KENT KLEINMAN: Good evening, my name is Kent Kleinman. I am the Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Introducing Professor of Rem Koolhaas is almost an impossible task.
There are as many introductions of Koolhaas as there are communities of interest. Professor Koolhaas has blanketed the intellectual and physical landscape of architecture, urbanism, and design culture generally with an unprecedented intensity and durability. The influence of his approach to hitching social change to material culture has had an impact across design disciplines from fashion to filmmaking from Lagos to Los Angeles.
As Paul Goldberger wrote on the occasion of his Pritzker Prize award ceremony in the year 2000 quote, "there is Rem Koolhaas the architect. There is Rem Koolhaas the writer. There is Rem Koolhaas, the urban theoretician. And then there Rem Koolhaas, the figure to whom architects are drawn as moths to a flame. It is not hard to think of Rem Koolhaas in the same way that one thinks of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright," end of quote.
What was hardly an exaggeration 10 years ago is now common knowledge. Koolhaas embodies a clear-headed, open-minded, data-informed, historically situated, analytic, non-judgemental, formerly declarative, programmatically inventive, and brutally direct design ethic that has no contemporary equal. As I said, there are many ways to introduce Professor Rem Koolhaas.
For us at Cornell, there is Rem Koolhaas, who after graduating from the Architectural Association in London, arrived in Ithaca in 1972 as a Harkness Fellow And found in the bowels of Sibley Hall a foundational architectural force in the person of Oswald Mathias Ungers, who remains, I believe, an understudied influence on an entire generation of urban thinkers. From Ithaca, Rem went to work in and at the Institute of Architecture and Urban studies with another Cornellian.
And he co-founded the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in 1975. Three years later, he burst into our consciousness of every self-aware architecture student and architect with a revolutionary urban manifesto Delirious New York. I can only begin to hint at the seminal accomplishments by Koolhaas OMA since that time-- the remarkable competition for the Parc de la Villette, and the competition for the Bibliotheque de France, the Rotterdam Kunsthal of 1992, the Maison a Bordeaux in 1998, the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin, the Seattle Central Library, the Casa de Musica in Porto, and the CCTV in Beijing, perhaps most spectacularly, the ongoing master plan for the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg that envisions no building at all. Delirious New York was followed by a series of publications that intellectually elevate and physically anchor many of our bookshelves.
Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large in 1995 was followed by several volumes in the series the project on the city, including The Great Leap Forward, a study that treats the Pearl River Delta region in China. The Harvard Design School Guide To Shopping, a volume that documents what was called quote, "the last remaining form of public activity," and Lagos, a dissection of the quote, "weird interdependence between the planned and unplanned in this Nigerian megacity that points to a new and renewed optimism in urban planning."
In addition to the Pritzker Prize, the work of Rem Koolhaas has won many international awards, including the RIBA Gold Medal and the Mies van der Rohe Prize for Contemporary Architecture. Professor Koolhaas has been named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the European Council of Foreign Relations. Since 1990, he has also been teaching at Harvard University, where he is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design.
Before welcoming Professor Koolhaas to the podium, I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize two individuals in the audience who work in the New York office of OMA-- First, Partner and Director of the Office Shohei Shigematsu sitting in the front and architect Ziad Shehab. Both are here representing the architecture team for the college's new studio structure, Milstein Hall.
Milstein will be an extraordinary addition to an extraordinary campus. And we will live up to the description in The New York Times as, "a worthy homecoming for architect Rem Koolhaas." Tonight's lecture is titled Stress Test. Please join me in welcoming Rem Koolhaas back to one of his many homes in Ithaca.
REM KOOLHAAS: Thank you for this incredibly flattering introduction. Sometimes I wish that introductions came at the end of the lecture, so that you didn't have to compete with it. Anyway, this lecture is going to be relatively experimental. It's a lecture that I've never given before.
And [? Sho ?] and myself decided to focus on this subject. The subject of the lecture is our work in the American office in the last 10 years. The American office exist 10 years now.
It was led for six years by Joshua Ramus, for four by [? Sho. ?] And I think it is interesting, or at least it was interesting for us, to focus on this work and to focus on our relationship with America and the influence of America on all the work of OMA. As you will notice, I think I'm living in a kind of very paradoxical situation to be well-known for certain things. And also, one of the things our office I think is known for is the diversity of its output.
But I think that at this point, we have a kind of story that can be told in very many different ways. And I sometimes say there is also a kind of horrible consistency and almost drastic lack of imagination to all our story. where we started in A and kind of, in a very linear way, went from A to B, et cetera. And I think that today, I will present that linear side of our identity.
And it's up to you. And maybe we can talk about it afterwards, what the consequences are of living that identity, or revealing that identity, and revealing that pattern this openly. Anyway, before we can really start about our own work, I think it is very crucial to talk about the current moment in architecture.
And this is architecture. We all know what it means. It means dignified statements that certain civilizations are able to make about themselves.
