The measure of architecture, back then, initialised from the floor and ended at the ceiling, surrounded by the four walls. But, then and now, architectural movements put in new ideas that imbibed enough curiosity to cut across these walls. Instead, it ascends across various scales and sizes. A large number of works in practice today are established at a scale, which, by virtue of its dimensions, can very well be categorized as Small or Medium Scale. So the idea of a place is either missing or, as we aim for, is infinite. Such a setting is more than liberating in itself.
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Taschen, pp. It presents the Empire State, Chrysler, and other landmark buildings of the time with a visionary twist — a dirigible is set to dock at the spire of the Empire State. It is an image of the 20th-century city as a spectacle of new tourism, to be sure, but also as a utopia of new spaces — people are free to circulate from the street, up through the tower, to the sky, and back down again. The image is not strictly capitalist: the utopian conjunction of skyscraper and airship appears in Soviet designs of the s as well.
The attack on the World Trade Center — the two jets flown into the two towers — was a dystopian perversion of this Modernist dream of free movement through cosmopolitan space. Much damage was done to this great vision of skyscraper and city — and to New York as the capital of this dream. They need advocates like never before because, to paraphrase the Surrealists, New York Beauty will be delirious or will not be.
Luckily, we have the example of Koolhaas, who may be the most gifted architect-polemicist since Le Corbusier; like Corb he possesses panache in both design and writing, and media charisma, too.
Born in Holland in , Koolhaas first worked as a journalist and screenwriter in Amsterdam, and his approach to architecture and urbanism has remained investigative and cinematic. After studying at the Architecture Association in London in the early s, he founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture OMA with three associates in , and based it in Rotterdam in For the first ten years of its existence, texts greatly outnumbered buildings; since then they have run neck and neck, and huge books — such as S, M, L, XL , a mega-volume which transformed design publishing — are needed to encompass both.
Based on research directed by Koolhaas at Harvard since , these new publications concerning mutations of the contemporary city are also vast, and more such collective projects are on the way. It was in Manhattan, while a fellow at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in the mids, that Koolhaas had his epiphany of the Metropolis.
Koolhaas has never let go of this Surrealist dimension of the oneiric and the outlandish in his designs. But his heart belongs to the Manhattan grid, the 12 north-south avenues and east-west streets drawn on open land in Despite its cult status today, Delirious New York was untimely. For was the early heyday of Postmodern architecture, urban schemes were in great disrepute, New York was bankrupt, and other American cities were also having trouble with white tax flight. Yet the opposite models of the city being put forward in this period left Koolhaas lots of room for manoeuvre.
Koolhaas could reject the reactionary historicism of the former and the commercial populism of the latter, and reject as well the pop-historicist compromise between the two that became the common recipe of Postmodern design. That part was easy enough; the gutsier move was not to repudiate Modernism, as so many did at the time, but to relocate its exemplary form in a neglected episode.
Long ago Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and other young Europeans had adopted overlooked structures like American grain elevators as emblems of a functionalist Modernism to come. In Delirious New York Koolhaas claimed another sort of American primitive as a prototype for a renewed Modernism — the pragmatic architects of skyscraper Manhattan such as Raymond Hood and Wallace Harrison, the chief designers of the Rockefeller Center among other projects.
In the US political power had ceded control to economic power, as Reagan moved Wall Street to the White House, and social life was more and more administered by multinational corporations. These corporations required symbolic representation, and Postmodern design suited this corporate logo-architecture well.
OMA participated in several state competitions and won a few. For a terminal at Zeebrugge, OMA proposed an innovative structure that crossed a sphere with a cone Koolhaas likened it to an inverted Tower of Babel , with ferry traffic below, a bus station in the middle, parking above and a panoramic hall on top. In effect it was Manhattanism without Manhattan: like the skyscraper-block returned in a single building, these new mega-structures would permit a great variety of programmes, and they would not be constrained by any grid.
By the early s the same could be said of his own designs, and it might not sound like praise. Indeed, in his new books Manhattanism and Bigness have come back to haunt him in other guises. This is done not in order to affirm the commercial given, as Venturi et al do in Learning from Las Vegas, nor to redeem the historical past, as Aldo Rossi advocated in his influential Architecture of the City ; yet, ideally, it has some of the communicative potential of the former and some of the mnemonic resonance of the latter.
Over this time, however, a shift in context has provoked a shift in thinking. Perhaps Koolhaas sensed that the new economy of media and communications might not abet a further dissolution of the city, its final death, as architectural futurists such as Paul Virilio had forecast, but rather its greater congestion, its metastatic life, as political economists such as Saskia Sassen would soon insist.
Today there are 22 megalopolises. Of the 33 megalopolises predicted in , 27 will be located in the least developed countries, including 19 in Asia. Each project is to culminate in another mega-book of lavish images, statistics and texts. Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping is a compendium of 45 essays by 15 participants with the usual killer images and stats for example, yearly sales at Wal-Mart exceed the GNP of three-quarters of countries in the world; the total area devoted to retail in the world, a third of it in the US, is equal to 33 Manhattans.
At once technological and economic, social and cultural, the analysis tracks post-industrial consumption as it transforms the city almost as much as industrial production did. Many cities are hybrids of these two orders, with the fixed structures of the latter often retro-fitted to the fluid demands of the former.
