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3 thoughts from Rem Koolhaas

Earlier this year, architect Rem Koolhaas of OMA spoke with Mohsen Mostafavi (dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design) to close out the 2016 AIA convention

I still remember my first architectural theory class where the professor told us all that Koolhaas was the most important living architect of our time. And today, if you think about all of the stars that have grown out from his firm – such as Bjarke Ingels and Joshua Prince-Ramus – it is certainly a defensible argument.

Koolhaas is generally very critical of globalization and the market economy when it comes to creating good architecture. His view is that “pure profit motives” are leading to cities that are basically not designed.

This is a fairly common belief within architectural circles, which is why many celebrated names would rather work on a museum over a residential condo project. The latter is too motivated by profit. It’s not architecturally interesting.

I, on the other hand, have always believed in working within the confines of the market to try and promote great architecture and city building. I’m not saying that the market is perfect, but profitability is a constraint that every industry deals with. Architecture is no exception.

That said, there are other things that I agree with Koolhaas on. Below are 3 verbatim highlights taken from a Fast Company article summarizing his talk with Mostafavi: 

Communication needs an overhaul.

“Architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate. I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with.”

"To have a certain virtuosity of interpretation of every phenomenon is crucial. We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system. If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings. The old-fashioned Western ‘this is’ ‘that is’ is no longer tenable. We need to be intellectual and rigorous, but at the same time relativist.”

Architecture’s greatest value in the future might not even be architecture.

“Architecture and the language of architecture—platform, blueprint, structure—became almost the preferred language for indicating a lot of phenomenon that we’re facing from Silicon Valley. They took over our metaphors, and it made me think that regardless of our speed, which is too slow for Silicon Valley, we can perhaps think of the modern world maybe not always in the form of buildings but in the form of knowledge or organization and structure and society that we can offer and provide.”

Preservation is a path forward.

"We’ve tried to discover domains and areas in architecture which are not a simple vulgar multiplication of uninspired global projects. Recently, we have looked at preservation. The beautiful thing about preservation is you begin with something that already exists and therefore is already local. By definition, a preservation project is an homage to earlier cultures and mentalities to which you can add a new dimension, a new function, a new beauty or appeal. Almost every impulse signals that globalization needs rethinking or adjustment.”

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