You can immediately see that this is not a private thing. But in some ways, it embodies the public. And in a certain way, it kind of really is an articulation of the values of this society.
Now, in the last 30 years, I think that this kind of architecture has been significantly threatened, and not to say, eroded through the idolatry of the market economy that, whether in America, in Europe, or in Asia, has become explicitly and implicitly the only discourse left. And I think we need to kind of really explore briefly, you know, what it has meant for architecture and what it has meant for what the architect can do. Because I think that understanding is important to understand our sometimes obstinate kind of resistance to it.
Anyway so you could say a brief history of our architecture-- this was architecture. And this is architecture. And I think that, immediately, you see a number of differences.
This is, obviously, not the work of civilization. It's the work of a person. And it is also not trying to articulate the values or the content of a particular civilization.
It's trying to be as ungeneral as possible. Where the temple is, of course, a kind of very general almost generic form, this is the least generic building that has existed so far. And I think that the market economy is kind of largely responsible for that kind of switch.
I think the status of the architect has also kind of really become very problematic. Because we see here Peter Eisenman in the kind of center of the kind of labyrinth of his monument in Berlin. And we see him kind of followed here by this hoard, army of kind of press people.
And whether we want to recognize it or not, kind of celebrity is from this moment an almost inevitable part of architecture. And I would say that that largely is also a kind of very negative thing about our work. The architect has-- and I'm not trying to criticize either Peter or Daniel Libeskind.
We all are like this now, kind of more or less public clowns having to defend-- and only 40 years ago, this was the architect. And I'm kind of really totally fascinated by this contrast.
Here, we see kind of somebody who's alert to fashion, who is basking in some form of attention. Here, we have something kind of perfunctory unglamorous, somebody with a kind of script in his hand or probably a blueprint. And you see that there is a kind of a direct execution between that blueprint and the kind of labor that is taking place behind his back.
And I have to admit that being in this situation, this situation is kind of deeply appealing. And I'm finding a profound nostalgia for it. and also for this. Because we can easily assume that this is the kind of work this previous person was making and conceiving.
And one of the inevitable effects of the current role of the architect is that, for us, this kind of architecture has become seemingly forever inaccessible. It's maybe an embarrassing confession. But in the last 30 years, nobody has ever asked us to do any housing.
And that's not an accident. A celebrity in itself kind of removes the architect, I think, from the kind of more serious part of his profession. And this skyline, which is kind of really a skyline of what the best of us have kind of produced in the last 10 years, you know, all our ideas. And anyone can see that accumulation of these ideas is not really an inspiring spectacle. And that is a kind of almost mutual consolation of these failures.
So you could say that if this is architecture, this is the city now. You know, it can be equally over-the-top defined by economic incentives. kind of situation. And what do you do with it?
And so against this background, you have to read this lecture. Now, in '72 I came to Cornell to begin to study New York. But I think it's very important and obvious to say that my study and my interest was not really New York.
My study and my instinct was that, in America, a different kind of architecture had been invented. And that architecture had never been articulated as a new architecture. And of course, in Europe, we were constantly articulating new architectures.
But where America built and didn't make explicit its intentions, Europe suffers, of course, on the fact of making intentions known, and then not being able to realize them. So my instinct was that what I could try to do and wanted to do was to take the body of evidence that America had generated and to extract from that a kind of manifesto for another form of new architecture. And what was obvious in that kind of new architecture was that it was an architecture completely defined by technology and technologies.
And that was for me, again, a fascinating contrast with the European mentality that constantly pays lip service to technological change. But it almost never is able to actually develop it. In America, which simply at that time in seemingly unending stream of inventiveness, invented inventions.
Now, for me the are kind of really four inventions of maybe even three inventions that defined this new architecture. An obvious one is the elevator. The second one is steel construction. Because steel consumption enables you to repeat almost any found site an almost infinite number of times in relatively quick succession.
Then the elevator makes each of these kind of platforms or floors accessible. And therefore, the combination of steel and elevator, again, is completely responsible for a revolution. And in '72, I want to say it again, this side of American architecture was simply invisible and off the radar both in America and Europe.
And for me, it was very attractive. Because I had a kind of feeling, given the fact that I had not always been an architect, and seeing the discourse of architecture, you know, and its tortured relationship with form and its apparent neglect of a vast series of other issues that were, for me, fundamental-- I had an instinct that through this path of discovering what American architecture could be, through this path, I could outwit my colleagues. This is then the kind of result, a pure extrusion and a kind of pure manifestation of the process of building to which is, perhaps, added one other crucial ingredient.
You see it here. This is, again, kind of pure extrusion in that kind of very early sketch of manifestation. But this is an elevation of a room. And in this room, there is a series of outlets.
And through these outlets, the following forms of air are introduced in these rooms-- salt air, fresh air, or dry salt air. So this is early in the 20th century, a very visionary proposal. But actually, it was literally proposed and, for a while also, kind of realized visionary proposal of the role of air conditioning in creating these kind of artificial interiors and therefore being able to remove architecture, separate architecture, from its relationship with the outside.
