Top Architects | Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist, and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.

Koolhaas’ habit of shaking up established conventions has made him one of the most influential architects of his generation. A disproportionate number of the profession’s rising stars, including Winy Maas of the Dutch company MVRDV and Bjarke Ingels of the Copenhagen-based BIG, did stint in his office. Architects dig through his books looking for ideas and students from all over the world emulate him. The attraction lies, in part, in his ability to keep us off balance.

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Rem Koolhaas has been causing trouble in the world of architecture since his student days in London, in the early 1970s. Architects want to build, and as they age, most are willing to tone down their work if it will land them a juicy commission. But Koolhaas, 67, has remained a first-rate provocateur who, even in our conservative times, just can’t seem to behave.

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Remment “Rem” Koolhaas was born in Rotterdam in 1944, during the Allied bombardment, and he grew up in a family of cultured bohemians. His grandfather was an architect who built headquarter buildings for the Dutch airline KLM and the state social security administration. His father wrote magical realist novels and edited a leftist weekly paper. After the war, the family moved to Amsterdam, where Koolhaas spent afternoons playing in the rubble of the state archive building, which had been blown up by the resistance, during the German occupation.

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He was a journalist for the Haagse Post before start studies, in 1968, in architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Followed by further studies with O. Mathias Ungers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1972 and by studies at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City.


In 1975 together with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp they founded their own architecture practice – OMA (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture). They were later joined by one of Koolhaas’s students, Zaha Hadid – who would soon go on to achieve success, trailing her own path. Koolhaas is also a founder if OMA’s research-oriented counterpart AMO, operating in areas beyond the realm of architecture such as media, politics, renewable energy and fashion. Both companies are based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. In 2005, he co-founded the Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.

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In 1978 he published the book Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. In 1995, his book S,M,L,XL summarized the work of OMA in “a novel about architecture”. He heads the work of both OMA and AMO, the research branch of OMA, Koolhaas is a professor at Harvard University, where he conducts the Project on the City. In 2014, he was the director of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Fundamentals. In 2000, Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008, Time put him in their top 100 of The World’s Most Influential People

In October 2008, Rem Koolhaas was invited for a European “group of the wise” under the chairmanship of former Spanish prime minister Felipe González to help ‘design’ the future European Union. Other members have also participated, including Nokia chairman Jorma Ollila, former European Commissioner Mario Monti and former president of Poland Lech Wałęsa.

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Recently he has changed the organisation of his office to a partnership. Partners next to him are Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu and managing partner Victor van der Chijs. Koolhaas now heads offices in Europe (OMA*AMO Rotterdam), North America (OMA*AMO Architecture PC New York) and Asia (OMA Beijing).

European Flag

Following the signing of Treaties of Nice in May 2001, which made Brussels in fact the capital of the European Union. Then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt invited Rem Koolhaas to discuss the necessities and requirements of a European capital.

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During these talks and as an impetus for further discussion, Koolhaas and his think tank AMO suggested the development of a visual language. This idea inspired a series of drawings and drafts, including the “Barcode”. The barcode seeks to unite the flags of the EU member countries into a single, a colourful symbol. In the current European flag, there is a fixed number of stars. In the barcode however, new Member States of the EU can be added without space constraints. Originally, the barcode displayed 15 EU countries. In 2004, the symbol was adapted to include the ten new Member States.

Since the time of the first barcode’s drafts it has very rarely been officially used by commercial or political institutions. During the Austrian EU Presidency 2006, it was officially used for the first time. The logo was used for the EU information campaign, but it was very negatively criticised. In addition, the initially uproar caused by the Estonian flag stripes displayed incorrectly, so the proposed flag failed to achieve its main objective as a symbol. Critics pointed the lack of capability to relate the signified (the mental concept, the European Union) with the significance (the physical image, the stripes) as the major problem, as well as the presented justification for the order in which the color stripes were displayed (as every country in the EU should be regarded as equal in importance and priority).

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Casa da Música in Oporto, Portugal

The past thirty years have seen frantic attempts by architects to escape the domination of the “shoe-box” concert hall. Rather than struggle with the inescapable acoustic superiority of this traditional shape, the Casa da Música attempts to reinvigorate the traditional concert hall in another way: by redefining the relationship between the hallowed interior and the general public outside. Casa da Música, the new home of the National Orchestra of Oporto, stands on a new public square in the historic Rotunda da Boavista. It has a distinctive faceted form, made of white concrete, which remains solid and believable in an age of too many icons. Inside, the elevated 1,300-seat (shoe box-shaped) Grand Auditorium has corrugated glass facades at either end that open the hall to the city and offer Oporto itself as a dramatic backdrop for performances. Casa da Música reveals its contents without being didactic, at the same time, it casts the city in a new light.

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Seattle Central Library in Seattle, USA

At a moment when libraries are perceived to be under threat from a shrinking public real on one side and digitization on the other side. The Seattle Central Library creates a civic space for the circulation of knowledge in all media, and an innovative organizing system for an ever-growing physical collection – the Books Spiral. The library’s various programs are intuitively arranged across five platforms and four flowing “in between” planes, which together dictate the building’s distinctive faceted shape, offering the city an inspiring building that is robust in both its elegance and its logic.

