Oh Rem

“There’s a younger generation that sees this building as a total extravagance because they relate to a poorer part of the country. They see it as an obscenity in terms of China’s current needs and problems. It’s also an incredible embarrassment to be mentioned in one breath with Bilbao and all these other architectural spectacles. That’s the cruelty of the current moment: even the most serious efforts are contaminated with understandable skepticism.”

“Our investigation of what the market economy does to architecture has also contaminated us with apparent associations to the market through projects such as Prada.”

“Of course, this doesn’t mean that we endorse it, but there is a terrible naivety about contemporary criticism and contemporary life, in that every avenue you are interested in is automatically assumed to be the area you occupy.”

“The [NYC Prada store] display is done in kind of a curatorial way, and therefore – even if it sounds ridiculous – you can say it’s also more critical.”

(All quotations from Hans Ulrich Oberst’s The Conversation Series 4: Rem Koolhaas.)

Well, yes, Rem, it does sound ridiculous, and I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it.

Not even someone of your ability gets to have it both ways: you don’t get to both play footsie with power and claim the status of “serious” critical observer. Or, rather, you’re welcome to make the attempt, but at some point you’ll almost be certainly be forced to acknowledge that perception is reality. Despite whatever desire you may have to “escape from architecture’s entanglements and paraphernalia, and, in fact, from its entire physicality,” at the end of the day a building does bear a certain rhetorical weight: you are what you build.

Put another way, do you think Miuccia Prada thought she was paying for an “investigation of what the market economy does to architecture”?

2 responses to “Oh Rem”

  1. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Unfortunately, you can have it both ways. Historically, the architecture profession has been marred by architects’ contradictory assertions, whether through a building or on the printed page. So in many ways, what Rem says is evidence of a historical continuity, one that views the history of the architecture profession in terms of self-promotion. And self-promotion can often involve a certain amount of self-contradiction.

    But, on the other hand, architects are not necessarily what they build. They sometimes refuse to cite participation in certain projects, or they readily associate themselves with buildings they did not actually work on, or even blatantly “evoke” (i.e. rip-off) others’ works. Consider the whole debate around Tschumi’s La Villette and it’s relationship to prior work. Peter Eisenman claims that it rips off his 1978 Cannaregio project. And yet the Cannaregio project “was influenced” by Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital.

    On the other hand, some architects are famous for divorcing their projects from issues of aesthetic and industrial production. Jim Stirling’s Olivetti Training Headquarters has (in my opinion) very little with Adriano Olivetti’s utopic visions: it is an exercise in modularity and systems-building. Or, even earlier, consider Hans Poelzig’s I.G. Farben heaquarters. I find it unlikely that the very person who designed the film sets for Paul Wegener’s Der Golem would complete a project for the very people who manufactured Zyklon B and then pay any attention to it in the pages of a monograph. A difficult and provocative line of relationships and (claims about) causality: and noone comes out of it unscathed.

    And in the end, one wonders whether Rem’s wish to “escape from architecture’s entanglements and paraphernalia” is just a clever disguising of the old tried and true debates about architectural autonomy and criticality? Or is it a veiled dismissal? Who knows.

  2. AG says :

    LOL. Well put, well put. I concede the point – thus ensuring my own record will be marred by contradictory assertions.

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