And of course, within one century-- and this is also the interesting thing that if you actually document the inventions that were necessary for this architecture, they all occurred maybe between 1880 and 1920. in a kind of incredible of 40 years of truly unprecedented imagination and creativity. And then this group of three is then extended through the escalator. And then we have with that a kind of seamless interior that is also a very important thing about America.
Now with these inventions, what can you do? That was really, of course, my biggest mystery and my biggest interest. Because the inventions, per se, were not particularly interesting.
And then in the '70s I discovered this building in Manhattan, the Downtown Athletic Club, something which looks kind of really boring as a building, two superimposed boxes. But that enabled to organize on a single floor activities in ways and in combinations that were simply unthinkable in Europe at that time. And I would say still say unthinkable.
Because what we had here is a steel frame, a battery of elevators. And this particular floor was a boxing, wrestling area. It was a dressing area, utilities. There were lockers.
But on one floor above, there was the possibility of eating on oyster bar. And so, basically, you see it here. So what was for me a really eye-opening experience-- that architecture did have nothing to do with form, and that you could read architecture as a script. And that in that script, you organized kind of several episodes and activities on a particular floor plate, and that the combination of that then kind of engendered an almost unlimited series of possible plots, which this one, obviously, was eating oysters with boxing gloves naked on the ninth floor.
I still would say that this discovery kind of drives-- and in that sense, you know, the lecture was to ourselves, in a way, a kind of surprise by the very extent to which this discovery is still one of the driving forces and themes behind all our work. So the box is not for me some kind of symbol of minimalism, a symbol of abstraction. I don't have kind of particularly any kind of aesthetic sympathy for it.
It is simply the most efficient container of social program and events. And I think that that in a kind of mysterious way, of course, intersects with the figure of Mies van der Rohe, who without maybe at all being interested in program, nevertheless, came to the same conclusion that boxes were the kind of almost a final point of architecture and that architecture after that did not need to be reinvented anymore. So what I want to present is, you know, how this kind of box and this kind of box kind of really can be read as the driving force of the office still with one added proviso.
I would say that you all know that patented medicine is very expensive. And that in many cases, there are generic versions that have the same performance, but that are considerably cheaper. For me, there is almost a kind of luxury in imagining that there could also be a kind of genetic architecture, a kind of copyright-free architecture, an architecture kind of unburdened from this constant need for invention. And that once unburdened of this need, you could really focus on what happens in the architecture or what can be the different roles that this architecture plays or the issues that this architecture addresses.
So I'm begging you, or I'm kind of proposing to you tonight or this evening, to consider, you know, our office as kind of formally extremely limited, but in order to better focus on other ambitions. And I want to give a kind of almost chronological history of that relationship with a generic. Perhaps one of the kind of first explicit encounters came in '96, where we were asked to do a headquarter for Universal in Hollywood.
It was an interesting situation. Because the grandson of the owner of Seagram, who had asked Mies van der Rohe to do the Seagram Building, came to us and wanted in Los Angeles a building of a kind of similar status. But of course, the irony was that by '96, every organization was in flux.
And that were [INAUDIBLE] able to make a headquarter for a liquor company that had a kind of stable identity. 30 years later, this instability was kind of complete. Because already three months into the process, the composition of the building was totally changed. It's kind of parts had to be sold. New parts had been kind of bought.
And there was a kind of despair that we could ever capture this unstable entity. And so it became very clear to us that we were not really doing architecture. But that we had to develop a kind of device more than a building. That was able to integrate the ambition of the client, which was to integrate a liquor company with a movie company and an internet company and a music company.
And so basically, what the building needed to do was to integrate all these totally heterogeneous elements. And so as I mentioned, we saw an opportunity to create the building as a device by taking a huge block of office space, inert, generic, undifferentiated, and embedding in it kind of four vertical elements. And that those elements had the kind of role or had the kind of obligation to turn this in inert block into a specific thing that could create the kind of alliances and combinations that was necessary.
So one tower was a kind of laboratory, where inventions could take place. One tower was for circulation. There had to be movement.
One tower was for creating the collective. So it was a kind to endless tower of meeting rooms in which relationships could be cemented. And one tower was for accountants to make money out of this whole machinery.
And just kind of really only when we had achieved this clarity to ourselves that we were able to kind of think of the building. So it was a kind of first alert that it was not about architecture, not about form, but really about a hard core different role. And in the end, our representation of the building kind of looked most like a subway map that plotted the relationships and the possible connections almost as in a kind of urban system rather than an architecture. Our
And our most creative, perhaps, architecture element was kind of an early awareness of sustainability where we realized that the climate in LA is actually so beautiful that half the time you could actually work outside. So this entire building has facades that kind of opened up automatically when the climate outside was as beautiful as you would want it inside, so that you were actually working in nature.
