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Rem Koolhaas, the Irreverent – Neither Modernist nor Historicist


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Jun 30, 2007
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Warning: This thread if copied may activate EC



Courtesy Greenspace

By eschewing altogether the tiring polemics of Modernism vs. Historicism, he presents an architecture of wonder without resorting to the bizarre. Note: he is not a formalist, yet he creates form; he is not a functionalist, yet programs are the generators of his solutions; he is not a theoretician, yet ideas dominate his work.

- Jorge Silvetti, Pritzker Juror

This is my second post on an Architect. Based on views not posts – Richard Meier was seen by many that come to this website, most probably the Guests. Meier is a recycle of many things that I have touched on over the years on websites, in essays, teaching and personal experience – I will be concluding it soon with a few more posts – but Koolhaas is someone whom I have a more distant identification.

While I won’t discourage comments on this thread, I don’t expect any – I doubt that many will be interested in the subject, or my thread on it – but that will not stop me from posting a few of the many interesting architectural works authored by Rem Koolhaas. While I have personal admiration of Meier, and have at least spoken to him four times in my life, both in person and over the telephone. Rem is a person whom I tried twice to meet for an interview, then attempted to get on the telephone, all to no avail. I later found out that this was not an abnormal thing with him, and I was not persistent enough.


left - Courtesy Architecture Week / copyright OMA; right - Courtesy of OMA / Rem Koolhaas

I confess that I have never been a fan of all things Koolhaas, rather an observer of his obvious genius and irreverence. There is no denying his influence on architecture. Aside from his buildings, he is surprisingly influential in a number of aspects of architecture. He is arguably one of the greatest influences on Women in architecture, for example, and he has actively involved himself with young African, Asian, American and European architects, as he has gone his own way. Rem does not want copiers or any form of sycophantic bravado, but he encourages creative work, regardless of where it originates, and by whom.


Courtesy Architecture.MNP / OMA / Rem Koolhaas

As the quote above aptly puts it, and I re-phrased in the title of this thread: he is neither a Modernist nor a Historicist. He is rather categorized by that now duly overused wording of ‘cutting edge.’

From what I know, sorry to say, he is quick tempered and a user of ‘blue’ language in private. He is also known to be gauche in public and we all know that this extends to print. He is an iconoclast, an eccentric, distant when approached, but he is also challenging and, need I say, most brilliant.

- Zephyr


left / right - Courtesy IIT; centre - Courtesy

He is the David Bowie of the built environment in everything except personal charisma, and the absence of that, strangely, seems not to matter.

- Hugh Pearman

… more posts to follow …
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Seattle Public Library - Models

We will start with the models used for Seattle Public Library. The shape changed and the idea was worked through per normal. You will note the stacking started it all - a common point of initial reference for nearly all Koolhaas' midrises and highrises - then the external shaping based on function and integration.

Rem Koolhaas
1999 - 2004
Seattle Public Library
Seattle, Washington USA


Photo Adam L. Weintraub

Early Level Design (left) becomes basis for Later Integrated Design (right)


left - Courtesy DigitAll Magazine; right - © OMA / Koolhaas

Graphics of Exterior and Traffic Pattern


© OMA / Koolhaas

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Seattle Public Library - Exterior

Familiar and spectacular exterior.

Rem Koolhaas
1999 - 2004
Seattle Public Library
Seattle, Washington USA



© 2004 Seattle Times Company

© arcspace

Courtesy DesignVerb

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Seattle Public Library - Interior

Inside – angles continue with colour and texture.

Rem Koolhaas
1999 - 2004
Seattle Public Library
Seattle, Washington USA

How the Mesh Fits Between Outside and Inside


left - © Arkitectrue; right - Courtesy James Tata

Colour Explosion !


Courtesy Super Cozy


Courtesy James Tata


Courtesy Off Center

Atrium left; Basement right


Courtesy DesignVerb

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Casa da Música - Exterior

Casa da Música is set inside a neighbourhood of Portugal's second largest city. It functions as a Concert Hall.

Rem Koolhaas
1999 - 2005
Casa da Música
Porto, Portugal

Aerial Perspective


Images © Rem Koolhaas / OMA; © 2002–2005 KultureFlash Limited / Photos Nicolas Firket


© architectural routes



© flickr / photos z.z

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The Seattle Public Library has a certain aesthetic appeal, especially attractive at night but the Casa da Música looks like a big bulky concrete blob of a mess. Looks like it would be an eyesore to me and it certainly looks out of place where it is.
Casa da Música - Interior

Casa da Música's interior uses starker less colourful palettes, but explores radical angles at times, and unusual surfaces.

Rem Koolhaas
1999 - 2005
Casa da Música
Porto, Portugal



left - ©: New York Times Comany / Hans Werlemann - Hectic Pictures



Staircases and Hallways


© flickr / phebil, xdelrey


© flickr / joao ornelas


© flickr / Miguel V. Martinez


© flickr / Antheos II,xdelrey


© OMA / Nicolas Firket

From the OMA/AMO website:

Defined both visually and spatially by its faceted exterior, the Casa da Musica invigorates the traditional concert hall with its daring interior forms and innovative use of materials. Wave-like corrugated glass is used in both the 1300 seat grand auditorium and its smaller 350 seat counterpart. Material transparency allows for each space to reveal its contents to the city; making visible an array of performances and cultural events.

