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Rem Koolhaas

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Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas
Rem Koolhaas in 1987
Born Remment Lucas Koolhaas
(1944-11-17) 17 November 1944
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Alma mater Architectural Association School of Architecture, Cornell University
Awards Pritzker Prize (2000)
Praemium Imperiale (2003)
Royal Gold Medal (2004))
Leone d'oro alla carriera (2010)
Practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture

Casa da Música in Porto
Seattle Central Library
Netherlands Embassy Berlin

China Central Television Headquarters
Projects Volume Magazine

Remment Lucas "Rem" Koolhaas (; born 17 November 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Koolhaas studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Koolhaas is the founding partner of OMA, and of its research-oriented counterpart AMO based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In 2005, he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman

In 2000, Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize.[1] In 2008, Time put him in their top 100 of The World's Most Influential People.[2]


  • Early life and career 1
  • Theoretical position 2
    • Delirious New York 2.1
    • S,M,L,XL 2.2
    • Project on the city 2.3
    • OMA 2.4
    • Volume Magazine 2.5
    • European Flag proposal 2.6
    • Architecture, fashion, and theatre 2.7
    • 21st Century Office 2.8
  • Quotes 3
  • Awards 4
  • Selected projects 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • Gallery 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life and career

Remment Koolhaas, usually abbreviated to Rem Koolhaas, was born on 17 November 1944 in Rotterdam, Netherlands to Anton Koolhaas (1912–1992) and Selinde Pietertje Roosenburg (born 1920). His father was a novelist, critic, and screenwriter. Two documentary films by Bert Haanstra for which his father wrote the scenarios were nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, one won a Golden Bear for Short Film. His maternal grandfather, Dirk Roosenburg (1887–1962), was a modernist architect who worked for Hendrik Petrus Berlage, before opening his own practice. Rem Koolhaas has a brother, Thomas, and a sister, Annabel. His paternal cousin was the architect and urban planner Teun Koolhaas (1940–2007). The family lived consecutively in Rotterdam (until 1946), Amsterdam (1946–1952), Jakarta (1952–1955), and Amsterdam (from 1955).[3][4][5]

His father strongly supported the Indonesian cause for autonomy from the colonial Dutch in his writing. When the war of independence was won, he was invited over to run a cultural programme for three years and the family moved to Jakarta in 1952. "It was a very important age for me," Koolhaas recalls "and I really lived as an Asian."[6]

In 1969, Koolhaas co-wrote The White Slave, a Dutch film noir, and later wrote an unproduced script for American soft-porn king Russ Meyer.[7]

Rem Koolhaas inspecting the Seattle Central Library model. 2005

He then was a journalist for the Haagse Post before starting studies, in 1968, in architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, followed, in 1972, by further studies with O. Mathias Ungers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, followed by studies at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City.

Koolhaas first came to public and critical attention with OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the office he founded in 1975 together with architects Elia Zenghelis, Zoe Zenghelis and (Koolhaas's wife) Madelon Vriesendorp in London. They were later joined by one of Koolhaas's students, Zaha Hadid – who would soon go on to achieve success in her own right. An early work which would mark their difference from the then dominant postmodern classicism of the late 1970s, was their contribution to the Venice Biennale of 1980, curated by Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi, titled "Presence of the Past". Each architect had to design a stage-like "frontage" to a Potemkin-type internal street; the façades by Costantino Dardi (it), Frank Gehry and OMA were the only ones that did not employ Post-Modern architecture motifs or historical references.

Other early critically received (yet unbuilt) projects included the Parc de la Villette, Paris (1982) and the residence for the President of Ireland (1981), as well as the Kunsthal in Rotterdam (1992). These schemes would attempt to put into practice many of the findings Koolhaas made in his book Delirious New York (1978),[8] which was written while he was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, directed by Peter Eisenman.