In 2000, this is a kind of small excursion, but, again, talking about the simplicity of the box. Taschen, the publisher who owns this house by Lautner, wanted a guest house and asked us to do it. It was a kind of difficult commission. But what we invented was a kind of huge beam that emerged from the wall. So that kind a relationship between the two houses was kind of the beam emerging in creating a kind of certain tension, but in no way kind of stealing each other's thunder.
Then in the kind of early part of the 21st century, we were involved in three museum projects in America that kind of really participated in what had been going on for a long time, an almost hysteria of extension of all the cultural institutions. That if you really plotted these explosions of scale, whether it was the Louvre, the Tate, Centre Pompidou, if you actually plotted them, they were kind of closely following Wall Street in terms of this constant escalation. The audience became incredible in terms of numbers.
So museums had increasingly become to become kind of entertainment entities. And you, at the same time, began to kind of feel the first signs of a kind of hollowness, where in the atrium there was a kind of emblem of abstraction. It was still a remnant of the old and holy form of art. But in the meantime, these numbers themselves were clearly not interested in holiness, but in other kind of sensations.
So what we discovered, kind of recently, that our participation in this process of extension museums at some point-- although we were singularly unsuccessful in building any of them, we took place in a huge amount of competitions. And I will show you know the kind of MoMA Whitney and LACMA. And that when we looked back, it turned out that between '95 and 2000, we had kind of designed 34 soccer fields of the new museum worth-- in itself, a kind of shattering kind of discovery.
So I start with MoMA. We started MoMA-- and that was kind of perhaps not very smart-- with a documentary of the current MoMA. And you know, if you made photographs, it was incredibly crowded. And again, there was a big discrepancy between the stated purpose, the encounter with art, and the actual conditions which was kind of endless waiting, endless moving in droves and this congestion in the spaces themselves.
It was the first manifestation of the kind of elements of shopping in the museum. A real sacrilege-- the escalator in MoMA, the first escalator in MoMA. And it represented, for us, a kind of really critical moment. You know, should we participate in this? Or how could we legitimately engage in this new regime?
And here, I think that what we had learned from America or what we were trying to learn from America was that infrastructure and the infrastructure of elements of architecture are at least as crucial form. So we developed a volume that was the museum. And we developed with Otis, the elevator people, a kind of system that could travel horizontally, diagonally, and kind of finally, vertically.
And that enabled really a path through the entire museum at different speeds that could then correspond to the museum as a kind of mass experience, a public experience, on the ground, a large scale experience in the middle, and finally, a kind of more refined, rarefied, experience in the other parts of the building. So rather than kind of resist this huge scale explosion, we embraced it, but kind of contained it at the same time by introducing this kind of infrastructural mode. And also, we speculated for the first time that perhaps a kind of system of delivery and storage that were increasingly used by organizations as Amazon that are kind of highly randomized in libraries, or highly mobilized, or automated in the case of Amazon could also be used to end the regime of the curator as somebody who prescribes the range of experience or the sequence of works, and that you could have a kind of on-demand personal viewing based on the contents of the museum that could be automated for your personal viewing pleasure.
In the same year, we did two boxes in Las Vegas-- one for the Guggenheim. And that was what was in a kind of residual space between an enormous parking and kind of casino. So in other words, it was not a really box space. We turned it into a kind of factory-like experience with a gantry that could move extremely heavy things.
Tom [INAUDIBLE] was extremely happy. It was kind of literally another form or museum that didn't have any shape. We inhabited the shape that was defined by accident. We only organized infrastructure to be used.
And the first exhibit was kind of designed by Frank Gehry. Because that task, of course, could not be trusted to people like us as kind of resistant to spectacle and shape. I had anticipated this situation.
And therefore, we had a kind of collage of the roof of the Sistine Chapel on the roof. And this was our comment on the kind of situation of architecture. But, ironically, nobody noticed it.
In the same year, we were also working on the Whitney, magnificent building of Marcel Breuer. And the Whitney wanted to extend. It owned this building. It owned that building. And it owned an almost non-existent open area behind it from which they wanted to launch the extension.
And so we were a long time kind of trying to analyze, you know, what kind of relationship could exist between these three elements. And then we came to the conclusion that we needed a new Whitney. that we would maintain this block, and that block, and create some kind of circulation between them. And that was the Whitney, kind of, project where we proposed to create a kind of drastic separation in the museum.
You could say, fast space, which we called the experience economy, drives more and more, of course, the design of many cultural institutions, even educational institutions. All the restaurants, shops, et cetera, need to be there. But very few people actually kind of think about them or embrace them in a kind of creative way.
So that is what we wanted to announce here. It would have a museum with experiences. And on the other end, there would be slow space, the old fashioned space of contemplation. And rather than kind of hypocritically pretending that everything was fine, the separation could create a kind of new energy of these things.
So this was the fast place, where art was also part of the kind of experience, but not all of the experience. And here, you see how we proposed that basically the smallness of the brownstones kind of was mobilized to kind of protect the intimacy for smaller works. Then the Breuer building would be kind of for the works of America in the '70s, where American art had become bigger.