After Porto was selected one of the two cultural capitals of Europe in 2001, the Minister of Culture and the city of Porto founded Porto 2001, an organisation which was to initiate and prepare different urban and cultural interventions for the city of Porto. In this context five international architectural practices, amongst which was OMA, were invited to participate in a restricted competition for a new concert hall to be positioned in the historical centre of Porto, the Rotunda da Boavista.

Since this part of Porto was still a city 'intact', OMA chose not to articulate the new concert hall as a segment of a small scale circular wall around the Rotunda da Boavista but to create a solitary building standing on the new, more intimate square connected to the historical park of the Rotunda da Boavista and enclosed by three urban blocks. With this concept, issues of symbolism, visibility and access were resolved in one gesture.
Through both continuity and contrast, the park on the Rotunda da Boavista, after our intervention, is no longer a mere hinge between the old and the new Porto, but it becomes a positive encounter of two different models of the city.

This century has seen an architecturally frantic attempt to escape from the tyranny of the notorious 'shoe-box' shaped concert hall. However, after researching the acoustic quality of existing concert halls we had to conclude together with our acoustic specialist that the best halls in the world have a shoe box shape.

This left us with the question: where to innovate in a case of a traditional typology like the concert hall?

Architectural concept
Most cultural institutions serve only part of a population. A majority knows their exterior shape, only a minority knows what happens inside.

OMA addressed the relationship between the Concert Hall and the public inside as well as outside the building by considering the building as a solid mass from which were eliminated the two shoe-box-shaped concert halls and all other public program creating a hollowed out block. The building reveals its contents to the city without being didactic; at the same time the city is exposed to the public inside in a way that has never happened before.

The 'remaining spaces' between the exposed public functions consist of secondary serving spaces such as foyers, a restaurant, terraces, technical spaces and vertical transport.

A continuous public route connects all public functions and 'remaining spaces' located around the Grand Auditorium by means of stairs, platforms and escalators: the building becomes an architectural adventure. The loop creates the possibility to use the building for festivals with simultaneous performances; the House of Music.

The building provides a large amount of rehearsal rooms, soloist rooms and dressing rooms to house the Porto Philharmonic Orchestra and to provide in addition facilities to external and guest performers.

During the Design Phase OMA researched new materials and new applications of existing and Portuguese materials exclusively for Casa da Musica such as; the concrete mix for the external facades, the corrugated glass for the windows of the Auditoria, the used tiles for different rooms and the chairs, canopy and wall finish in the Grand Auditorium.

Casa da Musica is visually and spatially defined by its striking faceted exterior from which its conventional interior spaces have been extracted. The building's 400mm thick faceted shell is the primary load carrying stability system that supports and ties the shell together in the longitudinal direction, acting as internal stiffening diaphragms to the shell.


SOURCE Under 'Casa da Música' Project Information
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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #1

The Other Shoe Falls ...

There are two people named Rem* Koolhaas. That is correct – two. The two we are referring to are related. Aside from the fact that there are two, both are also architects. To help distinguish one from the other, the lesser known Rem Koolhaas uses his middle initial – ‘D’. You see, Rem D. Koolhaas is Rem Koolhaas’ nephew.

For some reason, Rem D. Koolhaas wanted to also get into the shoe business, and finally did with a company known as United Nude. That is correct again – United Nude. United Nude was the maker of the 'Mobius' shoe that was based on architecturally inspired ideas or objects. Still sounds like a ruse doesn’t it? Sorry, this not a dog-and-pony tale meant to be joke, just one of several strange things you will uncover concerning Rem Koolhaas – more of these will be interspersed as we go.

- Zephyr

* - Rem is a shorten version of Remment in both instances.

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Rem Koolhaas' first American commission - IIT Student Centre in Chicago

Koolhaas, Bauhaus and IIT

Chicago, and indeed what is to-day the Illinois Institute of Technology or IIT, became the American base for the Bauhaus when its last Director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, fled from Europe. IIT was the merger of two essentially insignificant Technical Schools, whose campus was given, save a few historical buildings, completely over to Mies to design. At the time it was a strange commission to accept, but it yielded immense dividends to both the school and to the architect. Mies was determined to pull out all his uncompromised visions, with all his energy, to build this campus. The challenges were great because it was in the midst of rundown tenements, a major city ‘Expressway’ for motor traffic on one border, and a boisterous elevated train on the other, all on the near Southside of Chicago.

