07 April 2014

Koolhaas contra Greenspan

"...As such they manage to make a walk around the building feel not only unwelcoming, but surprisingly boring. CCTV's shape-shifting forms and daunting seventy-five-meter, thirteen-story cantilever make for stunning views from within and from a distance; they are least engaging from the sidewalk.

"This is a surprise, coming from the author of Delirious New York and a scholar of cities. Years ago Rem Koolhaas taught us to appreciate the richness of the culture of congestion, the tight interlocking of the public life in the street with the private lives of the skyscraper interiors. But at CCTV he trades Manhattanism for the internalized programmatic promiscuity of Bigness and the old city-killing model of the Corbusian 'towers in the park.' In a self-fulfilling prophecy, he argues against addressing the street because the political life that it once supported no longer exists. He treats the existing street as 'residue' and conceives of CCTV not as in the city, but as a city — perhaps the greatest flaw of Bigness. Bigness not only re-establishes architecture as an agent of exclusion, it negates any possibility of fostering inclusive congruency.

"In the end, CCTV is a spectacular object simultaneously rational and irrational, exuberant and withdrawn, monumental and unstable. Sadly, the one contradiction it doesn’t resolve is the choice between icon-making and city-making. Ultimately it rebrands architecture and avant-gardism in service not to the culture of congestion but rather to the society of the spectacle."

Ellen Dunham-Jones at Design Observer, from her essay "The Irrational Exuberance of Rem Koolhaas," published at the site last year and more recently reprinted in the Routledge anthology Architecture and Capitalism: 1845 to the Present. It's a fairly long read, one that may do little more than the echo the assessment of Koolhaas's recent work & career than a fair number of people formulated years ago. The essay has a narrative arc to it: From former architectural student of the radically-inclined soixant-huitarde generation, to current premier “post-critical” starchitect; with the author rehashing some of Koolhaas’s early theoretical yarns, insinuating that much of it may have been little more than the result of youthful contrarianism.

As far as the crux of the critique is concerned – it doesn’t seem like a difficult case to make. There’s a bit of an ad-hoc character to it, in which Koolhaas serves as subject due to s work being so conspicuous; but one could easily imagine a similar critique being directed toward any number of other figures. For instance, how about Zaha Hadid’s World Cup stadium in Qatar as monument to ruthlessly inhumane labor practices and the brazen corruption of FIFA? Or, similarly, Anish Kapoor’s “Orbital” Tower in London as the same, but with the IOC standing in for FIFA? Or – while we’re at it – the dwarfing, subsuming Bigness of Kapoor’s recent “Leviathan” installation as a visual metaphor the ongoing art-market bubble, and to the colossal dynamics of global finance? I suppose one go on. And if this sort of thing seems too easy, it’s because present circumstances make it so easy.

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