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Rem Koolhaas, the Irreverent – Neither Modernist nor Historicist

Educatorium - Christophe Cornubert


© 1994-2007 archINform

Christophe Jean-Marie Cornubert

Despite his very European name, Christophe Cornubert was born and raised in Los Angeles, USA. He was also educated in his home city, all the way through graduate school.

Eventually, Mr. Cornubert graduated in 1990 with honours from UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. After graduation he worked briefly for Frank Gehry before being recruited to OMA by none other than Rem Koolhaas. From 1993 to 1998 he worked on several OMA projects, including those with Mr. Koolhaas, but his crowning project was Educatorium, which also turned out to be his last at OMA.

Educatorium earned the Gerrit Rietveld Prize in 1999 due in large measure to Mr. Cornubert’s sustainable environmental concepts and architectural design, combined with Mr. Koolhaas’ architectural detailing and overall design. This prize was named after Utrecht’s most famous architect.

Mr. Cornubert decided to use his newly found cache to open an office in Rotterdam. But he quickly abandoned that effort when he was invited back to Los Angeles to teach at Southern California Institute of Architecture – better known by its acronym reduction, SCI-arch. While in LA, he formed Push Architecture in 1999. Push Architecture uses research, technology and design to inform the building of structures in unique ways.

(One of the interesting side effects to Mr. Cornubert’s past association is his official website face, which bears an uncanny format resemblance to OMA.)

- Zephyr


© 1994-2007 archINform
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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #11

Money is the Imperial force in the World today ... dividing and conquering


© Design Within Reach

What you see above is not a series of placards from a protest, or even the slides from a radical-left group. Of course they are from a slide show by Rem Koolhaas - contrarian Architect. The following is from that same San Francisco Art Institute presentation in late March, 2007.

- Zephyr

The Enemy: Suits, with mustaches and receding hairlines with suspect waistlines huddled in a collective pose of preemptive servility, architects from a city that was put on the map by a single outrageous building when it was nothing – grown-up preemies of the Bilbao effect – they peddle their soulless wares with shameless calculation – Anglo termites of pragmatism – or tell reassuring fairy tales like the 'Skyscraper as Citizen' as if to four year olds.

- Rem Koolhaas
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Prada Epicenter in New York

Prada Epicenter in New York City is also the Prada flagship store. Many that come to New York to look for the Rem Koolhaas interior, often have mistaken the Prada on 5th Avenue as the Prada flagship, rather than the historical building in SoHo, that formerly operated as space for Guggenheim SoHo.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Broadway Entrance
near corner of Prince and Broadway


© flickr / indjievalilia


© flickr / ziwei.yao

Alternate Entrance
viewed from two angles


left - © flickr / Courtney May; right - © flickr / -cpt-

Glimpse of the Koolhaas-and-Scheeren Interior for Prada Epicenter


© flickr / clevelandrocksgirl

From the OMA/AMO website:

The New York project is an interior conversion of the former Guggenheim store in Soho [Broadway, Prince St, Mercer St]. The 23000 sqft are distributed between the ground floor and basement of the building.

As a means to naturally connect to the large basement area and guide customers to the more invisible parts of the store, the floor steps downwards in its entire width and rises subsequently to re-connect to the ground level, creating a big `wave`. The oversized stair made of zebra wood is used as an informal display space, where people can try on shoes and browse through bags and other accessories. On the push of a button, an event platform rotates out of the opposite part of the wave, turning the stair into an auditorium for performances, film projections, and lectures. Large metal cages for merchandise and display are suspended from an overhead track system and create singular shopping addresses, like inverted buildings in a street - a `hanging city`. These display volumes can contract at the back of the store into a solid volume and free the space for public activities.

A translucent wall of polycarbonate covers the existing brick wall of the building and establishes a dialogue between old and new. A mural of wallpaper on the entire length of the store allows for rapid change of the environment.

Located at the Broadway entrance, a round and fully glazed elevator displays bags and accessories and gives the customer the possibility to shop while travelling vertically. It descends into a lounge located underneath the wave, where the main dressing rooms are visible from display mattresses covered in techno gel that give the possibility to sit and watch people dress. The black-and-white marble floor is a reference to the first Prada store in Milan; its reflection gets distorted through the curved mirrored ceiling of the space.

