Rem Koolhaas lectures on changing design values

October 27, 2011

Cornell Chronicle — Renowned architect Rem Koolhaas returned to campus October 20 to lecture and to tour the recently completed Milstein Hall, designed by his firm, OMA, for AAP. "I named the lecture 'Progress,' knowing extremely well that we don't believe in progress anymore," Koolhaas said to a full house in Bailey Hall. Instead, the title suggests "how an office like ours is in a perpetual state of adjusting a response very carefully to emerging situations, and is extremely contextual with the events in the world."

He continued: "Don't expect a very theatrical lecture. I want to give you a glimpse into the mind of the office at this particular moment." Echoing themes from his April 2010 lecture at Cornell on changing values in architecture, Koolhaas contrasted an image of the Parthenon classical, public architecture reflecting the values of a civilization with an example of the eccentric modernism considered architecture today Frank Gehry's curved steel structure for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Since the 1980s, Koolhaas said, showing a world map with the symbols for the yen, euro, and dollar, "we have been submitted to what we call the 'YES' regime the regime of the market. Sometime in the 80s we reached a state of consensus, seemingly unraveling at the current moment. This phenomenon of the 'YES' regime has had a very great impact on architecture, and everything we do is really related to that impact." He noted that attention has also shifted from the design to the architect, many of whom are treated like celebrities.

Referring to Gehry's Spanish museum, he observed: "You can see that the level of individual expression has become infinitely stronger, and you can also see that this is not necessarily a building that expresses shared values, it seems more a building that expresses a unique cluster of values. For me this is an important point of the architecture we are producing at this moment."

To show what this trend has wrought, Koolhaas showed a photo illustration of a skyline crammed with famous modern skyscrapers from around the world, from curved spires in Dubai to the OMA-designed China Central Television headquarters building in Beijing.

"The shift from the public to the private has fundamentally changed the architecture we produce, and it has changed what we expect from architecture," he said.

Earlier in the day, Koolhaas, director of OMA's New York City office Shohei Shigematsu, and associate-in-charge Ziad Shehab joined AAP Dean Kent Kleinman on a tour of Milstein Hall, commenting on the building's features to a group of media, including student critics.   In his introduction to Koolhaas's lecture, President David Skorton commended OMA for its work on Milstein Hall.

"Through the design process, they reacted to every challenge we threw at them with renewed creative invention," he said.   Skorton noted that Architectural Digest chose an image of Milstein hall to illustrate Cornell's inclusion on a list of the 10 U.S. college campuses with the best architecture.

"This clearly striking building ... powerfully reimagines a site on our campus with several historic buildings in close proximity," Skorton said. "Inspiring in its innovative development of the space, Milstein Hall enhances teaching and research in the college and gives a new visibility to art and design across our entire campus. [It] also offers new public spaces and what I consider an exhilarating point of entry at the north end of our central campus."

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