In September 2006, Rem Koolhaas was commissioned to develop 111 First Street in Jersey City across the Hudson River from Manhattan, working with real estate developer Louis Dubin.[9]

In October 2008, Rem Koolhaas was invited for a European "group of the wise" under the chairmanship of former Spanish prime minister Felipe González to help 'design' the future European Union. Other members include Nokia chairman Jorma Ollila, former European Commissioner Mario Monti and former president of Poland Lech Wałęsa.[10][11]

Theoretical position

Delirious New York

Koolhaas's book Delirious New York set the pace for his career. Koolhaas celebrates the "chance-like" nature of city life: "The City is an addictive machine from which there is no escape" "Rem Koolhaas...defined the city as a collection of “red hot spots.”[12] (Anna Klingmann). As Koolhaas himself has acknowledged, this approach had already been evident in the Japanese Metabolist Movement in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Seattle Central Library Seattle, USA, designed by OMA

A key aspect of architecture that Koolhaas interrogates is the "Program": with the rise of modernism in the 20th century the "Program" became the key theme of architectural design. The notion of the Program involves "an act to edit function and human activities" as the pretext of architectural design: epitomised in the maxim Form follows function, first popularised by architect Louis Sullivan at the beginning of the 20th century. The notion was first questioned in Delirious New York, in his analysis of high-rise architecture in Manhattan. An early design method derived from such thinking was "cross-programming", introducing unexpected functions in room programmes, such as running tracks in skyscrapers. More recently, Koolhaas (unsuccessfully) proposed the inclusion of hospital units for the homeless into the Seattle Public Library project (2003).


The next landmark publication by Koolhaas was S,M,L,XL, together with Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann (1995),[13] a 1376-page tome combining essays, manifestos, diaries, fiction, travelogues, and meditations on the contemporary city. The layout of the huge book transformed architectural publishing, and such books—full-colour graphics and dense texts—have since become common. Ostensibly, S,M,L,XL gives a record of the actual implementation of "Manhattanism" throughout the various (mostly unrealized) projects and texts OMA had generated up to that time. The part lexicon-type layout (with a marginal "dictionary" composed by Jennifer Sigler, who also edited the book) spawned a number of concepts that have become common in later architectural theory, in particular "Bigness": 'old' architectural principles (composition, scale, proportion, detail) no longer apply when a building acquires Bigness. This was demonstrated in OMA's scheme for the development of "Euralille" (1990–94), a new centre for the city of Lille in France, a city returned to prominence by its position on the new rail route from Paris to London via the Channel Tunnel. OMA sited a train station, two centres for commerce and trade, an urban park, and 'Congrexpo' (a contemporary Grand Palais with a large concert hall, three auditoria and an exhibition space). In another essay in the book, titled "The Generic City", Koolhaas declares that progress, identity, architecture, the city and the street are things of the past: “Relief … it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theatre now...”

Project on the city

Embassy of the Netherlands, Berlin, Germany, opened in 2004. Koolhaas's design won the Architekturpreis Berlin in 2003 and the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in 2005.

Koolhaas's next landmark publications were a product of his position as professor at Harvard University, in the design school's "Project on the City"; firstly the 720-page Mutations,[14] followed by The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping (2002)[15] and The Great Leap Forward (2002).[16] All three books involved Koolhaas's students analysing what others would regard as "non-cities", sprawling conglomerates such as Lagos in Nigeria, west Africa, which the authors argue are highly functional despite a lack of infrastructure. The authors also examine the influence of shopping habits and the recent rapid growth of cities in China. Critics of the books have criticised Koolhaas for being cynical – as if Western capitalism and globalization demolish all cultural identity – highlighted in the notion expounded in the books that "In the end, there will be little else for us to do but shop". However, such cynicism can alternatively be read as a "realism" about the transformation of cultural life, where airports and even museums (due to finance problems) rely just as much on operating gift shops.

When it comes to transforming these observations into practice, Koolhaas mobilizes what he regards as the omnipotent forces of urbanism into unique design forms and connections organised along the lines of present day society. Koolhaas continuously incorporates his observations of the contemporary city within his design activities: calling such a condition the ‘culture of congestion’. Again, shopping is examined for "intellectual comfort", whilst the unregulated taste and densification of Chinese cities is analysed according to "performance", a criterion involving variables with debatable credibility: density, newness, shape, size, money etc. For example, in his design for the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing (2009), Koolhaas did not opt for the stereotypical skyscraper, often used to symbolise and landmark such government enterprises, but instead designed a series of volumes which not only tie together the numerous departments onto the nebulous site, but also introduced routes (again, the concept of cross-programming) for the general public through the site, allowing them some degree of access to the production procedure. Through his ruthlessly raw approach, Koolhaas hopes to extract the architect from the anxiety of a dead profession and resurrect a contemporary interpretation of the sublime, however fleeting it may be.