And then the top would be temporary and kind of media experiences. So here you see in what was perhaps our first effort at preservation or our first awareness that preservation could actually be mobilized against the excessive architecture. And then here you see kind of exterior. The building made a kind of dance around the border without touching a Breuer and, in our view, developing kind of beautiful relationship.
In the same year, we did one more museum in Los Angeles, which is called LACMA. And basically, this is how the museum, the debrief in the competition was [? described. ?] There was a campus of five buildings.
The museum had bought a new former department store on the corner. And it proposed to connect these campus with a new museum building. So this was kind of both museum and a connector.
And in our view, it was not smart. Because, basically, the museum became almost like an endlessly extended airport. And what we proposed was that you could concentrate the entire program and renovate the existing campus by superimposing a single plane over the other museum and organize on that plane the new needs of that museum.
This steel project where I think-- and this is, perhaps, one of the differences between us and other architectural offices. And it may be kind of really narcissistic to claim it here so openly. But in certain cases, we try to really make inventions rather than new designs.
And this for me still kind of has the status, almost, of an invention. Because, basically, there were a number of kind of different departments. We organized them on these plates. We had trenches for access and kind of for technology.
And on these plates, we could organize the department almost like a kind of piece of city, like a kind form of urbanism. This kind of urbanism could have absolutely different qualities that would be appropriate for the different kinds of environments that these departments needed. If you moved in this direction, you could experience this whole thing as a linear event.
But, of course, you could also move in the opposite direction and, kind of for the first time, have a kind of explicit interface between museums, but also benefit from coincidences or connections. And then when we looked at the chronology of the art history of each of these departments, we found actually kind of fascinating kind of moments where, for instance, in China in the Renaissance, even in Africa, kind of events have been taking place in the year 1500, for instance. So you could organize in this museum these kind of passages where chronological moments were occurring in each of the departments, and therefore cross-reference or make explicit in the kind of circulation those special moments that usually are buried under the weight of the separate departments and under the weight of the universal museum. Or you could have kind of random path through this whole thing.
So those are three museums where I would say, again, the fact that we did not necessarily invest in form, but invested in a kind of experimentation of how the most elementary could co-exist with infrastructure, enabled us to visualize and develop a vision of what the museum could be, kind of rather than something that tries to outwit the situation through design. In the same year, we did one building for Prada-- again, a box. And I apologize-- a box that was kind of resonant with other parts in San Francisco. a box that was excavated in different interiors. Those interiors were transparent to each other. And this was the outside of that box.
And I want to move to Chicago, 2003. So you see, that year by year, it continued. In Chicago, this was the situation we found. This was a Mies van der Rohe famous campus that was conceived and designed as a kind of scraped area on which there was a kind of new beginning. But it was in close proximity of the city.
And when we arrived, the city had disappeared. And this was now a kind of standalone project. And therefore, the crucial contrast, on which this architecture had been based, namely the architecture with the dense city, was completely absent.
And when we looked statistically at the kind of situation, it was kind of really dire. Because when he designed, I think there were 6,000 students in 57 acres. And when we came there, there were half the amount of students and double the amount of acres.
So basically, density had completely been drained from this campus. And so therefore, this was the Mies situation. And this was our situation. So it became very clear that what we needed to do is capture the students where they were and try to kind of reintroduce density in this dire situation.
The situation was actually generated, I think, by the elevator that made such an incredible racket. That basically, like around the elevator, it's a kind of zone of nothingness, a no man's land can emerge. And that no man's land separated the campuses from the kind of faculties.
And so therefore, before we did any design, we kind of started looking at the behavior of the students. We kind of discovered that they were using a number of paths going from one side to this no man's land to the other side. So with that, it became very clear what we needed to do-- namely, to put the building or to make the building simply an articulation of this moment and kind of capture the students where they were present in the greatest density.
So here, again, without any design per se, this became the diagram for the building, but, of course, with all these paths kind of cutting through a kind of very orthogonal kind of almost landscape-like condition. And we had found on this very place a building by Mies that we incorporated in our building simply to make a kind of more interesting coexistence, and also actually to revive this building of Mies that actually was been quite deadening. And this was very weird, but interesting moment in architecture.
Because, of course, the Miesian acolytes, very recognizable from [? lives ?] of many campuses, the Miesian acolytes kind of resisted tooth and nails that we would incorporate Mies. And basically, we were getting incredible hostility by this ambition. And then we investigated the number of changes being applied to Mies, even while his acolytes were supposedly watching Mies's interest.
And what we discovered is that all over the facade, everywhere air conditioning elements had been kind of appearing. And that in an architecture like Mies, even the smallest change, of course, has got the biggest, large repercussions. And that under the watch of his fans, actually the Miesian environment has been kind of really turned into a kind of techy American mess and very pleasant [INAUDIBLE].
So that then kind of enabled this to develop a kind of a different argument that actually we were rehabilitating Mies, turning him back into his kind of former beauty, maybe another early exercise in preservation, and then our building openly encountering and consummating this relationship. Now, so basically there was Mies's box and kind of second box. But our box was kind of crushed in order to eliminate the sound of the elevator.
