying, that the very thing (an architectural agent, an icon) that speaks against what constitutes it, not the smaller rem and oma.

Jan 5, 07 4:36 pm
chatter of clouds

cameron - there was this clause : "and if we were to make human rem into an architectural absolute"

implying, that the very thing (an architectural agent, an icon) that speaks against what constitutes it, not the smaller rem and oma.

Jan 5, 07 4:37 pm

rem....retires! What a wonderful rummor.

Jan 5, 07 4:49 pm

this is tabloid gossip.

Jan 5, 07 4:54 pm


Jan 5, 07 4:56 pm

Christ, the kangaroo court is fickle around here. We went from "His Remness" to "His buildings are shit." in less than a year.

Jan 5, 07 5:05 pm
vado retro

meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

Jan 5, 07 5:07 pm
chatter of clouds

he could not adjust his 'architecture sucks' figurine into the defecating posture, i think.

Jan 5, 07 5:08 pm

The problem of "rigged" or otherwise dysfunctional competitions seems to concern just closed competitions and other un-anonymous systems of choosing an architect.

No silly nancy-boyish banning of "star"architects or people too embedded in the industry is going to work (I really don't think we need a new thread for that proposal, Cameron) - just figuring out who would be too well networked or too much a star would be an impossible task.

Anyway, why not use anonymous competitions with a possible second stage? That has worked in many civilized countries to everyones advantage - young and hungry firms get a good start, people get a good number of proposals, the sheer number of entries makes guessing "the star" an impossibility (as does the fear of copycats). Yeah - and have some good prizes - not insults. Without a chance of compensation, I can't see anyone doing decent proposals.


And yes - Rem on China and Rem on Lagos is quite hard to listen to - not because he wouldn't have a point now and then but the coldness of his gaze seems almost insane. The recent article on Lagos in the New Yorker made the situation "on the ground" quite clear - as well as the authors dissaproval of Rem's musings. But on the other hand - just turning away from these phenomena wouldn't make the world a better or more understandable place either... Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Jan 5, 07 5:23 pm

guy forgot to mud his drywall, for christ's sake

Jan 5, 07 5:28 pm

i think that's a natural progression, oe. look at britney.

i still admire his remness, tho.

Jan 5, 07 5:33 pm

“We are letting ourselves be drained of endless resources and huge amounts of ideas — all to no avail,” said Koolhaas. when did this bitch ever have a good idea?

Jan 5, 07 5:47 pm

one was when he said "ugliness also has the right to exist"...

Jan 5, 07 5:52 pm

Im friend worked for RMJM

Jan 5, 07 6:07 pm

this sounds like a joke? i also am not clear on why he wants to boycott. is it because competitions cost allot to enter? or because if you win you only get to build what you entered, and not all of your clients subsequent jobs?

Jan 5, 07 6:16 pm

Just a thought on the subject of 'starchitects' profiting from the research work of poor students:

Say you're a struggling, would-be actress in LA. Say you're very talented but can't get a break. Say you're offered a role co-starring with Meryl Streep, except she's getting paid $3.5M and you're being offered equity minimum.
Would you take it?

Jan 5, 07 8:42 pm

in this case your acting school invites Meryl Streep to run a studio, during the class you appear in a film she is in - your name is not credited and you have pay $45K in loans over the next 8 years to help get the movie out there. The movie grosses $120M, you get nothing.

so no, I wouldn't take it.

PS. Architects don't have SAG.

Jan 5, 07 8:47 pm

librarians, on average, make more than architects

Jan 5, 07 8:53 pm

Well its not just that they cost alot, but its that OMA is assumed to 'think' more (or did) in the process of design in these big competition projects than your typical corporate formulaic stuff (ala RMJM et al), hence they use a bigger proportion of the firm's design resources. Thus arrived OMA's original idea of forming AMO back in the day -- to potentially receive a fee for some of the huge amount of research and thought that went into huge complex design-research projects not done in a formulaic way (e.g. OMA's Universal Headquarters in Burbank or Seoul Airport years ago were a couple they were doing around then).

The amount of vitriol spewn by you haters who think's Rem's worthless as a thinker/designer reminds me of when the DeYoung was being built, the ridiculous effort spent by some over-zealous activist trying to attack the design and tear it down at every turn, as opposed to attacking, say, just some of the (exponentially greater) loads of mediocre (or worse) shit being built all arround us everyday worldwide.

