Rem Koolhaas is an internationally known architect, urbanist, and writer. He gained initial recognition in 1978 with the publication of his first book, Delirious New York, in which he analyzed the exuberant, complex, and popular modernism of New York City of the 1920s and 1930s. His interpretations of New York were presented as a critique of canonical European modernism and as a platform for designing architecture in the contemporary city. Koolhaas’s writing, building, and teaching are all instruments for research into the architectural possibilities for the contemporary city.
In 1975, Koolhaas founded OMA with Madelon Vriesendorp and Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and produced theoretical projects, such as the City of the Captive Globe (1978), published as a postscript to Delirious New York. The young firm also began entering competitions, After winning a preliminary competition for the addition to the Parliament Buildings in The Hague, OMA opened its office in Rotterdam in 1981, where they continued preparing competition entries (Parc de la Villette, Paris, 1982; Ville Nouvelle Melun-Senart, 1987) while carrying out awarded commissions including the IJ-Plein Urban Housing Project in Amsterdam (completed 1986) and the Netherlands Dance Theater (completed 1987).
In the early 1990s Koolhaas and OMA’s activities expanded to include the publication of OMA: S,M,L,XL (1995). Koolhaas and OMA were awarded significant commissions, including Nexus Housing, Fukuoka, Japan (1991); Villa dall’Ava, Paris (1991); the Kunsthal, Rotterdam (1992); Euralille Masterplan
(1994), and Grand Palais, Lille (1994); Netherlands Embassy, Berlin (1996); Educatorium, University of Utrecht (1997); Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) McCormick Tribune Campus Center, Chicago (1997); Maison a’ Bordeaux (1998); and Seattle Public Library (1999). OMA’s projects—built and unbuilt—have been published widely in international journals and have been the subject of numerous exhibitions, including Rem
Koolhaas and the Place of Public Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1994).
Like other architects who emerged as part of the postwar generation, Koolhaas’s work both breaks with modernism and reformulates it as he reconfigures relationships among architectural forms, contemporary building programs, and the Postmodern city. His essays, projects, and built work reject certain aspects of first-generation Postmodernism, including the contextualism of Colin Rowe (United States), the typological propositions of Aldo Rossi (Italy), and in the Netherlands, the Structuralism of Herman Herteberger. Because Koolhaas’s architecture is conducted as research, not as the outcome of any fixed theoretical position, his architecture cannot be labeled stylistically or associated with specific movements. For Koolhaas, the mélange of projects and places for his research produces an alchemical environment: Atlanta, Tokyo, Lagos, Shanghai, Paris, Amsterdam, and New York; highways, airports, transportation tunnels, and shopping malls in addition to libraries, private villas, and museums.
Koolhaas and OMA’s projects operate with two major design strategies; the first emerged from Delirious New York and embraced the city as an infinite grid of streets, blocks, and skyscrapers and the penultimate sign of modernity. Here Koolhaas cites the Downtown Athletic Club (1930) as architectural design that fulfills the promise of alternative modernism within a “culture of congestion” (see Koolhaas, 1978). This design strategy organizes urban territory—gridiron or otherwise—into increments that set radically different programs side by side and that are joined or separated with the boundary of the floor, the exterior skin of the building, or the city grid. Projects of Koolhaas’s that exploit this paradigm include the urban and landscape competitions
entries for the Parc de la Villette in Paris (1992), the new town of Melun-Senart outside of Paris (1987), and later architectural projects, especially the competition entries for the Jussieu Libraries (Paris, 1992) and the Bibliotheque de France (Paris, 1989).
The second strategy emerged not from conventional research but from experimentation, especially within the Kunsthal (Rot- terdam, 1992), Euralille master plan (Lille, 1995), and Educatorium (Utrecht, 1996), and later elaborated in Koolhaas's essays “Bigness: The problem of Large” and “The Generic City.” In these texts, he calls for the accommodation of the global spaces of flows, instead of just the local spaces of place, as the basis for design within the contemporary city. These projects wrap and fold spaces, programs, and the landscape in and around a neutral structural frame. Although OMA’s current work resists classification, several recent experimental projects continue these explorations of congestion and flow, such as the Urban Design Forum master plan (Yokohama, Japan, 1991), Nexus World Housing (Fukuoka, Japan, 1991), and Almere City Center (expected completion 2005).
In addition to being an influential international figure in architecture and urbanism, Koolhaas has stimulated an emerging generation of young architects, especially in the Netherlands. These architects are not following stylistic canons but, rather, carrying forward an attitude that focuses on architecture's place in the contemporary city, on the programs of everyday life, and on the research and creative invention that Koolhaas has kept alive as a challenge to a new generation.
1944 Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands;
1952-56 Lived in Indonesia; Journalist with the Haagse Post in The Hague, screen-writer in the Netherlands and in Hollywood;
1968-72 Graduated from Architecture Association, London;
1973 went to Cornell University on a Harkness Fellowship to study with O. M. Ungets;
1974 Visiting fellow, Institute for Architecture and Urban
Studies, New York;
1975 cofounded the Office of Metropolitan
1975 Taught at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, New York;
1976 Architectural Association, London;
1981 opened OMA office in Rotterdam;
1988-89 Technical University, Delft;
1991-92 Rice University, Houston;
1993 Visiting scholar, J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles;
1995—present and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts;
2000—present Numerous awards for architecture and urban
projects, including the 2000 Laureate of the Pritzker Architectural Prize.