Why I Dislike Architects *

6 commentsArchitecture,Artists,Beirut

* (and love Rem.)

Rem Koolhaas speaks in Beirut.

Renowned Dutch archi­tect Rem Koolhaas spoke this evening in Beirut about issues affect­ing not only the con­tem­po­rary archi­tect, but just about any­one who’s ever lived in a build­ing. He lament­ed the state of the pro­fes­sion and of the mod­ern city, where even “star­chi­tects” are rel­e­gat­ed to design­ing glass sky­scrap­ers divorced from their his­tor­i­cal and social con­texts.

Rem showed a slide of one of his designs…

… and had the same effect on his audi­ence.

He sup­port­ed his cri­tique with graphs and tables that actu­al­ly mean some­thing (and were not just col­lec­tions of lines, fig­ures, and oth­er half-baked data), argu­ing that even emerg­ing cities like Beijing suf­fer from too much intro­ver­sion (the qual­i­ty of being pri­vate) and too lit­tle intro­spec­tion (the qual­i­ty of think­ing). Cities are caught in a dilem­ma of preser­va­tion (today a 20-year-old build­ing can be qual­i­fied as “her­itage”) and hyper-mod­ern­iza­tion (he shows a pho­tomon­tage of sky­scrap­ers in the desert land­scape, a car­i­ca­ture that sad­ly applies to many more cities than imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous).

In reac­tion, Rem Koolhass and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) in Beijing by almost lit­er­al­ly turn­ing the mod­ern sky­scraper on its side. This was a bold move that under­scored his con­tro­ver­sial and much-crit­i­cized refusal to be involved in the recon­struc­tion of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the city about which his Delirious New York remains a sem­i­nal man­i­festo more than 30 years after its pub­li­ca­tion.

Rem is an archi­tect who sounds like any­thing but an archi­tect. Not once dur­ing his two-hour talk did the phrase “bird’s eye view” escape his lips. His approach is one that is piece­meal, that cel­e­brates celebri­ty not for its own sake but for the influ­ence it can wield on today’s urban­ists and archi­tects to real­ize that the mod­ern city is los­ing its liv­abil­i­ty, as pub­lic space con­tin­ues to be drawn and quar­tered into small­er and small­er pri­vate parcels.

He denounced the absence of archi­tec­tur­al man­i­festos from Europe in the last ten years, at a time when the world needs a new archi­tec­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion the most. He plead­ed (as I do) for the return of an archi­tec­ture of sim­plic­i­ty, one that embraces its sur­round­ing, not turns its back on it in a pre­ten­tious show of big­ger-is-bet­ter-ism.

I am a tor­toise, the city my shell — it shel­ters me, and I must bear its weight.”

That’s not Rem Koolhaas, but an over­ly roman­tic Architecture stu­dent fif­teen years ago. However today with renewed hope, I heard those long-gone words echo in his.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Meedo May 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm

That was one of the few talks on architecture that did not make me feel like kaka afterwards.

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Mona Taha May 18, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I loved the statement of the romantic architect student fifteen years ago, who is you,and of course it is a great thing to have a great architect like Rem Koolhaas agrees withhow you thought and you still do.

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Meedo May 18, 2010 at 4:34 pm

That was one of the few talks on architecture that did not make me feel like kaka afterwards.

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Jalal El-Ali May 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Meedo, yes architects had been rebellions for the last decade, they needed to redeem there design freedom, from all the bureaucracy, mass production and capitalism. This might have resulted in complex results, but simplicity is complex unless it is understood. The decade of creative revolution is almost satisfied, we are now in the production decade. Give it another decade we will have another revolution.
Thanks for the post...

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Meedo May 22, 2010 at 6:29 am

Thanks for dropping by Jalal. :)

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Meedo May 22, 2010 at 3:29 am

Thanks for dropping by Jalal. :)

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