Rem Koolhaas: Biography, Architecture & Projects

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt
Rem Koolhaas is an internationally renowned architect who has built diverse post-modern structures worldwide. Koolhaas was influenced by post-modern Japanese architectural theory as well as his experience in reconstruction and invention in the Netherlands and Indonesia.

Worldwide Influence

'I try to find ways in which change can be mobilized to strengthen the original identity. It's a weird combination of having faith and having no faith.' - Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas Photo
Rem Koolhaas Photo

Rem Koolhaas is the lead architect and designer for the internationally renowned OMA architectural firm in the Netherlands (the Dutch name is Nederlands). Koolhaas has been a leading designer of architecture worldwide, and his buildings and designs span the globe both literally and figuratively. An avid student of city planning with a deep love for Japanese Post-Modern architecture, Koolhaas is also an advocate for Post-Modern Metabolism in architectural design and function. Let's take a closer look at his life, influences and works.

Rem Koolhaas -- Biography

Rem Koolhaas was born in the Netherlands in 1944, to a world still rebuilding from WWII. Growing up in this period of rebuilding gave Koolhaas the understanding that architecture had to accommodate modern needs. It left an indelible impression on him, and he understood the importance of planning architecture and accommodating architecture to the needs of a global world.

Koolhaas's parents then moved to Dutch Indonesia shortly after its independence. It was there that Koolhaas was exposed to city redesign as inspired by growth and change. Indonesia was transitioning from a colony with deep roots in Asian tradition to a country that needed cities that catered to its new identity as a global location.

After Koolhaas left school, he embarked on careers in journalism and theater that didn't fulfill him. So he enrolled in architecture school instead. In 1968, Koolhaas completed a degree in architecture and embarked on his goal to bring to life post-modern designs that were rooted in nationalism or local culture and needs. Koolhaas developed the Netherland's Dance Theater, which won him notice. He then moved on to develop original designs across the globe, with a preference on competing for public works designs over working with private clients in OMA.

Koolhaas: Architecture, Philosophy, and Accommodation

Rem Koolhaas Overseeing Seattle Library
Rem Koolhaas Overseeing Seattle Library

Koolhaas has developed numerous buildings and designs across the globe. To better understand his philosophical embrace of Metabolism in his unique post-modern worldview, we will examine three of his notable works: The Casa Da Musica, the Seattle Public Library, and most controversially, the Chinese Central Television Headquarters. All these pieces exemplify Koolhaas's interpretation of post-modern metabolism, or the idea that mega-structures should emerge organically from the community and culture to meet contemporary needs.

The Casa Da Musica

Casa Da Musica
Casa Da Musica

Koolhaas started construction on Portugal's Casa Da Musica in 1999, and it opened to the public in 2005. The building is in line with Koolhaas's belief that art should seek to meet modern needs in design, but emerge and struggle with its historic and communal roots. Casa Da Musica sought to capture Portugal's embrace of modernity while still accomplishing the goal of its utility, to be a working theater for music. Casa is constructed internally for utility with the traditional pit and room established for optimal sound performance, but its interior is then framed by a very post-modern and irrational exterior that seeks to fulfill the building's goal to reveal a city that is moving into a post-modern era in thought and community.

The Seattle Public Library

Seattle Public Library
Seattle Public Library

If you contrast the Casa Da Musica with the simultaneously constructed Seattle Public Library (2004), you might be struck by two structures that seem to share few, if any, design elements. The Casa Da Musica is a largely opaque construction and asymmetrically simple in shape, while the Seattle Public Library is far more balanced in its shape and utilizes windows and transparency. Though both speak to a post-modern world, the designs seem unlikely to emerge from the same architect.

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