We surrounded it by a tube. But that also meant that the height in the box was kind of limited and that the kind of tube was almost crushing the box. So from the outside, it looks serene.
But inside, kind of more and more this sense of crushing made itself felt, so that certain activities needed to kind of go down and be pushed down kind of almost literally. But I think this project really, for me, kind of represents, first of all, a kind of sighting that is very dynamic in the sense that it looks for the people that are supposed to inhabit it in their own habitat. And secondly, how a kind of single very simple form through this encounter with infrastructure, again, acquires a kind of vast amount of unforeseeable and unforeseen effect.
Seattle, you could say-- and Seattle was not quite a competition. But it was a kind of simply a kind of long interview. And this is diagrams I sketched during the interview. They could have this, this, or this. But it's simply that kind of small conversation made them interested in a rational kind of project.
And so when we started really thinking about how we would do to protect, we looked at the entire program of Seattle. Looked at elements that would remain stable over time-- like a garage, you are not going to change-- but also, older elements that will change under the influence of technology or fashion or social life that we shifted to the right. And so basically this diagram then became almost in disguised the real nature of the building.
There are four boxes kind of superimposed. In those boxes, the necessary organization was organized in kind of a highly rigorous manner. And in between, there was this other kind of more fluid life that could accommodate change very easily. and that would even invite change. And so the whole building is a kind of co-existence or dialectic between this rigidity and the kind of openness and likeness of the conditions in between.
But still, I think the genesis is an American genesis based on the elevator, based on still, based on the escalator, and based on air conditioning, where all these elements together make a different kind of architecture possible and an architecture which doesn't have to look at form as the determining factor, but kind of really more of organization and that kind of play a role in the development of society. So very literally-- boxes clad in a skin that is also structural, but still inside giving a kind of incredible dynamism, where this rigorous organization is actually almost hard to feel. So it doesn't feel like a kind of form of repression, but where it actually is much more light than my kind of presentation suggests. And that is also partly because the trajectory of the section where you move through all these different conditions creates an almost unbearable sandwich of different experiences.
Now, as you have seen, we started with a moment in America where there was a kind of large, vast cultural ambition, the kind of extension of the museums. The move to the kind of middle of the teens of the first 10 years of this century, basically, are looking at buildings that were realized in 2004 and that had the kind of luck to be conceived before 9/11. And so therefore, kind of moves through the eye of the needle.
And then we look at kind of maybe five years after 9/11, a kind of a beginning of commercial thinking again, but a muteness on the level of culture and a kind of lack of realization in the social domain. So we're looking at developers building. This is a building we proposed for New Jersey, for Jersey City, very close to Manhattan and kind of, through tunnels, actually almost a part of Manhattan.
We looked at all the topologies. And obviously, it's a kind of landscape of boxes only, very often mediocre boxes. But, perhaps, simply by superimposing three of those boxes in one shape, we could eliminate the mediocrity. And by rotating them, we could turn this mediocrity in some kind of alchemy into, again, beauty or a kind of recognizable thing, but always and fundamentally faithful to the initial kind of rigor that American architecture proposes.
And three years later, there is, again, the [INAUDIBLE] of culture. I think it took that long after 9/11 to make that possible. And we want to show the kind of building we did in Dallas recently.
We've done many theaters. And the more theaters we did, the more we began to dislike the essential obligation of a theater. You have a stage door. You have an auditorium.
And then you have the terribly-named front of house and the horribly-named back of house. And it's kind of really a very heavy obligation to work with these seemingly inevitable ingredients. And so in each theater, we have tried to lift that inevitability.
And perhaps we succeeded more in Dallas than anywhere else before. This is then what you start to do. You, basically, try to vary all these inevitabilities in such a way that they temper the dominance of the stage door. and create interest.
But in Dallas, we decided to do something totally different. We had still the recognizable profile of the stage, the auditorium. But rather than a front and back, we made it above and below. And therefore, again, we had a tower, a tower incredibly closely packed with all the necessary programs, but a tower in which it was impossible to kind of recognize what is the stage door and, therefore, to recognize all these independent ingredients and to create a single, much larger Gestalt and really a new shape for the theater.
And [? what we had ?] [? found is ?] that on the ground floor, we created a situation which, in its entirety, was stage and where the technology of the stage, which is typically only used to move the sets up and down or to left or right, where that technology of the stage was used to create the theater itself. So basically, in this stage tower and in this configuration, we can eliminate every sign of auditorium. But when the auditorium is needed, we can kind of use that same technology to create a kind of very conventional stage that ranges from the most conventional to the most experimental.
Actually, in a kind of remarkably short time, any stage designer or director can reconfigure the space through his exact specifications. So this is one of its configuration. But each of these is also possible.
But what interests me more than this story about the stage is really how we have been able to, in a way, reinvent the box. And what we did in this case is we took the kind of proximity of the control tower and the spaces it controls, and simply created the same voyeuristic kind of relationship between all the spaces in the building. So if you move through the building, there is always completely unexpected transparencies that connect every space to every other space.
