Koolhaas debuts new lecture during busy campus visit
Famed architect Rem Koolhaas’s packed day in Ithaca on April 13 included a hardhat tour, intimate conversations with students, and a lecture to a capacity audience at Kennedy Hall.
During the lecture, “Stress Test,” in Call Auditorium, Koolhaas illustrated contrasting conventions of architecture over time — from buildings that reflect a society’s values to those that represent only their designers.
“The status of the architect has also become very problematic,” Koolhaas said, showing slides of Peter Eisenman (B.Arch. ‘55) being mobbed by the press at his Holocaust memorial in Berlin, a beaming Daniel Libeskind with his Freedom Tower model, and a serious, anonymous East German architect holding a blueprint on a 1960s public housing construction site.
“[In this last slide] we have something profoundly unglamorous,” Koolhaas said. “And I have to admit that being in this situation is kind of deeply appealing, and I find a profound nostalgia for it.”
Showing a wider image of the public housing he said: “One of the inevitable effects of the current role of the architect is that for us, this kind of architecture has become seemingly forever inaccessible. It’s maybe an embarrassing confession that in the last 30 years no one has asked us to do any housing. And that’s not an accident. Celebrity in itself kind of removes the architect from the more serious part of his profession.”
The lecture also focused on the American work of his firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), over the past 10 years including Paul Milstein Hall, currently under construction on campus.
“Koolhaas has blanketed the intellectual and physical landscape of architecture, urbanism, and design culture generally with an unprecedented intensity and durability,” said Kent Kleinman, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art, and Planning, in his introduction. “The influence of his approach to hitching social change to material culture has had impact across design disciplines from fashion to filmmaking, from Lagos to Los Angeles.”
After the lecture, a reception in Hartell Gallery gave students, faculty, and visitors from as far away as Albany and Toronto the opportunity to ask Koolhaas questions in an informal setting.
Earlier in the day, Koolhaas toured the Milstein Hall construction site with Kleinman and OMA architects Shohei Shigematsu and Ziad Shehab. The tour was a working session, which Kleinman described as “important and productive.”
Koolhaas also met in Carl A. Kroch Library with four architecture students editing the next issue of the Cornell Journal of Architecture. The interview focused on O. M. Ungers’s influence on Koolhaas — with whom he studied with in 1972, at Cornell — and other architects and urbanists and will be published in the forthcoming issue of the journal. Many of Ungers’s archived papers were out and available for Koolhaas and the students to refer to during the interview.
Dan Aloi, staff writer for the Cornell Chronicle, contributed to this story.