On the other hand a call to 'boycott' does seem extreme. While clearly he cares not about the status of 'open' design competition process these days (though it also needs serious re-assessing, at least certainly in the US, where it often verges on pure exploitation), it is the 'invited' comp.s where presumably your stature as an elite thinker/designer would be seriously valued to be invited in the first place -- which, in this case given how the other 'serious architects' on the jury walked when they saw how it was leaning, was clearly not the case.

Jan 5, 07 8:59 pm
Mulholland Drive

Whether RK is actually the best messenger for this, I don't know, but I do think competitions by and large are a complete strategic, political, and ethical disservice to profession. There is fault on both sides however.

For architects, it involves a win at all expense philosophy...which means generally overworking your underpaid employees to produce the ultimate in models, renderings, and cinematic presentations that, for the superstar architects, are a lot like Hollywood movie teasers now. The ideas presented are usually not that of main architect, but of the annual crop rotation of freshly graduated underlings who bring the new ideas and representational techniques from the academic minor leagues. Did I mention that they are almost 'criminally' underpaid? If Rem wants to be truly critical, he needs to shine the glaring light on his own practice as well as every other superstar (Zaha, FoA, just to name a few) or superstar wanna-be office. There is a lot of sh*t that we as a profession need to address and fix as a collective before we can step forth and take on the challenge of expecting our rights and needs to be respected by others.

For the clients, whether developers or institutions...they are not dummies and are no more eager (than the architects themselves) to pay for more than they have to. So it is the easiest way for them to get the most amount of work for least amount of expense. From a client standpoint, why not sweet talk a group of architects into thinking that this is their opportunity off a lifetime...something to drain themselves for the sake of working without limitations? Developers, in particular, are educated in the art of pushing the correct buttons to get architects to buy into their bullsh*t...and we as pathetic architects continue to take the bait because they let their ego blind their almost non-existent business sense, let alone their own professional ethics and responsibilites…which really is non-existent at Rem's, Zaha’s or FoA’s level.

I really don't know what the answer is, but we honestly need to realize that we can't compete in the competition system because it ultimately pits the architectural profession against itself. In the context of academia it plays as the central component in the education of the “successful, but profoundly insecure” architect, but it completely destroys us in real life and is one of many reasons why the profession suffers.

Jan 5, 07 9:10 pm

Funny you should use Rem, Zaha and FoA as a representative trio there, Bryden. I mean, guess who were students of, started off professional life with Rem?

In terms of creaming off the R&D work of academia, this seems a smart move to me. After all, isn't is the commercial guys who dismiss all that as 'pie in the sky' nonsense who're the blinkered ones there?

And the competitions process has never been entirely about winning that particular job for these 'starchitects': it's surely regarded as (albeit expensive) R&D work within the architects' own offices. Furthermore, it's the kind of interesting work that a) the 'starchitects' enjoy doing and b) which attracts all those eager young graduates in the first place who c) by-in-large regard their jobs there as R&D and career-building for themselves. None of the above has ever been a financially secure sure-thing taken in its own right and even in context it's still a gamble. That's one reason it's held to be glamorous.

What I think Rem's on about is precisely because he DOES value the ideas generated in his office and their like and is probably having an off-day regarding how he's regularly forced to give these precious ideas away in public for nothing but a possible opportunity. It's the kind of pissed-off state that most people with high intellectual copyright status but low net worth are apt to feel under straitened circumstances.

Which is me thinking aloud about what you're saying there Bryden: your points seem perfectly valid to me.

Jan 5, 07 9:29 pm

funny thing is when you go down a step to local competitions it is pretty much as rem desires.

i used to work for an office where there were competitions amongst the top 5 firms for every govt job. small city, about a million people altogether, but always a job or two each year, each with 30 - 50 million dollar budget.

thing was, these offices were invited to the competitions cuz of their relaitonships with city heads and beuraucrats (in the case of my office, the first president also founded the local chapter of Japan's version of AIA, so we had a looong history)...and then they rotated through the firms, each one winning not too many and not too few competitions. quality of work was alwas professional but not outstanding (no incentive for it, nor desire on part of govt for outstanding work). and new firms would NEVER EVER get a chance. no way to get into the game so to speak.