In 2003, Content, a 544-page magazine-style book designed by &&& Creative and published by Koolhaas, gives an overview of the last decade of OMA projects[17] including his designs for the Prada shops,[1] the Seattle Public Library, a plan to save Cambridge from Harvard by rechanneling the Charles River, Lagos' future as Earth's third-biggest city, as well as interviews with Martha Stewart and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.


In the late nineties, while working on the design for the new headquarters for Universal (currently Vivendi), OMA was first exposed to the full pace of change that engulfed the world of media and with it the increasing importance of the virtual domain. It led Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) to create a new company, AMO, exclusively dedicated to the investigation and performance in this realm. He is heading the think tank ever since with Reinier de Graaf.

Volume Magazine

In 2005, Rem Koolhaas co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman. Volume Magazine – the collaborative project by Archis (Amsterdam), AMO Rotterdam and C-lab (Columbia University NY) – is a dynamic experimental think tank devoted to the process of spatial and cultural reflexivity. It goes beyond architecture’s definition of ‘making buildings’ and reaches out for global views on architecture and design, broader attitudes to social structures, and creating environments to live in. The magazine stands for a journalism which detects and anticipates, is proactive and even pre-emptive – a journalism which uncovers potentialities, rather than covering done deals.

European Flag proposal

European Flag proposal

Following the signing of Treaties of Nice in May 2001, which made Brussels the de facto capital of the European Union, the then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt invited Koolhaas to discuss the necessities and requirements of a European capital.

During these talks and as an impetus for further discussion, Koolhaas and his think-tank AMO – an independent part of OMA – suggested the development of a visual language. This idea inspired a series of drawings and drafts, including the "Barcode". The barcode seeks to unite the flags of the EU member countries into a single, colourful symbol. In the current European flag, there is a fixed number of stars. In the barcode however, new Member States of the EU can be added without space constraints. Originally, the barcode displayed 15 EU countries. In 2004, the symbol was adapted to include the ten new Member States.

Since the time of the first drafts of the barcode it has very rarely been officially used by commercial or political institutions. During the Austrian EU Presidency 2006, it was officially used for the first time. The logo was used for the EU information campaign, but was very negatively criticized. In addition to the initially uproar caused by the Estonian flag stripes displayed incorrectly, the proposed flag failed to achieve its main objective as a symbol. Critics pointed the lack of capability to relate the signified (the mental concept, the European Union) with the signifier (the physical image, the stripes) as the major problem, as well as the presented justification for the order in which the color stripes were displayed (as every country in the EU should be regarded as equal in importance and priority).

Architecture, fashion, and theatre

Prada, Beverly Hills, USA
Second Stage Theatre, New York, USA

With his Prada projects, Koolhaas ventured into providing architecture for the fleeting world of fashion and with celebrity-studded cachet: not unlike Garnier's Opera, the central space of Koolhaas' Beverly Hills Prada store is occupied by a massive central staircase, ostensibly displaying select wares, but mainly the shoppers themselves. The notion of selling a brand rather than marketing clothes was further emphasised in the Prada store on Broadway in New York,[1] which had previously been owned by the Guggenheim: the museum signs were not removed during the outfitting of the new store, as if emphasizing the premises as a cultural institution.[18] The Broadway Prada store opened in December 2001, cost €32 million to build, and has 2,300 square meters of retail space.[1]

Prior to his Prada project in New York, Koolhaas was behind another remodeling project on the other side of town. Koolhaas redesigned a 1929 bank and transformed it into a one-of-a-kind, 296 seat, performance space for Second Stage Theatre.

21st Century Office

At the moment Koolhaas' constructions sites are in China: the massive Central China Television Headquarters Building in Beijing, China, and the new building for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, the equivalent of the NASDAQ in China.