There's a constant awareness of all the others in the building and, in that sense, kind of through a formal means, a kind of strange sense of community and coherence. And many of these kind of effects were actually totally kind of unpredictable. And the kind of perspectives, also, totally a kind of surprise. But for us, of course, its also kind of fascinating to limit ourselves deliberately to the kind of simplicity of this vocabulary to achieve, as we did in Dallas, really a series of very complex effects and very unpredictable qualities.
Here, a building in New York-- unfortunately, it will not be built. It was a building, a kind of twin of a tall tower, in which the owner was planning on a site that he bought later. So the problem was that this smaller twin partly blocked the view of the initial parent. And therefore, we had to design a building that actually avoided this kind of blockage by developing most of its volume not exactly above its footprint.
There, again, it became a kind of gesture toward American architecture, an investigation of what further richness the kind of box may have and what further effects you might achieve with it. And in itself, a kind of very strict and inevitable step of avoiding blockage became its own kind of vulnerability and delicacy.
Now, Cornell-- and, of course, I don't want to kind of really explain the building. Maybe you can explain it some time when it's there. But a box-- there it is.
Boxes are always autonomous. But this box is far from autonomous. It is kind of totally defined by givens. Boxes are [INAUDIBLE] buildings. This building kind of connects.
Boxes are arrogant and indifferent. And this one creates and enhances, kind of compensates for some of the weakness and the problems in the other building. So it's, of course, a box.
It will be a box that has a kind of strange effect on the environment. Here, you see it. So it appears unexpectedly in different kind of perspectives. And underneath the box, there is a kind of totally different domed space that will kind of celebrate the intellectual process that is taking place here, while the box itself is kind of simply a place of connection and production.
Here, you see the box when it will be finished. This also kind of will introduce for the first time the work of a partner with an independent office, Inside Outside, [INAUDIBLE] where the curtains that have played a kind of very important in some of our other buildings become a kind of counterpart to the architecture itself and, in this case, provide the columns that our building itself carefully and with great difficulty avoided. If you think about boxes, then you also have to talk about what is out of the box.
And I would say that our concentration on this limited vocabulary has been kind of, of course, an incredible challenge, but also a way to put ourselves under pressure. And that is kind of, perhaps, the stress test. How far can you go in kind of working with your hands tied behind your back? And what kind of ingenuities does that kind of position in itself kind of force on you? And what energies does it liberate for other ways of thinking?
And I am kind of maybe bold enough to kind of suggest that our work in a deliberately reduced vocabulary of architecture has been able to liberate the energies or to think of known architectural issues in a quite aggressive way. And that maybe that limitation is also the reason that, since 10 years, we don't only operate as [INAUDIBLE], that we have this other dimension, which is kind of completely freed of architectural limitations, completely freed of the obligation to constrict. We can simply think about other things.
And I want to kind of show-- and that way of thinking was exactly introduced 10 years ago, when we kind of realized working for Seagram and Universal that actually many of the issues that architects are asked to do today have nothing to do with architecture and are actually kind of really much more complex in their background. So in the same way that has enabled us to have this other way of thinking, there is only kind of one project I want to show from this period, which is an American project for Harvard where basically we had to study the situation of Harvard in Cambridge.
And as you can see here, it's quite a difficult position. Because they're in the center of Cambridge. So basically, Harvard is strangling this community.
And this kind of stranglehold it has is actually quite complex for both sides. However, it is an historical campus. But if you look at any of the buildings, they have been kind of many times gutted and completely rebuilt.
So I think that the pretension of a kind of culture and the pretension of a kind of historical kind of entity is, in fact, completely replaced by the authentic American architecture that I've been kind of trying to delineate in this presentation. Because it has this stranglehold, there is a kind of entire zone around the perimeter of Harvard where Harvard has to be incredibly careful not to be too ambitious, incredibly humble to not offend the neighbors and where it has to endlessly negotiate about the kind of slightest change or adjustment.
The called it not the demilitarized zone, but the demoralized zone. The architecture there-- and you kind of recognize it also sometimes in campuses here, you know-- are timid in a kind of systematic way with very often kind of really horrendous results in Cambridge. And basically, we saw it as our task to break with that tradition.
Now, Harvard has asked us, you know, to theorize not only its own existence in Cambridge, but also what it could do with a number of properties it had on the other side of the river in Allston. The problem was, of course, that every single faculty wanted to remain in Cambridge. And nobody wanted to go across the river.
And then we kind of realized that in the beginning of the 20th century, MIT had been able to create a kind of enormous piece of landfill here and that Harvard, you know, had never been as bold. So we proposed to Harvard that what they could do is reroute the Charles River--
--create a new canal, that that canal would be welcomed by the already bitter current inhabitants of Allston and that Harvard could then kind of inhabit with the campus the former riverbed. And that was also a way of creating a seamless new entity. And so this was our kind of proposal.
