An architect and urbanist known for his unusual designs, Rem Koolhaas, born in 1944 in Netherlands who is acclaimed for his striking, often gravity-defying structures, is today considered one of the top architects of the 21st century. He has been given several labels - a modernist, a deconstructivist, and a structuralist. There are others who say that Koolhaas leans toward humanism and that his work searches for a link between technology and humanity.
Having studied architecture in Architectural Association, London and Cornell University, New York, at the age of 31, Koolhaas co-founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with offices in Rotterdam and London. His notable projects include the Qatar National Library and the Qatar Foundation Headquarters, Fondation Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Fondazione Prada in Milan, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, headquarters for China Central Television (CCTV) in Beijing, Casa da Musica in Porto, Seattle Central Library, and the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin. Current projects include the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, a new building for Axel Springer in Berlin, and the Factory in Manchester.
Charting out a distinct design path for his works, Koolhaas did not establish a constant look from project to project. Instead, he customized his architecture to the needs of particular sites and clients by deploying the best of modern technology and materials. For example, Koolhaas's OMA completed Maison à Bordeaux—probably the most famous house built for a wheelchair-bound man; wherein the house utilised a dramatic glass room that acted as an elevator between the levels of the house.
Even before he was being feted as a top architect, Koolhaas, who had initially worked as a journalist and screenwriter, revealed his insights as an urban theorist with his 1978 book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. His research mooted the idea that the architectural development of Manhattan was an organic process created through a variety of cultural forces. Thereafter in 1995, Koolhaas published the book, S,M,L,XL which was designed as a novel about architecture, the content of the book blending his firm’s works with photos, plans, fiction, and cartoons.
It was the amalgamation of Koolhaas’ theoretical writings with his liking for asymmetry, challenging spatial explorations, coupled with unexpected uses of colour that was the genesis of most of his astonishing creations. Thus, though he was categorized as a deconstructivist, unlike others in his ilk, Koolhaas without leaning too heavily on theory, infused his projects with a deep sense of humanity and a relevance for the role that architecture plays in everyday life, particularly in an urban context.
Koolhaas who taught graduate seminars at Harvard University, won the Pritzker Prize in 2000. In its citation, the prize jury described the Dutch architect as "that rare combination of visionary and implementer—philosopher and pragmatist—theorist and prophet." The New York Times declared him to be "one of architecture’s most influential thinkers." According to the Pritzker Prize jury, Koolhaas's work is as much about ideas as it is buildings. He became famous for his writings and social commentary before any of his designs were actually constructed. And some of his most celebrated designs remain on the drawing board.
Hemalatha is a Chennai-based architect with experience in practicing & teaching architecture, and co-founder of SIDART Photography.