Rem Koolhaas cut the interviewer short when asked if he had any regrets: “That’s a private matter and therefore not one I will answer.” And yet the entire hour-long conversation provided what seemed to be almost shockingly intimate glimpses into the architect’s state of mind, where feelings of being lonely, isolated, ineffectual, nostalgic, and even old seemed simmering. The event was LIVE, a series offering public interviews of topical characters, held in a sumptuous Victorian-age hall at the New York Public Library. And Rem Koolhaas with Hans Ulrich Obrist were there to talk with event curator Paul Holdengraber about their new book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. The capacity audience numbered over 400, strong in architect professionals, including Marion Weiss, Michael Manfredi, SO-IL’s Jing Liu, Beatriz Colomina, Paul Goldberger, Suzanne Stephens, MoMA’s Pedro Gadhano, and Family’s Dong-Ping Wong among so many others. And they were all ears when Holdengraber said he had asked Koolhaas and Obrist to define themselves in seven words: Koolhaas gave a clear-cut six: mystic, rational, sober, baroque, patient, immediate. Obrist, sort of eight: catalyst, conversation, curating curiosity, guidance-making, and protest against forgetting. In a brief introduction, Koolhaas returned to a subject he’d addressed at the Japan Society a few nights before: How Kisho Kurokawa managed to be a magazine-posing celebrity architect in his day (1950s and 60s) who was still taken seriously enough to influence the direction of postwar Japan. “He was prominent enough to interview the prime minister,” Koolhaas noted, and you could almost feel the waves of longing and envy welling up. Today, he said, the effect is the opposite: the more media exposure, the less architects are taken seriously. Even more, the architect said, Kurokawa provided a postwar model for being male in Japan. (And that without wearing a black turtleneck.) The Metabolists worked together, and with the country almost entirely in ruins, their thinking as a group became “an extension of the imagination of the state.” Perhaps. What the Metabolists actually recommended in terms of architecture—floating fortresses, sky villas, pod-dwellings—seemed less of interest than the camaraderie of ideas. In contrast, Koolhaas said, “We are all lonely operators with very little cooperation. They could stand together and work in a movement.” And though the work itself dealt with impossibilities of scale and entirely broken down systems in desperate need, the united effort was “a miracle to behold.” Glossing over the homogeneity of postwar Japanese society with competitive zeal fueled by peer humiliations, Koolhaas apparently finds that zeitgeist preferable to today’s market economy where “architecture has been warped and separated from anything important and no longer serves the public good, but only the good of private interests.” The sheer Japanoiserie of Japanese architecture impressed both Obrist and Koolhaas who attribute that quality to modern architects having never cut off tradition but allowing it to flow continuously from the past and into their work. The same, he said, could never be said of a French, Dutch, or Swiss architect (pace Zumthor). It means something to be a Japanese architect, Koolhaas contended, while elsewhere, “architects have disintegrated to insignificance.” Such self-flagellating remarks have been voiced before by the profession’s most Sphinxian sage. And yet when he spoke of meeting with surviving Metabolists—some of them politically reactionary, to his surprise— it was how they coped with their advancing years that seems to have caught his attention most: "Perhaps old age requires strategy more than any other point in life. The conversations demonstrated touchingly that it is more crucial to exploit your limitations than to survive your gifts. As memory weakens, vision is your only option," Koolhaas said at the end, paraphrasing his book and, still marveling, added “It was magnificent to see the tactical ticking in their brains on how to make a good impression.” And so it was.
Posts tagged with "Project Japan":
Last Friday night, AN's William Menking and Aaron Levy launched their new book Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse at the Van Alen Bookstore in Chelsea. The book's publisher, Thomas Weaver of the Architectural Association in London, and the Van Alen's Olympia Kazi we on hand to help frame the evening's discourse on discourse. The new book springs from an earlier effort called Architecture on Display: the History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, aka "the white book." In true manifesto fashion, the group sidestepped the official Biennale promo machine by publishing the white book outside of the established Biennale channels and then blanketed the 2010 festival with more than 600 copies. That book transcribed interviews with former Biennale directors and recovered an important history of the forum. From that quick and dirty approach emerged a longer term plot for the "black book" of Four Conversations, which focused architectural display and its relationship to the public. The new book transcribes four prosecco-fueled dinner conversations between fifty practitioners in four cities: Venice, New York, London, and Chicago. Aaron Levy said that as the white book was steeped with established practitioners, the new book brings fresh perspective from students, young architects, as well the architectural media. In order to move the conversation toward new ground, participants were urged to avoid mentioning previous exhibitions as examples. Upon opening the Van Alen panel to questions, one audience member bypassed the topic of developing the architectural display discourse and questioned the very notion of presenting architecture as an art--since, he said, it is beholden to real-estate interests and the demands of the client--unlike, say, painting. The question threatened to push the conversation into "what is art" territory, before Weaver pointed out that even the term "curate" has yet to be recognized by Microsoft Word, demanding spellcheck each time its typed. He added that while curating is a well established course of study in European academia, it remains relatively new here, making texts like Four Conversations all the more important. With a quiet evangelism, Weaver praised architectural book design (the AA series fits neatly in back pockets), but he added that the words shouldn't be eclipsed by the design, which remains difficult for the contemporary architect/author to resist. Menking disagreed and hoisted Rem Koohaas's Project Japan out of the display window to use as an example. He noted that the book is text and image heavy, giving readers the option to flip through in fifteen minutes or spend hours on the text, depending on their mood. The conversation spurred Kazi to recall her student days when Koolhaas and Mau's S, M, L, XL was on nearly every desk in the studio. Thought Kazi remained unsure if either form represented the future of architectural publishing in an anti-analogue age.