And basically, it was kind of summarily kind of rejected. And I was really surprised that, you know, a campus, a university as intelligent was this would be so kind of resistant to real thinking.
No, I mean it. And so instead of that, there is now a Frank Gehry building kind of being built here that, on its own, has the kind of obligation to attract the people from the other side. Anyway, so this is the end of the lecture.
We can talk about it maybe in a question and answer. On one end, I apologize for the straightforwardness of the lecture. But on the other hand, I think it is a very interesting experiment, particularly in the educational situation to really create and to convey a kind of fairly intimate level the considerations of an office, not only the known and the conscious considerations, but also the unconscious ones and the ticks.
Because, obviously, you know, I am not claiming that all of this is a kind of deliberate strategy. I think, like every architect, we work, you know, on the basis of our limitations. Perhaps, we have a kind of a limited formal kind of imagination. And we use a kind of self-torture of this incredibly limited material of the box and the DNA of American architecture to constantly try to make it address new and complex conditions. Thank you very much.
KENT KLEINMAN: Rem has agreed to take two or three question. I think there's mic on the left and, if I'm not mistaken, a mic on the right. So if you want to put up your hand and be recognized, we have time for some question. Any questions? Is that a question, or are you putting on you coat?
REM KOOLHAAS: There.
KENT KLEINMAN: Good. There's a mic right behind you.
AUDIENCE: I know you presented us with your work from America. But I think it would be interesting if you also talk about the work in Europe. Because you seem to, like, have picked up on certain things that make the architecture of America the architecture of America. Can you talk about what makes the architecture of Europe, or that interests you?
REM KOOLHAAS: Well, why is Europe the only counterpart? I mean, I think we're in a kind of situation that kind of both Europe and America are in a way definitely not where the action is. And the action in architecture's inevitably in Asia.
And I think that we are kind of fully engaged to find appropriate kind of languages and appropriate ways of thinking to operate and work in Asia. But I would still say that what I tried to reveal tonight is a streak or a string of themes that are originating here and originating from a series of perceptions and a combination of perceptions that still drive a lot of the work, whether it is in Europe or whether it is in Asia. And if you want another answer, you have to be slightly more specific about what you want to hear about Europe.
AUDIENCE: Hi. You talked about the elevator, escalator, and air conditioner, and steel as the technologies that changed architecture. A lot of architecture are doing work in the digital realm right now. Can you talk about if that also has ramifications in your work?
REM KOOLHAAS: I think it has kind of incredible ramifications. But I really think that that is kind of really a collective experience that the whole of architecture is going through. And as such, I don't think it's kind of particularly interesting if I give comments or convey our experiences of the digital.
For me, actually, the digital is kind of somehow more productive in the realm not directly in architecture, but more in the realm slightly outside architecture. I would say that our most imaginative use of the digital is kind of more located in work that we do for Prada. For instance-- where it enables us to kind of venture, you know, not only in the kind of arrangement of fashion shows, but also in the content of fashion, in the kind of design of textiles and in a whole series of manipulations and kind of transformations that are, let's say, more on the level of graphic design than of architecture, per se.
And I think that in terms of architecture, we are witnessing a kind of huge virtuosity of form. But as I kind of indicated in this entire lecture, we are very reluctant to deal with that area on its own terms and as a kind of pursuit in itself, and therefore only using it when we can really have to under extreme duress. And it could be a particular lecture on its own where, you know, when we use digital, when that world kind of intersects with out own.
KENT KLEINMAN: One more question? [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: I thought that was an interesting point that you made in the beginning of the lecture talking about how your status as more of a celebrity has gotten you a little bit divorced from the architect on the site more hands on with the project. And the projects that you have exhibited, you know, on OMA's US resume here, don't really seem to strive for that, which is something that you expressed as, you know, seeming more and more desirable to you. Do you see any ways, or do you imagine, or do you want your practices to sort of start to get back to that at all? Is that feasible for you?
REM KOOLHAAS: Well, we don't know whether it's feasible. But we are beginning to-- I mean, we are so vocal about it and have been kind of vocal about it in many times that it seems as if we are also now kind of attracting maybe a number of people that could support us in that kind of ambition. But also, I think that if you're really hopeful, it is perhaps possible to imagine that the current economy or the economic catastrophe that we just have behind us will have some impact on this phenomenon in itself.
I cannot imagine that we think with the same enthusiasm about the kind of architecture that we produced four years ago now. But that's a kind of very fragile observation. And I may be totally wrong.
And there is also kind of many signs of an ambition to go back to business as usual or as it was before. But I mean, I think that to a large extent will be defined by what your generation is actually going to do-- if this is a fence, on what side of the fence they're attracted to.
KENT KLEINMAN: Thank you, Rem.
REM KOOLHAAS: OK, thank you. Thank you.
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Milstein Hall architect Rem Koolhaas showed contrasting architectural conventions and how innovations changed architecture in the early 20th century in an April 13, 2010 lecture in Kennedy Hall.