Recently, he has changed the organization of his office to a partnership. Partners next to him are Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu and managing partner Victor van der Chijs. The partner Ole Scheeren left OMA in March 2010 to start his own practice.

Koolhaas now heads offices in Europe (OMA*AMO Rotterdam), North America (OMA*AMO Architecture PC New York) and Asia (OMA Beijing).

OMA Rotterdam: the head office is working on a master plan for the White City area of London; a harbour redevelopment and contemporary art Museum in Riga, the Cordoba Congress Centre in Spain; the redevelopment of the Mercati Generali in Rome, an architectural centre, offices and housing in Copenhagen, the new head office of Rothschild Bank in London and multi-use towers in Rotterdam and The Hague. It is also working on various masterplans in the Netherlands and Belgium and shopping centres in Rotterdam and Ostrava. In addition the Rotterdam office has a number of activities in the Middle East including office and residential towers and master plans in Dubai, three master plans in Ras -Al-Khaimah and several public buildings in Qatar. With his Rotterdam office Koolhaas is also designing a science center for Hamburg’s Hafencity.

OMA New York: the office in Manhattan Koolhaas is leading by Shohei Shigematsu is now designing an extension of Cornell University (NY), 111 First Street, a high rise residential building and hotel in Jersey City (NJ) and a high end residential tower with CAA screening room at One Madison Park in NYC.

OMA Beijing: In Asia, Koolhaas was working with his team on the office’s largest project to date, the 575,000 m2 China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) and Television Cultural Center (TVCC), both completed in Beijing in 2008. (However, the TVCC was damaged by an enormous fire in 2009.) Other projects in completion include the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange and a lush residential tower and residential masterplan in Singapore.

The influence of OMA has impacted many architecture students and architects who have worked at the office during their careers. Architects such as Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang), Amale Andraos and Dan Wood (WORKac) are just some of the names of the many architects that have worked in the office.


  • Noting that architecture can no longer keep up with the world: "The areas of consensus shift unbelievably fast; the bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding. Any architectural project we do takes at least four or five years, so increasingly there is a discrepancy between the acceleration of culture and the continuing slowness of architecture." —interview in Iconey,.[19]
  • Reference to the article 'Generic city', a critic to current mode of urbanization: "People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that's both liberating and alarming. But the generic city, the general urban condition, is happening everywhere, and just the fact that it occurs in such enormous quantities must mean that it's habitable. Architecture can't do anything that the culture doesn't. We all complain that we are confronted by urban environments that are completely similar. We say we want to create beauty, identity, quality, singularity. And yet, maybe in truth these cities that we have are desired. Maybe their very characterlessness provides the best context for living." —interview in Wired 4.07, July 1996[20]
  • Asked if there is a certain contribution he aspires to make: "It's very simple and it has nothing to do with identifiable goals. It is to keep thinking about what architecture can be, in whatever form. That is an answer, isn't it? I think that S,M,L,XL has one beautiful ambiguity: it used the past to build a future and is very adamant about giving notice that this is not the end. That's how it felt to me, anyway. That is in itself evidence of a kind of discomfort with achievement measured in terms of identifiable entities, and an announcement that continuity of thinking in whatever form, around whatever subject, is the real ambition." —Interview with Jennifer Sigler in Index Magazine, 2000[21]


Selected projects

Casa da Música, Porto, Portugal


  • Project Japan. Metabolism Talks... (2011) (with Hans Ulrich Obrist)[31] ISBN 978-3-8365-2508-4
  • Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto of Manhattan (1978)[32] ISBN 978-1-885254-00-9
  • S,M,L,XL (1995)[33] ISBN 978-1-885254-86-3
  • Serpentine Gallery: 24 Hour Interview Marathon (2007)[34] ISBN 978-1-904563-69-3
  • Living Vivre Leben (1998)[35]
  • Content (2004)[36] ISBN 978-3-8228-3070-3
  • Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2006; Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln, Germany 2008 ISBN 978-3-86560-393-7


