Rem Koolhaas talks design for BMW Bold Voices
Who is Rem Koolhaas? With a career spanning over four decades, the septuagenarian Dutch architect still projects an iconoclastic image. In 1975, Koolhaas co-founded the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in London. OMA is renowned for its persistently inquisitive approach, decoding the culture and technology of architecture through its work for some of the world’s leading brands and institutions. The end results are undeniably futuristic, making Koolhaas a significant addition to BMW’s portrait series of creative pioneers, ‘Bold Voices’. Here are six of his best.
Project 1: De Rotterdam
OMA specialises in ensuring even the mightiest project is integrated into its surroundings. De Rotterdam is a collage of three colossal towers, each slightly shifted and nudged to create an angular, asymmetric silhouette. This new ‘vertical city’ is a landmark for the port, 150m in height and home to shops, offices, apartments and a hotel, creating a self-contained community that is also a new symbol of the city.
Project 2: Maison a Bordeaux
One of Koolhaas’s breakthrough projects, this house redefined the approach to domestic space. Following a very specific brief which called for level access throughout from the wheelchair-using client, OMA responded by incorporating an industrial elevator at the heart of the house, effectively creating a moving floor that re-shaped the plan of each floor it passed through.
Project 3: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 2015, occupying Koolhaas’s radical reconstruction of a long-abandoned slice of Soviet-era brutalism in the heart of Moscow’s Gorky Park. Co-founded by Dasha Zhukova and her former husband Roman Abramovich, the building has a sleek metallic skin, with the collection displayed alongside the original raw concrete structure and walls. Tall sliding doors reference Garage’s origins in a former bus depot.
Project 4: Seattle Central Library
Designed to house 600,000 more books than its predecessor, the Seattle Central Library celebrates the physical object in an age of increasing digitalisation, intending to create a destination for the reader to immerse themselves in literary culture and research. The 2004 structure is based on four vast stacked ‘trays’, with the interstices containing reading areas and linked by stairs and lifts. The books themselves are housing within a matrix of shallow ramps, with the entire ‘stack’ swathed in a uniform façade of diamond-shaped glazing.
Project 5: Fondazione Prada
Photography: Bas Princen. Image: courtesy of Fondazione Prada
Koolhaas has a longstanding relationship with Prada, starting with an influential high-tech New York store back in 2001. For the Fondazione Prada just south of Milan, the studio transformed an old gin distillery into a sprawling cultural complex. Galleries, a cinema, performance spaces, library and café occupy the 28,340 sq m site, with bold new architectural interventions juxtaposed with restored old buildings. Twenty-four carat gold leaf adorns one of the tallest original structures, forming a striking allusion to luxury.
Project 6: China CCTV
One of the most instantly recognisable symbols of the ‘new’ China, Beijing’s CCTV Building was billed as a reinvention of the conventional skyscraper form. Koolhaas and his team twisted the programme into a vast multi-faceted loop, the geometry of which appears to shift as you move around the city. Opened in 2012 after ten years of construction, the state TV HQ contains nearly half a million square feet of office space.
Who is Rem Koolhaas?
Remment Koolhaas was born in Rotterdam in 1944 to a creative family of writers, architects and planners. He started his career as a journalist then took up architecture, studying first at London’s AA then at Cornell University in New York. In 1975, he set up OMA with Elia Zenghelis, Zoe Zenghelis and his then partner Madelon Vriesendorp.
Through a combination of writing and practice (his books include the influential S,M,L,XL from 1995), Koolhaas has forged a unique path, accurately predicting and responding to cultural shifts in the way we live, work and consume. OMA is practically a factory for contemporary design; alumni include Zaha Hadid (a former Koolhaas student), Jeanne Gang, Bjarke Ingels, MVRDV’s Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs, Ole Scheeren and many more.