The northern part of the basement holds the archive, `movable walls`, an adapted system of compact shelving that allows the sequence and size of spaces to be altered according to need. These Prada-green shelves contrast with the unfinished gypsum board walls and the wooden ceiling. With a separate entrance from Mercer Street, the all-white clinic area contains VIP rooms, tailors and catering facilities.


SOURCE Under 'PRADA Epicenter in New York' Project Information
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Prada Epicenter in New York - Floor Plans

Floorplans are always interesting in the design process, but in this case they do not properly reveal the ways the space would be utilised except that one side spans two levels.

One article in the New York Times, noted that Mr. Koolhaas was a Dutch socialist, and Ms. Prada may have been a communist in Russia, and that together, in this design, they have fashioned an anti-capitalist statement! The design specifically contained, this article continued, many inefficiencies in space utilisation that contributed to an 'anti-shopping' experience. All of this is stated, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but as we saw a glimpse of the actual result, in the prior post, the space is narrow in width, and is occupied by an elaborate sculptural element.

We will explore that element in greater detail, in the posts ahead.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Interior Floorplans

Note - Spring Street should read Prince Street


© Architectual Record
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Prada Epicenter in New York - Broadway Street Level aka Upper Level

The Upper Level is mostly used for display, not business. This is also where Prada Epicenter can be entered or ultimately exited in either of two ways.

You must confront an expanse here, between this level and the Lower Level (to the left if one were to enter from Broadway). This two floor feature is used for further display, and also as an impromptu area to sit on one side to view a show, and/or Audio Video presentation, on the opposite hill-like side. This opposite side contains a stage, with access to production equipment. Often times the stage is just another display area, as you will see in this post.

The Upper Level is constantly redressed via mannequin displays, wall coverings, or the accessories displays. Display 'cages' can be moved up and down from the ceiling (designed that way), and display cases, using hidden casters, can also be moved within the landing area that leads to the lift and staircases on that side of the Upper Level.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Upper Level Passageway and Floor Space

Lift to the far left, sculputural/functional area in the centre of the photo
(albeit to the left side the Broadway entrance)


About to take a peek down the Expanded Staircase at sculptural/functional feature


Above two photos: © flickr / fdo h

Walking back in the Reverse direction


© galinsky

A View of the Stage, unhidden, from the Upper Level


© flickr / nike6

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Prada Epicenter in New York - a curious and expensive lift

After spending a great deal of money on this lift to travel all of one floor, it is now used mainly by tourists, the elderly or the handicapped. It was designed to seat upwards of 20 people, and to travel up and down all of one level. To-day it is mostly bypassed for the staircase option. Quite frankly, some people are not aware that it is even a lift, and have been known to enter it and sit for several seconds before using it, or going out of it to use the stairs.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Transparent Lift
in more ways than one

"What is that? ... There behind the headless mannequins - that round glassy thing!"


© All About, Inc.

"I think it is a place to sit, or another display area … no it’s a lift!!!"


© LERA Structural Engineers


© flickr / Kramchang

Lift Riders
top left - Upper Level; top right, bottom centre - Lower Level

In the left photo - is that a luggage display or a way to take home a very expensive shopping spree?


© flickr / t_professionelle (left), vainglory (right)


© icon(atg)

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Prada Epicenter in New York - the 'wave' element

The sculptural element, spanning two floors, is what Rem Koolhaas refers to as a "wave" element. Examine how each side of this 'wave' differs, and how the angles vary, depending on your distance and perspective:

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Viewing the Expanded Staircase Side
from several angles


© flickr / Jakijem, janalynn


left - © flickr / Sanja P.; right - Courtesy digisschool

Viewing the Narrow Staircase side
from several angle with door to "drawer detail" in and out


© flickr / Tom Froese


Above two photos - © flckr / Line Rix


© flickr / ziwei.yao

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Prada Epicenter in New York - Lower Level

The Lower Level is where the displays are converted into sales. In addition, it is the locale of a small 'canteen retaurant,' offices, storage, and a marvelous first attempt at Prada to explore a high tech method of servicing a customer interested in buying a garment.

First let us take a glimpse of this Lower Level through a few photographs.