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Chevalier, Michel (2012). Luxury Brand Management. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons.  
  2. ^ Lacayo, Richard (30 April 2009). "Rem Koolhaas". Time Retrieved on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Moor, Wam de (13 March 2008). "Koolhaas, Anthonie (1912–1992)". Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland (in Nederlands). Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis. Retrieved 14 May 2008. 
  4. ^ "Anthonie Koolhaas". De  
  5. ^ Anker, Eva van den. "Dirk Roosenburg". Archipedia (in Nederlands). Architectenweb. Retrieved 14 May 2008. 
  6. ^ Adams, Tim (25 June 2006). "Metropolis Now". The Observer, Guardian Unlimited (London). 
  7. ^ Becker, Lynn (10 October 2007). "Oedipus Rem.". Repeat: Writings on Architecture. 
  8. ^ Koolhaas, Rem (1978) Delirious New York: A retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, Academy Editions, London; republished, The Monacelli Press, 1994, ISBN 1885254008
  9. ^ "Rem Koolhaas Commissioned for Development of 111 First Street in Jersey City, N.J.". BlueVerticalStudio. 18 September 2006. Retrieved 2 November 2009. ...the commissioning of The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) of Rem Koolhaas, an internationally renowned architect, for development of 111 First St., in Jersey City, N.J. 
  10. ^ Interview with Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas: 'The World Needs Europe'. (30 October 2008). Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  11. ^ Article in Irish newspaper Irish Times 16 October 2008
  12. ^ Klingmann, A (2007) Brandscapes: Architecture in the Experience Economy. Mit Press, ISBN 0262515032
  13. ^ Koolhaas, Rem; Werlemann, Hans and Mau, Bruce (1994) S,M,L,XL, The Monacelli Press, New York, (2nd edition 1998) ISBN 1885254865
  14. ^ Koolhaas, Rem et al. (2001) Mutations, Arc en rêve centre d’architecture, Bordeaux, ISBN 84-95273-51-9.
  15. ^ Koolhaas, Rem; Chung, Chuihua Judy; Inaba, Jeffrey and Leong, Sze Tsung (2002) The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping. Harvard Design School Project on the City 2, Taschen, New York, ISBN 3822860476
  16. ^ Koolhaas, Rem et al. (2002) The Great Leap Forward. Harvard Design School Project on the City, Taschen, New York, ISBN 3822860484
  17. ^ Koolhaas, Rem (2003) Content, Taschen, New York, ISBN 3822830704
  18. ^ Anette Baldauf (2004) "Branded", in Learning from Calvin Klein, Umbau 21.
  19. ^ Rem Koolhaas, Icon 013, June 2004
  20. ^ Heron, Katrina (4 January 2009) From Bauhaus to Koolhaas. Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  21. ^ Sigler, Jennifer Rem Koolhaas, 2000. Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ Stories Of Houses. (24 February 2004). Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  24. ^ Astudillo, Tey-Marie (27 October 2011) Seoul's best museums. on 20 March 2014.
  25. ^ Christian Gänshirt: Casa da Música, Porto, Portugal. Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Rotterdam, in: L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui No. 361, Nov./Déc. 2005, pp. 38–47
  26. ^ Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  27. ^ Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  28. ^ 23 East 22nd Street by OMA. (15 September 2008). Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  29. ^ Bryghusprojektet – The Brewery Site Project. Retrieved on 20 March 2014.
  30. ^ official site in Spanish
  31. ^ "Project Japan. Metabolism Talks...".  
  32. ^ "Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto of Manhattan".  
  33. ^ "SMLXL".  
  34. ^ "Serpentine Gallery: 24 Hour Interview Marathon".  
  35. ^ "Living Vivre Leben".  
  36. ^ "Content".  

External links

  • Office for Metropolitan Architecture
  • OMA official Facebook page (updated daily)
  • OMA official Vimeo channel
  • OMA portfolio on
  • Rem Koolhaas at Harvard University
  • Rem Koolhaas at the Internet Movie Database
  • Rem Koolhaas lecture at the Canadian Centre for Architecture: June 8th, 2007
  • On Starchitecture
  • Koolhaas at Harvard's Ecological Urbanism
  • Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2008 Feature Documentary)
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