The key inventions here are air-conditioning, which opened up vast interiors to buying and selling, and the escalator, which allowed shoppers to traverse these new expanses with distracted ease. An earlier nexus of the elevator and the car had abetted the arrangement of offices and stores concentrated in downtown buildings, with homes and schools dispersed in suburban peripheries; the nexus of the escalator and air-conditioning helped to fill in the suburbs with shopping, as it were, and to render them semi-autonomous.
In recent decades, however, the suburban mall has returned to the city, home of its antecedents, the arcade and the department store. These prodigal citizens brought back with them their mutated suburban values of predictability and control.
It is the last remaining form of public activity. Through a battery of increasingly predatory forms, shopping has been able to colonise — even replace — almost every aspect of urban life. Historical town centres, suburbs, streets, and now train stations, museums, hospitals, schools, the Internet, and even the military, are increasingly shaped by the mechanisms and spaces of shopping.
Churches are mimicking shopping malls to attract followers. Airports have become wildly profitable by converting travellers into consumers. Museums are turning to shopping to survive. The traditional European city once tried to resist shopping, but is now a vehicle for American-style consumerism. Ailing cities are revitalised by being planned more like malls. In this analysis, as mega-stores increasingly govern movement through cities, architecture and urbanism are more and more exposed as the mere co-ordination of flow.
Schooled in apocalyptic criticism, the young authors of Shopping overemphasise the novelty of many of these developments, but it is true that shopping has reached a new level of saturation. And Shopping underscores several ruses of urban history that can no longer be ignored. A dialectical twist of this sort has also jumped up and bitten Koolhaas, and Shopping can be read as a tacit repudiation of Bigness. By the same token Great Leap Forward is not only a play on Mao and his old economic initiative; it is also a rethinking of Manhattanism and its culture of congestion: Asia has been in the grip of a relentless process of building, on a scale that has probably never existed before.
A maelstrom of modernisation is destroying, everywhere, existing Asian conditions and creating completely new urban substance. The absence, on the one hand, of plausible, universal doctrines, and the presence, on the other, of an unprecedented intensity of new production, create a unique wrenching condition: the urban condition seems to be least understood at the moment of its very apotheosis.
An area only a little larger than the Dutch Randstad, the Pearl River Delta is projected to reach a population of 34 million by According to Great Leap Forward, these cities are defined almost diacritically in a field of attraction and repulsion.
In a climate of permanent strategic panic, what counts in this city is not the methodical creation of the ideal, but the opportunistic exploitation of flukes, accidents and imperfections.
There is nothing between Chaos and Celebration. Koolhaas characteristically seeks a typological icon that expresses this strange combination of fixity and flux, and it comes in the unexpected form of a mile highway, privately owned by a Hong Kong developer named Gordon Wu, that connects some of the urban centres.
Suspicious of the Chinese Government, Wu had the entire turnpike built as a viaduct; it touches down only at intersections where he has ordained future urbanisation to occur. Many high-rises in Shenzhen have sprung out of this same gap: this is real estate designed less for occupation the tenancy is extremely low than for investment there is a stock market dedicated to these buildings.
However unique, the PRD is for Koolhaas typical of modernisation today, just as New York was in the s and s and the New Europe in the s and s. Manhattan is emblematic of an object world of monumental architectures born of a Fordist economy that was relatively fixed great factories, warehouses, skyscrapers, bridges and roadways. As the economy becomes post-Fordist, capital flows ever more rapidly in search of cheap labour, manufacturing innovation, deregulated financing and new markets, and the life expectancy of most buildings falls dramatically.
Paradoxically this condition seems to be heightened in the PRD, and it is not pretty. As Great Leap Forward tells it, many structures are reworked continuously, and some are taken down almost before they are put up. One hopes that future Projects on the City will consider what alternatives might exist.
It sketches out the different aspects of contemporary modernisation: the advanced-capitalist malling of affluent cities in Shopping, the command-market hybrid of the PRD in Great Leap Forward, the informal economies that shape Lagos in the book to come.
Where are we to locate Koolhaas in this Empire? Such mediation was also the mission of several avant-gardes after the war, Situationism prominent among them: to ride the dialectic of modernisation in a way that might keep these projects alive for the future. Koolhaas surfs this dialectic better than anyone else around, but his very skill has made for some ambiguous moves. It has led him to oppose spectacle-architecture of the sort promoted by institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum, yet also to design a Guggenheim gallery in Las Vegas albeit a non-spectacular one.
If museums now tend towards the store, Koolhaas asks in the Prada book, why not stores that serve, at least in part, as a museum? Yeah, right. Finally, to what ends are these insights and schemes put? It would perhaps be pleasant to be alternately victim and executioner. Send Letters To:.
London Review of Books
Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large. Monacelli Press, New York, Beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of Bigness. The best reason to broach Bigness is the one given by climbers of Mount Everest: "because it is there. It seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological program, independent of the will of its architects. Of all possible categories, Bigness does not seem to deserve a manifesto; discredited as an intellectual problem, it is apparently on its way to extinction - like the dinosaur-through clumsiness, slowness, inflexibility, difficulty.
Bigness (or problem of the large), by Rem Koolhaas
His father was a novelist , critic , and screenwriter. His maternal grandfather, Dirk Roosenburg — , 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 — The family lived consecutively in Rotterdam until , Amsterdam — , Jakarta — , and Amsterdam from