Monday, June 20, 2011

Koolhaas 3 In 1 Promotes Upper Middle Class Values Worldwide.

Rem Koolhaas' recent lecture "3 in 1" walks through a brief history of the firm OMA as created and promoted by himself. He walks through his history beginning with a brash upper middle class desire to stand out as a young man by focusing on perceived big picture issues rather than soup kitchen ones and ending with a desire to leave the starchitect era by creating signatureless work.

The beginning of the slide show reminds me of those photos of some dadaist dandy's in their 3 piece suits making fun of the world while attempting to start the next attention grabbing art movement. Sometimes great ideas come out, sometimes not. I like the way he puts dollar amounts next to his books to better explain how to survive while experimenting without actually having to sit in an architects office for years and learn how to put all the pieces together, codes, etc. He divides his career into segments from starving artist to starchitect and beyond. This is a nice tool for an audience of architects to understand the trajectory of a 'successful' career. An attempt to answer the ever present question from students and colleagues, "How did he do that?". It's a nice format and diffuses the idea of the starchitect making pronouncements from upon high. There's a great picture of Libeskind sporting a giant gloating smile in front of a model of the proposed buildings rising from the ashes of immense death and destruction as an example of the starchitect.

In Koolhaas' era, writing supplemented his lifestyle and talk did indeed lead to commissions along with diagrammatic but beautiful paintings by colleagues. The dandy's life moved merrily along and eventual starchitect status bestowed. In addition to a success story Koolhaas takes opportunities to insert justifications for his work. By using a format of A leads to B leads to C, he can assert that his perceived desire to turn the world into a giant shopping mall is simply not true and quite the contrary as a matter of fact. A statement like this can come after a statement of fact about history and be followed by a statement of fact about technology and all in a linear description of his chronological existence and so all statements are then perceived by the audience as historical facts merely illuminated. Clever but not necessarily illuminating.

But the point is not to illuminate, rather to set the stage for confirmation as a leader on the world's stage to be followed towards progress. It's a great video to watch because it's fun to follow the steps so to speak. And as any upper middle class schoolboy knows, a sense of wit, humor and detachment are most important.

Management he argues, as it relates to maximizing profits, is currently blockaded in architecture offices by a medieval compensatory system where fees are fixed to construction costs rather than quality of product. Therefore time spent increasing the quality of the design are dollars picked from the architects pocket.

The huge CCTV building in Beijing he presents as a contextual marvel because you can see it from a small old house in an old cozy neighborhood and from a big highway with other tall buildings....?? Not sure how that works but no matter because some workers on the building loved working on it and felt proud of themselves for all the work they did like most people do when they spend a lot of time and effort on something. Again, not sure what Koolhaas is saying but it's for sure a huge building and not woven into anything particularly.

So anyway, now he's trying to jump to the front of the next post-starchitect or more realistic or marxistically put, post-economic meltdown trend which naturally is to be wholly pragmatic and therefore cut the fat and build with more basic issues like utility, firmness, sustainability. Koolhaas ever the stylist decides this means to build with generic features rather than idiosyncratic ones. So he is out to create an architecture in his office of generic pieces. This is somewhat reminiscent of Venturi's math building if I remember and truthfully, Gehry takes chunks of generic fabric and plays surrealist with them as well but this is more chunks of SOM stuff- sort of Meisian knockoff fabric. Of course, many architects over the years have been creating subtle works so this announcement is more of a fashion statement.

There is a warning regarding preservation movement as a marketing leviathan to be tamed now and a bit about artists desires to create huge crypto-fascist works........ yeah, artists not architects- just checking to be sure I wrote that correctly. As artists have huge spaces to work with whether they want them or not.

I like this lecture and Koolhaas' effort to keep architecture fun, relevant (by creating a think tank AMO offshoot that is doing good work on energy use) and discussed. His upper middle class schoolboy values create sparkling interest. They fall flat of course when they stray outside such as flights into slum cities. Now we need lively discussions from those working in giant slums as to what sort of complexity theory interventions may lead to universal sanitation, earthquake proof DIY structures, etc. And what is an architecture of reduced style anyway? What is mission of architecture from a place of little style? Who will lecture on this? Bernard Rudolfsky was a treasure trove of information. Is architecture about more manual labor to create more fulfilled families due to employed fathers. Or is architecture for a few higher IQ engineers to work on and to create the materials in robotic factories? Why is not every new building celebrated as another piece in a puzzle of wonderful public spatial experience already in progress?? We need about 9 more architects from 9 totally different backgrounds to add to this lecture and get a read on the potential of next steps.

In the end I see an eventual shift from object to field of course and hopefully an end to the desire to ignore great examples of human scaled public space labeling it as unfashionable or irrelevant when to do so merely describes human bodies as unfashionable or irrelevant.

Nothing could be more absurd.

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