FIRST ROW – Mies and Landscape Designer Alfred Caldwell look at design for IIT;
SECOND ROW - A portion of the Crown Building, the most famous structure on campus;
THIRD ROW – The 1940 Design for IIT on a Plinth - Distant view vs Close-up



© Land+Living, © Mies van der Rohe Archive, and © Museum of Modern Art, New York

When Mies died in 1969, IIT had become world renowned for the many architects it taught – many whom came from all parts of the world. IIT was sometimes called years later the ‘Monticello to Modernism’. No new building was considered for forty years, and no Miesian structure was disturbed other than to renovate. Some people considered the campus a Museum to Mies*, others - including past, current and potential students -thought it was too severe and ‘unyielding’ in its Architectural palette.

In the late 1990s, when the school administrators reluctantly came around to adding both a major new Student Centre, and additional Student Housing, side-by-side - a competition was held for both.

For the Student Centre, Rem Koolhaas and OMA went against four other formidable teams:

  • [*]Peter Eisenman, formerly from the New York Five, headed one team,

    [*]Koolhaas had mentored Iranian-born Zaha Hadid, who was now his equal in prestige, and headed another team

    [*]German born like Mies, and a former student of Mies, the world renown Architect and local favourite Helmut Jahn formed a third team

    [*]The fourth team consisted of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, founders of SANAA of Japan, and known for their severely minimalist designs

The winner was Rem Koolhaas.

IIT represented the first commission that Mr. Koolhaas had ever taken in the United States, before even the Seattle Public Library. And if ever there was a surprise this was it – no one could be more different than Mies in building, attitude, personality or orientation. But something splashy was needed – within budget - and Koolhaas was more than willing to jump into the mix.

- Zephyr

Locations of IIT commissions won by
Rem Koolhaas (Student Centre) and Helmut Jahn (Student Housing)


© IIT Education


* - Recently IIT was placed on the American National Register of Historic Places

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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #2

“I do not respect Mies, I love Mies.”

I do not respect Mies, I love Mies. I have studied Mies, excavated Mies, reassembled Mies. I have even cleaned Mies. Because I do not revere Mies, I’m at odds with his admirers.

- Rem Koolhaas, Miestakes
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IIT Student Centre - Blueprints, Floor Plans, Elevations and Models

The IIT Student Centre was carefully planned after measuring the noise made by the Elevated Train, the patterns that students followed in crossing the campus, and a colour-keyed palette.

Rem Koolhaas
1998 - 2003
The McCormick Tribune Campus Centre at IIT
Chicago, Illinois USA

OMA Blueprint of Student Centre


© OMA / Koolhaas

Translating Blueprint to Colour Coded Version of Floor Plan


Courtesy arcspace / © OMA / Koolhaas

Elevation Drawings and Model of Interior to Student Centre

Courtesy arcspace / © OMA / Koolhaas
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IIT Student Centre - Comparing Plans into Actual Building

The use of vibrant colours, and intense overlay of complex floor plans, eventually created the IIT Student Centre. Below is a breakdown of the Plan compared to the elements of the actual building. Do not be concerned that you cannot make out the detail. We will explore a sampling in subsequent posts.

Rem Koolhaas
1998 - 2003
The McCormick Tribune Campus Centre at IIT
Chicago, Illinois USA

Brochure of Student Centre

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IIT Student Centre – Context and Tube Part 1

"The Tube" at IIT refers to the structure that encases the elevated transit train above and partially sits inside the top floor of the Student Centre. We will view it: in context with Jahn's Student Housing, from the front entry looking South; from the seldom photographed area on the North (with only a service entrance), the slightly elevated perspective; slightly below; from inside the tube; and that part of the tube inside the Student Centre.

Rem Koolhaas
1998 - 2003
The McCormick Tribune Campus Centre at IIT
Chicago, Illinois USA


LEFT PHOTO - Looking from South to North:
Jahn building in right foreground;
Koolhaas building in distance, further North of Jahn

RIGHT PHOTO - View from elevated train looking North:
Jahn building on the West side of track;
Koolhaas Tube appears straight ahead with the Chicago skyline in Silhouette behind it.


left - © IIT Education; right - © Flickr / Ehgerbett

South End of Tube at Main Entrance to McCormick Tribune Campus Centre at IIT (aka MTCC):
NOTE - Fake cracks used on roofing membrane of structure underneath Tube


left - © artnet / Photo Mark Stevens; right - © Flickr / thirdrail

Looking from North to South at ground level:
Entrance is behind you, Tube Above and Jahn bilding is on right (which is now West)


© Flickr / anselmogz

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IIT Student Centre – Tube Part 2

Rem Koolhaas
1998 - 2003
The McCormick Tribune Campus Centre at IIT
Chicago, Illinois USA

Reverse view of last photo of previous post. Looking from South to North at ground level.
This time Jahn's Student Housing building is on the left.


© Flickr / ula_k

South End of Koolhaas Building and Tube (top row)
North End of Koolhaas Building and Tube (second row)



top row - © Flickr / pntphoto, zenorschnitzel; second row - © Flickr / archinaut, tomlauerman

Looking out of Helmut Jahn's building
toward Rem Koolhaas' work


Courtesy IIT Education (Thanks again Kim, Janet and Flash - one and all.)

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