Rem Koolhaas on Sustainability

Koolhaas calls architecture to task (and includes himself) for not engaging directly enough with the issues of sustainability and ecology in building.

In this transcript from a speech delivered at Harvard, Koolhaas walks through the history of ecology in architecture, expressing a deep interest in the work of Buckminster Fuller. He concludes with the observation that the field of architecture has been far too shallow in their nods toward sustainability.

"Embarrassingly, we have been equating responsibility with literal greening. The boutique of Ann Demeulemeester in Seoul, for example, covered entirely in green. Even significant buildings by serious architects, such as the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, for me almost fall into the same category. What is very difficult about architecture today is that architects themselves are the main commentators, using a language that is either outrageously innocent or deeply calculated – probably both – but in a shocking way."

Full Story: Sustainability: advancement vs. apocalypse

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Koolhaas Says The Icon Is Counterproductive

The web page is hard to read because it is gray print on a black background (artsy but dysfunctional, like so much avant gardist architecture). Koolhaas makes us wade through his sophomoric interpretation of the history of ideas. But is almost worth the trouble of reading all this when you get up to his conclusion:

"Now, what about architecture? I think what the crisis will mean for us is an end to the ¥€$ regime. For those who didn't recognize it, this is a collection of masterpieces by architects in the last ten years. It's a skyline of icons showing, mercilessly, that an icon may be individually plausible, but that collectively they form an ultimately counterproductive and self-canceling kind of landscape. So that is out. Unfortunately, the sum total of current architectural knowledge hasn't grown beyond this opposition."

But if Koolhaas would only look beyond his little cliquish world, he would see that architectural knowledge has grown far beyond mere opposition. Christopher Alexander, Leon Krier, Andres Duany, and many New Urbanists have shown how to create cohesive urban designs with meaningful skylines, rather than collections of self-promoting icons that do not add up to a coherent whole.

Nicolai Ouroussoff and the other terminally trendy avant-gardists refuse to recognize this, but it is happening. It is not true, as Koolhaas says, that:

"What is very difficult about architecture today is that architects themselves are the main commentators, using a language that is either outrageously innocent or deeply calculated – probably both – but in a shocking way. If you read the criticism in the New York Times by Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architect's commentary seems to work very well, because Ouroussoff is extremely happy with this building."

If you look beyond the avant-gardist establishment, you will find many architects writing in language that ordinary people can understand and creating buildings that ordinary people can feel comfortable using.

Charles Siegel

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