old boy network is great if you are an old boy, but sucks hind teet if not. sounds like what rem is wanting is more assurance that he will always win. still do agree with noctilucent, on the face of it he still has some interesting points that need to be separated from who is saying them much more than is happening here. is kind of embarassing really that architects react like this.

separate topic, but role of ethics in architecture is very slippery. cameron you are very commendable for paying you contributors. not entirely analogous, but do you think magazines should also pay starchitect's to print their work?

i don't believe rem has refrained from crediting his staf for work. not paying his students is i think maybe ok, maybe not. depends on the situation i suppose. out of curiosity does timberlake (and others like him) pay the students who do the prefab stuff? i am guessing not, cuz they are getting an "education" out of the process. but no one minds cuz the product is somehow more socially correct?

my own prof just had a special issue come out in "japan architect" for which all his students worked. i had a stipend as research assistant, so my bit was nominally paid for, but pretty sure the younger students only got their name and project in the magazine. am also entirely certain that the prof was not paid a single cent. in terms of time he put into the project i would say he came out behind, to be honest. how does it work for rem and oma? or for other profs who use students to pursue research they otherwise would not be able to do? is credit really not enough? i know in the sciences the researchers are not paid either, and only get the credit on papers, what exactly is the beef? with academia, or with rem?

Jan 5, 07 9:40 pm

I think things in this discussion are geting a little out of control.
There are certain realities which I think have been neglected by a few people so far...

First, it has been said that Rem etc has benefitted from the unethical practices of the clients. Well, I'm sorry, but if you look throught the history of architecture you will see that we (architects) have never been any more than the tailors of those who are ruthless enough to claim such a position within society. Historically speaking (thus ignoring short term seductions), widely memorable architecture has been the product of either a totalitarian regime or an exploitation of the capatilist system. The pyramids, the great wall of china, the 'tower of bable', right through to Prada stores - they are all structures made possible through the ruthless ambition of those who *pay* for them. Let's not kid ourselves. If utopia was ever to happen, the architect would be out of a job - we rely on people having the personal or investable wealth to request a building. Even Michelangelo relied on the postiion of the Medici family for his philanthopy. Without that he would have struggled to earn his place in history that we now take for granted. The corruption and violence of the medicis is well documented - should he have stayed clear and kept to smaller commisions?

I am not supporting the immoral practices of certain clients. I am simply saying that we have to escape our naiveity in thinking that truly great structures could ever be built without the existence of an unbalanced dissipation of wealth. To think that architects actually have any say or sway over politics is to overestimate our power. Sure, we can influence people through tectonics - but only if the client approves it. Is it not better to attempt to influence from the 'inside' as it were? To try to produce a more democratic and sympathetic environment despite the ambitions of those who control it? Half of architecture in a capatilist society is involving better spatial experiences *despite* the client (ie. without detriment to cost) - can this not be the case *despite* the ideology? What is the alternative? To have SOM or HOK design an extruded block?

I have come across many admirers of Albert Speer's architecture. This is not to say they empathise with the Nazi regime - simply that they admire the neo-classical style with which he built.

I agree that it is a sorry situation - that it is sad to see good architects design for despotic leaders, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that without us they would freeze. They would only continue with a worse tectonic legacy. We are constrained to the realm of the built environment. Despite how much influence we take from politics and current affairs, they take little to no influence from us.

I think Rem's problems with the competition system were exagerated, but fair. I think with competitions, the organisers should be prepared to pay for the work involved. This happens with private competitions but not open ones. While I see the opportunities for smaller practices to have a shot at something bigger, surely they are the firms most likely to fail and most likely pay more in terms of proportionl investment? There must be a better system, and I think it is unfair to judge Rem by who he has worked for.

Jan 5, 07 9:59 pm

nicley put, Chch.

i think architects do have an influence, but not as architects, per se. ie, Lord Rogers and similar do have an effect on policy, however watered down. but that is cuz they are involved in the political arena, not cuz they wrote manifestos...same as what cameron is doing, really, though with different agendas.

would be nice to be paid for competition work. the office i describe above was paid. but usually not enough to cover expenses, not really. am curious how the situation could be remedied so even unknown practices would have a chance. after all, FOA started their career as outsiders in an international competition. they would not have had that opportunity in a different this case i think we might hope for better but otherwise need to accept the bad with the good...or is there a better alternative?

Jan 5, 07 11:03 pm

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