The architectural profession has a habit of taking a select few game-changers—those individuals and offices that have had a profound impact on architecture and our built environment—and elevating them to celebrity status, bestowing upon them the playful title of 'starchitect'. There is no doubt that these starchitects, whether we agree with them or not, have left their mark on the profession and have altered the course of architectural practice and theory for generations to come. But while we revel in (or scoff at) the buildings and landscapes that they produce, it is rare that we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the minds and personalities behind the architecture.

That is exactly the angle that director and producer Tomas Koolhaas takes with his feature-length documentary about his father, legendary Dutch architect and founder of OMA, Rem Koolhaas, which offers an intimate glimpse inside the mind of the prolific designer. Simply titled REM, the film follows Rem around the world as he visits his firm's buildings, wanders through urban landscapes, and ventures into the wilderness in his quest to understand the world around him. If you are looking for a simple tour of his buildings or a chronology of his life, then this film might not be for you: it is neither a biography nor a memoir of the architect, but rather, in true Koolhaas fashion, it is more of a manifesto, describing Rem's approach to design challenges, his driving ambitions, and his everyday routines that inform his work, presented in a way that can appeal to architects and non-architects alike.

REM, Hot Docs, Rem Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, TorontoView of the CCTV Headquarters by OMA in Beijing, image by Jens Schott Knudsen.

The majority of the movie features an extended monologue of Rem describing his design approach and its inspirations. Beginning with his iconic manifesto, Delirious New York, which catapulted him into the spotlight when it was published in 1978, Rem describes how he is constantly looking to understand the context that he is in, to analyze and respond accordingly, picking out patterns that others may not see. He offers commentary on everything from the tensions of his celebrity status, to his love of swimming, his fascination with workers on different construction sites, his relationship to his projects after they are complete, his collaborations within and outside of his firm, and his boundless curiosity of the human condition, both urban and rural. Further commentary is added by a handful of users and occupants of his buildings, including owners of private residences designed by the starchitect, and two homeless men who are frequent visitors to the Seattle Public Library. 

REM, Hot Docs, Rem Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, TorontoView of De Rotterdam by OMA in Rotterdam, NL, image by Raban Haaijk.

The imagery in the film is nothing short of stunning, set to the backdrop of an original music score by Murray Hidary. We follow Rem as he travels from New York to Doha to Beijing to Rotterdam to the rural farmland of the Netherlands, ending at the Venice Biennale where we get a glimpse of his 2014 curation of the prestigious event, entitled Fundamentals, when he went contrary to popular contemporary discourse and focused on the everyday details encountered in all buildings. And of course, no architectural film is complete without some parkour, as the extended opening scene illustrates Rem's later point that the use of buildings is always unpredictable through a gravity-defying tour of OMA's Casa da Musica in Porto.

Your window into the mind of Koolhaas is unfortunately limited: REM opens on Friday, September 1 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema and runs until September 7. You can find more information, including showtimes and prices, on the Hot Docs website here, and you can watch the trailer below, from Vimeo:

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