Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect, born November 1944. In one of his interviews, he stated that he grew up in Holland that was severely in ruins, slowly being rebuilt. “But as a child, it was very exciting, you could go anywhere, you could find bombs, you could find bullets…There was no security, but there was a lot of freedom,” he said when describing his childhood that later on went to influence his impact in architecture.
He is helmed as one of the most influential urbanists of the 21st century, and brought to light socio-political issues that architectural theory could assist in the betterment of the people, and of society. He described good architecture as a combination of two things: A, which is what the client wants (the brief) and B, what the architect at that point of time, thinks is interesting to offer to the client. “That’s where the ingenuity of an architect is.”
In countless buildings that Koolhaas designed, namely “Beijing Headquarters, CCTV” and “de Rotterdam Complex”, these buildings showcased the facilities that they had, and how the people were to interact within it and engage in their communities that can be clearly seen through its floor to ceiling glass windows. He focused on the functionality and core design that the building was to serve, and built on that by providing more communal spaces that encouraged an ‘urbanist’ thinking. He also described the Beijing Headquarters as “a building that divides people but many people also like it,” in which the grandness and scale of it was particularly burdensome to those in society that had no financial access to it.
“You have more and more facilities in one hand, but you have to pay to support them. I think many institutions suffer from their own success.” – Rem Koolhaas.
However, Koolhaas has also designed buildings which he believed supported communities. For instance, the National Library in Qatar of which its interior was built to portray open layers of the library, where you can see from afar the open spaces where groups of people gathered for reading sessions, or individual cubicles where a visitor could sit to do their own research undisturbed.
In his most recent project, Koolhaas took part in the “Countryside, the Future” exhibition at
the Guggenheim Museum, 2020. Though it typically looked like he was working backwards, considering that he was known for his urbanist theories and modern buildings built in the city, Koolhaas wanted to highlight in the aforementioned exhibition how the countryside had become a waste of space and potential for society and was a means of exploration.
He theorized that the “future” starts in the countryside, where experimentation and new ideas still continue to take place. This ‘absurd neglect of potential’ was highlighted throughout the exhibition, littered with questions of what architecture has the potential to be, for the betterment of society and future generations. However, the exhibition was closed due to the Coronavirus in 2020. Though, it ended on a good note. The exhibition installed in front of the building a greenhouse farm growing fresh tomatoes. These tomatoes were actually distributed to those in need throughout New York during the pandemic, which goes to show what kind of impact Koolhaas wanted to leave to those who visited the exhibition.
Altogether, Koolhaas’ works depicted how it was possible to create institutions that were not only functional but impacted the way the community would interact within it, and how best it would serve different people of different classes. Most of his works are depicted as extravagant and luxurious buildings that highlight the high-class urban life, but I would argue that Koolhaas introduced various angles of which humanity can better utilize design and landscape. To date, he is one of the most influential architects to revolutionize 21st century architectural design.