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Pathway from Wave into the Lower Level
three views



Tile Pattern and Materials used on the floor
are common to many Prada stores




© flickr / nike6

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Prada Epicenter in New York - High Tech' Dressing/Changing Rooms 1

Designing a High-Tech Dressing Room for Prada SoHo

Imagine yourself being told that you can try on very expensive clothing in glass room. That room will initially be transluscent, but if the switch is flicked by you, that translucent glass will become clear, almost instantaneously.

Privit-lite® by Sainte Gobain Glass (SGG)



And if you want, at anytime, you can vary the colour of the light within the room, to fit your mood, or see how a garment looks under varying lighting scenarios.

If you were accompanied by a spouse, companion, workmate and/or relative, there is no need to come out of the dressing room, you can show them, after each fitting, what the garment or outfit looks like, by again flicking the switch to make the glass clear, and resume your privacy by flicking that switch, once again.

The room also has a 'magic mirror' that allows you to see the front and the rear of what you are trying on, without looking at reflections demanded by a three-way mirror.

By the way, if you need to talk to a clerk, you have a direct line from the dressing room to a handheld device that the clerk uses to communicate with you.

Data can be accessed wirelessly and tell you the details of the garment, including: the colours, materials, availability, etc. Images can be accessed as well.

That is what Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren worked out with a number of high-tech subcontractors such as IDEO, SGG and TI. The subsequent post(s) will attempt to demonstrate how these concepts unfolded at the Prada Epicenter in SoHo.

- Zephyr
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Prada Epicenter in New York - High Tech' Dressing/Changing Rooms 2

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

Super Smart Privacy Glass

...Although Privacy Glass is not in common use yet - the technology has actually been around for quite a few years, and there are many stunning examples of this smart material in use all over the world. French company Saint-Gobain produces an “intelligent” glass called Privalite, which can be switched from an ordinary-looking clear glass to a foggy-looking frosted glass by running an electrical current over a polymer liquid-crystal film sandwiched between two plates of glass.

... the Koolhaus-designed Prada flagship store in SoHo, New York, utilizes privacy glass in the dressing rooms...



Transparency or intimacy ... at your will!

... SGG PRIVA-LITE® is a laminated glazing made of two sheets of ... [exceptionally] clear glass and a liquid crystal film.

The polymer and the liquid crystals are encapsulated in the LC film of which both faces are covered with a transparent, electrical conductive coating and are connected to the power supply ... [using two] electrical busbars.

Composition of SGG PRIVA-LITE®



Composition of the liquid crystal (LC) films



When the glass is switched OFF from its ... power supply, the liquid crystals are randomly scattered and diffuse light in all directions. In this state SGG PRIVA-LITE® is then translucent and prevents both sides from seeing through the glass.

... By switching the glass ON, the crystals line up and reorientate themselves, turning the SGG PRIVA-LITE® totally transparent.

Switching from the non-transparent state to the transparent state is ...{nearly] instantaneous and can be repeated as often as desired.



Sainte Gobain Glass (SGG)



PRADA Dressing Room​

Each dressing room is a simple eight-foot-square booth with Privalite glass walls that switch from transparent to translucent when a room is occupied. Once inside, the customer can switch the doors back to transparent at the touch of a switch, exposing themselves to onlookers waiting outside the room. Different lighting conditions allow the customer to view their selection in a warm evening glow or a cool blue daylight.

IDEO led the design and development of the interactive dressing rooms, working in close collaboration with OMA and AMO. IDEO helped to define the initial user experience that would allow the customer to gain direct access to the PRADA database, as well as augment the experience of trying on and selecting clothes. IDEO worked with AMO on defining the initial user experience for the dressing rooms, that included providing the customer with access to the PRADA database via the closet touch screen. AMO continued to design and develop the screen interaction and IconNicholson were responsible for software integration and implementation.

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Prada Epicenter in New York - High Tech' Dressing/Changing Rooms 3

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA

PRADA RFID Technology

The enabling technology for the store is radio-frequency ID tagging (RFID).

All merchandise has its own RFID tag. When scanned and detected, immediate access is provided to a database where there is rich stream of content for every garment, shoe, and bag. This is in the form of sketches, catwalk video clips, and color swatches.

There is also up-to-date information on every item, such as what sizes or colors are currently available. This enables the sales associate to spend more time attending personally to a customer, and less time chasing to the stock room to check for available items.

