Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Martin Filler on Koolhaas

Martin Filler, probably the best all-round architecture critic currently working in the United States, on Rem Koolhaas in The New York Review of Books: THE MASTER OF BIGNESS.

The lengthy article, reviewing the recent show on Koolhaas at the Barbican Center in London,  includes interesting tidbits about Koolhaas' background, mentions his new book on Japanese metabolism, and offers an overview of his career. But the limitations of its North American perspective are finally disappointing.

Typically, Filler is unable to appreciate Koolhaas' fascination for Wallace K. Harrison, Nelson Rockefeller's architect -- the most genuinely American cultural phenomena tend to be under-appreciated at home. He offers the usual politically-correct tisk-tisk-tisking about Koolhaas' work for the Chinese "dictatorship" (precisely the kind of lock-step intoning of American foreign-policy positions in the supposedly "liberal" American press that makes one wonder what they mean by "freedom of thought"). And of course Filler doesn't even register Koolhaas' enthusiasm for East Berlin prefab apartment slabs and other architecture of the Soviet era. (And this just when similar US projects like Pruit-Igoe are getting a second look by a new generation).

Koolhaas remains the most interesting architect on the contemporary scene, the best conceptual thinker we have, an essential point of reference -- only Gehry comes close. I was able to discuss this recently with the Madrid architects Federico Soriano and Pedro Urzaiz and their students, who invited me to crit a student research project in their seminar on Koolhaas for a Master's Program in Design at the ETSAM (School of Architecture, Polytechnic University of Madrid).  We were looking at his project for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and his ideas on preservation at the Venice Biennale of 2010 (covered on the web page Design Boom).

Although I must confess, true to my contradictions, that I am quite relieved to learn that Koolhaas' project for a convention center across the river from historic Córdoba has been canceled, as announced in  El Pais last March. "Oversize Me" architecture is fine for places where there is no there there, but Córdoba.....

Some fun bits from Filler's article:
"Following his father’s example, the young Koolhaas initially turned to journalism and screenwriting. In 1963, when he was eighteen, he began working for De Haagse Post, a right-liberal weekly.... He then studied at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam (which his father headed...), and later co-wrote an ultimately unproduced movie script, Hollywood Tower, for the soft-porn director Russ Meyer, auteur of such camp classics as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)."
 "With a plethora of bizarre new architecture engulfing them, baffled Beijingers have devised a new architectural lexicon recalling the wry coinages long perfected by witty Berliners, who, for example, have dubbed the glass dome of Norman Foster’s Reichstag renovation ... die Käseglocke (the cheese cover). Thus the two-legged CCTV colossus has become colloquially known as da kucha (big pants crotch)."
 (See also my blog entry on the Koolhaas show at the Barbican in London)

Photo by Philippe Ruault from the Barbican show, featured in the NYRB article

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