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Interior Design

The Indefinite Hangar: Prada Spring/Summer 2016 Men’s Show in Milan, Italy

For the SS 2016, Prada men’s show AMO investigates the perception of continuous space, through an invasion of the ceiling. Plastic sheets hang down acting as a virtual mold that defines the catwalk and seating areas, while the concrete ground area acts as the negative of the above scene.

The fiberglass and polycarbonate stalactites manipulate the proportions and perspectives of the brutal and industrial space. These alternating levels of views and transparencies introduce the guests to a blurred horizon. Arranged in elliptical benches that are determined by the ceiling installation, they never perceive the room as a whole. The wall, floor, and seats, covered in concrete, emerge as a remnant, disturbing the boundaries between seating and catwalk.

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Nhow Hotel in Rotterdam, Netherlands

OMA designed the Nhow Hotel that opened its doors on January 10, 2014. Nhow Rotterdam is a third of the chain to open its doors, after Berlin and Milan and has a focus on art and architecture. The hotel aims to function as a platform for artists, designers, and new talents. Artworks which are displayed in the hotel are continually renewed to allow different atmospheres at each visit.

The hotel resides in the ‘De Rotterdam’ mixed-use building, it was  designed by OMA and completed in November 2013. Next to the interiors of the hotel rooms, OMA also designed the bar/kitchen, congress center, hotel lobby and espresso bar.

Key features of the interior design are the materialization in concrete and steel with elements of gold; stage devices such as theater spots and video projectors; LED neon lighting and signage; the restaurant bar, back-lit and made with acrylic; and the crafted brass reception desk in the entrance lobby.

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The Studio

OMA is a leading international partnership practicing architecture, urbanism, and cultural analysis. OMA’s buildings and masterplans around the world insist on intelligent forms while inventing new possibilities for content and everyday use. OMA is led by ten partners – Rem Koolhaas, Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu, Iyad Alsaka, David Gianotten, Chris van Duijn, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Jason Long and Michael Kokora – and maintains offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, and Dubai.

OMA’s recently completed projects including Fondazione Prada in Milan (2015); G-Star Headquarters in Amsterdam (2014); Shenzhen Stock Exchange (2013); De Rotterdam, a large mixed-use tower in the Netherlands (2013); CCTV Headquarters in Beijing (2012); New Court, the headquarters for Rothschild Bank in London (2011); Milstein Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (2011); and Maggie’s Centre, a cancer care centre in Glasgow (2011). Earlier buildings include Casa da Música in Porto (2005), Seattle Central Library (2004), and Netherlands Embassy in Berlin (2003).

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The counterpart to OMA’s architectural practice is AMO, a research studio based in Rotterdam. While OMA remains dedicated to the realization of buildings and masterplans, AMO operates in areas beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture, including media, politics, sociology, renewable energy, technology, fashion, curating, publishing, and graphic design.

AMO often works in parallel with OMA’s clients to fertilize architecture with intelligence from this array of disciplines. This is the case of Prada: AMO’s research into identity, in-store technology, and new possibilities of content-production in fashion helped generate OMA’s architectural designs for new Prada epicenter stores in New York and Los Angeles. In 2004, AMO was commissioned by the European Union to study its visual communication and designed a coloured “barcode” flag – combining the flags of all member states – that was used during the Austrian presidency of the EU.

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AMO has worked with Universal Studios, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Heineken, Ikea, Condé Nast and Harvard University, produced exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (on the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg) and Venice Architecture Biennale (on the development of the Gulf in 2006, on Preservation in 2010, and Architecture by Civil Servants in 2012), and guest-edited issues of the magazines Wired and Domus. Recent projects include a plan for a Europe-wide renewable energy grid, a 720-page book on the Metabolism architecture movement (Project Japan, Taschen, 2010) and the educational program of Strelka, a new postgraduate school in Moscow.

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OMA Rotterdam: the head office is working on a master plan for the White City area of London; a harbour redevelopment and contemporary art Museum in Riga, the Cordoba Congress Centre in Spain; the redevelopment of the Mercati Generali in Rome, an architectural centre, offices and housing in Copenhagen, the new head office of Rothschild Bank in London and multi-use towers in Rotterdam and The Hague. It is also working on various masterplans in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as, shopping centres in Rotterdam and Ostrava. In addition, the Rotterdam office has a number of activities in the Middle East including office and residential towers and master plans in Dubai, three master plans in Ras -Al-Khaimah and several public buildings in Qatar. With his Rotterdam office, Koolhaas is also designing a science center for Hamburg’s Hafencity.

OMA New York: the office in Manhattan is now designing an extension of Cornell University (NY), 111 First Street, a high-rise residential building, and hotel in Jersey City (NJ) and a high-end residential tower with CAA screening room at One Madison Park in NYC.

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OMA Beijing: In Asia, Koolhaas was working with his team on the office’s largest project to date, the 575,000 m2 China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) and Television Cultural Center (TVCC), both were completed in Beijing in 2008. (However, the TVCC was damaged by an enormous fire in 2009.) They have other projects ending up, including the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange, a lush residential tower and a residential masterplan in Singapore.

The influence of OMA has impacted many architecture students and architects who have worked at the office during their careers. Architects such as Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang), Amale Andraos and Dan Wood (WORKac) are just some of the architect names that have worked in the office.

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