PRADA Staff Device

The wireless staff device provides information to the sales associate. It is used to scan merchandise for inventory information, and when used in conjunction with a ubiquitous display it functions as a remote control, allowing the sales associate to highlight sketches and catwalk video clips directly in front of the customer.

Staff devices are distributed around the store. A sales associate picks up a device when needed and logs on to the database by scanning their own small personal RF clip.

IDEO designed, engineered and manufactured 75 staff devices and designed the user interface in collaboration with AMO and KRAMDESIGN. IconNicholson were responsible for software integration and implementa- tion. All staff devices were introduced to the New York store in May 2002.




Once inside the dressing room the customer can directly access information that relates to their particular garment selection. As garments are hung in the closet their tags are automatically scanned and detected via RF antennae embedded in the closet. Once registered, the information is automatically displayed on an interactive touch screen, enabling the customer to select alternative sizes, colors, fabrics, and styles, or see the garment worn on the PRADA catwalk as slow-motion video clips.

The dressing rooms also contain a video-based "Magic Mirror" which allows a customer to see an image of their back. As the customer begins to turn in front of the mirror the image becomes delayed, allowing the customer to view themselves in slow motion from all angles.

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Prada Epicenter in New York - High Tech' Dressing/Changing Rooms 4

Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren
1999 - 2001
Prada Epicenter in New York
[aka Prada Flagship or Prada (in) Soho]
New York City, New York USA




IDEO began the project with an extensive user study of several PRADA stores in Los Angeles and New York. Human Factors specialists conducted user observations and staff interviews to gain insights as to how technology might augment the PRADA sales experience. This work enabled the designers to ensure that technology supported, rather than altered, existing ways of working. The overall aim was to provide customers with better service while building on existing interactions and relationships found in the real world.

IDEO designed, developed, and tested all concepts using functioning prototypes, including a full-scale prototype of the dressing room installed at the PRADA Milan Fashion Show in Spring 2001. IDEO continued the development process in close collaboration with several technical partners including KTP and Scharff Weisberg.

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Prada Epicenter in New York - High Tech' Dressing/Changing Rooms 5


Prada Gets Personal
The Milan designer is harnessing the Net to boost customer service at its new U.S. flagship store

MARCH 18, 2002

Imagine an omniscient salesperson who greets you by name as you enter a store and who knows everything from the measure of your waist to your allergy to wool. As you admire a pair of shoes, she can--without ever leaving your side--assure you that they're available in size 8, point out how well they would go with the skirt you bought two weeks ago, and display a video of supermodel Jacquetta Wheeler wearing the same sling-back heels on a Paris runway.

Just how far off is this vision of shopping's superpersonalized future? At Prada, it's just weeks away. While other top fashion houses have built splashy Web sites showing off their skirts, shoes, and bags, Prada has been conspicuously absent online. But this spring, the Milan fashion house plans to harness the Net to boost customer service at its flagship U.S. store. The Manhattan boutique, the brainchild of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, already has gotten accolades for its design: Walls of glass carry sunlight deep into the interior, stadium-style bleachers display shoes, and the floor dips in a 30-foot wooden "wave" that doubles as a stage.

But Prada wants to do far more than make an architectural splash. Beneath the marble, zebrawood, and exposed brick lies technology crafted to pamper the Prada shopper. It starts with the "Staff Device," a handheld computer that is shaped like a flattened flashlight and is the sales associate's gateway to gobs of information stored on the Web. The machine can scan tags on a dress or blouse so the salesperson can wow shoppers with any detail they might want--what's in stock, different fabrics, and that oh-so-perfect accessory. The Staff Device also controls video monitors located throughout the store, where salespeople can call up original designer sketches of the garment or even play video clips of runway shows. The system lets Prada "communicate the richness of the ideas that make our products contemporary and interesting," says Co-Chief Executive Miuccia Prada.

Prada keeps that communication going in the dressing room. Each of the seven rooms is outfitted with a "smart closet" that automatically scans garments' tags. When a customer takes out a blouse to try it on, information about the blouse appears on a touch screen so she can do some virtual browsing for, say, a different size or a matching scarf--without leaving the dressing room. "Prada is combining the best of the online world with the best of the real world, and making both better," says analyst Ronni Marshak of Patricia Seybold Group, a Boston customer-service consulting firm.

