Magazine article Artforum International

House Play

Magazine article Artforum International

House Play

Article excerpt

Rem Koolhaas is identified with an architecture that addresses the city, or as he would say, bigness. He is probably better known to the art world for S, M, L, XL (1995), the fat brilliant book he did with Bruce Mau. Koolhaas is an architect much admired for his thinking, one about whom one speaks dramatically and justifiably of great buildings not built (the TGB in Paris, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, the MOMA in New York). But he and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) are anything but paper architects. If their finished buildings seem obscure to Americans, it is because there are none for us to see, save the small, constantly modified interior of the Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York. But new OMA projects are springing up in the States and elsewhere: IIT in Chicago, the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, the Song-Do New Town master plan in Korea, and Universal Studios' headquarters in Los Angeles. Whoever you are, go see them all. They are not just buildings; they announce something more.

OMA buildings pose a physical challenge to the existing conditions of rhetoric. They do not present themselves as words or images; if anything, they resist becoming images. When it comes time, as it must, to transfer them onto the pages of books and magazines, they do not collapse well into the two-dimensional space of the still picture. Perspectives and projections, whether photographic or drawn, do not express these buildings. But then, straight lines have become, and perhaps always were, false clarities. When Koolhaas was interviewed by John Rajchman in these pages [AF, Dec. 1994], he spoke of perspective as nothing more than a system to preempt surprise and imagined out loud a period after its demise. By new we need not imagine it. Consider, for instance, the extra-large delta of developing cities west of Hong Kong or simply the relentless scanning of an electronic screen. At the end of S, M, L, XL, Koolhaas named this entire unrolling landscape the Generic City. He said it was marked by the advantage of blankness.

Blankness? Do not think of it as the negative space of nothing - a hole - but rather as a nothing embodied by material - a shining wall, a face, a sheet of paper, foam. Such a blankness extends far beyond the city. Imagine a blankness after geometry - pointless, an unsettled something, a depth. It is contained and then released in OMA's new house in Bordeaux.

The new house has three levels, which appear as a set of stacked rectangles, the bottom one embedded in the side of a hill. A transparent level of glass sits on top of it and then, above both, a great container of concrete stained the color of clay. Koolhaas talks about the three levels as having different conditions, two dense conditions on either side of an empty one, the middle level existing, unframed and glassy, open and somehow magnetized. He speaks of this glass level as being not in any way defined by architecture and as having no mass. The upper level must be supported by a large, mirrored stainless-steel column housing a spiral stair and by a large black beam that extends outside like a bracket. A lone gray I-beam laid across the roof stabilizes the upper mass and cables any stress to the ground. But the three conditions take precedence over their relatively small supports and seem to exist without them. Think of these conditions as archaic: two parts earth, one part light. The light varies. A low winter sun will cross right through the glass level; the higher summer sun will be blocked by the overhang. Even so, the glass box always seems exposed, overexposed. …

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