And that doesn't take into account the "magic mirror." When a customer turns around in the dressing room, a motion-sensitive camera begins filming. Seconds later, an embedded screen behind the mirror lights up, and a customer can see herself twirl like Marilyn Monroe. "It provided such a delightful experience that it grew from an added fun element into a key component," says Heather Martin, senior designer at IDEO London, which planned the store's customer experience.

After bringing the Web to the store, Prada wants to do the reverse--extend the store experience to the Internet. Shoppers in Prada's dressing rooms can save a record of their session with a tap on the screen. Then from home they can visit Prada's Web site and review what they tried on--perhaps getting an opinion from a friend or spouse who wasn't in the store at the time. From there, a quick click on the customer's page sends a note to the store associate saying--Prada hopes--that she'll buy the item.

Prada's vision flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the Web. Most industries have turned to Net-based customer service to save money by cutting human beings out of the equation. At Prada, the technology--though dazzling--was never meant to come between the customer and staff. The company prides itself on giving its clients the royal treatment as they spend hours trying on dresses or suits costing thousands of dollars. That kind of attentiveness helped privately held Prada log sales of $1.5 billion last year, more than double its revenues in 1998. But facing a rising tide of debt and the potential that customers might rein in spending as the economy soured, Prada figured the time was right for a customer-service makeover. And merging the efficiency of the Web with Prada's signature high-touch personal relationships filled the bill.

As magical as it sounds, there's no guarantee that Prada's bold Web experiment will pay off. Prada will have to sell a lot of dresses, shoes, and shawls to cover the $20 million it has spent on the store's technology. "The whole store is a bit of a laboratory," says Bruce Eckfeldt, program manager at New York-based IconNicholson, the software developer for the project.

Still, as tweaks get made in New York, grand visions for the future grow. Prada plans to open a second location, in Los Angeles, with the same technology, followed by stores in San Francisco and Tokyo. And the long-term vision is to use the best of the system in each of Prada's 150 boutiques worldwide. By that time, it should be clearer whether a merger between the velvet touch of Prada's service and the cold logic of the Internet has paid off for the fashion house. Either way, Prada customers are likely to enjoy the experiment.

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Strange Things Uncovered While Researching Rem - #12



Koolhaas, Foster clash over ‘similar’ designs

18 May 2007

By Will Hurst

No plagiarism but we were first, says Rem, as Foster’s deny any real likeness between schemes

Two of the world’s leading architects, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster, have clashed over claims of a “remarkable similarity” between two of their most ambitious projects.

In the week that Foster & Partners confirmed the sale of a stake in the firm to private equity group 3i, the practice was forced to defend its newly unveiled 6sq km “zero-carbon, zero-waste” city in Abu Dhabi (News May 11) because of its resemblance to neighbouring Emirates development Rak Gateway by Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture.

Koolhaas revealed his practice had sought an explanation from Foster’s because of perceived similarities, including scale, shape, sustainable aspects and the grid system both cities will employ.

Although the Dutch architect later stressed there was “no suspicion” of plagiarism, he was keen to point out that his scheme had come first. Foster & Partners responded by issuing a terse statement denying any real similarity between the schemes.

Rak Gateway, which has not been widely publicised, is a 4.5sq km project proposed in Ras Al Khaimah for the Rak Investment Authority. It will be outlined by Koolhaas at the International Design Forum in Dubai next week.

“We want to establish that we launched this project in November last year,” Koolhaas told BD.

“It needed a conversation [with Foster & Partners] about how plausible it was that these similarities could happen.”

Fellow OMA partner Reinier de Graaf said its scheme was the “most radical in the world” in terms of density and its mix of functions.

But a spokeswoman for Foster’s insisted that “apart from the square shape”, there were no similarities between the schemes. She said the firm had no prior knowledge of the OMA project, despite it being shown at Mipim in March.

“Our scheme for a low-rise, carbon-neutral university city for the Masdar Initiative … has drawn inspiration from traditional Arabic walled cities and the 16th century ultradense square cities of Yemen,” she added.


left - Koolhaas Design; right Foster Design


© bd online
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