Dutch architect Koolhaas strips architecture to its barest elements at Venice Biennale

By Colleen Barry
June 11, 2014, Times Colonist

VENICE, Italy – In an era of “starchitects,” Rem Koolhaas, who merits mention as one himself, wants to strip the discipline to its barest elements, bypassing the cult of personality and any architectural grandiosity.

Koolhaas had no time to waste as he hurriedly but efficiently guided visitors through a one-hour tour of his exhibit “Elements of Architecture” shortly before it opened here last weekend as part of the Venice Biennale’s 14th International Architecture Exhibit. The exhibit covers nothing less than architecture’s evolution from homo erectus’ first man-made fire to heating fixtures of the future, focusing on the plainer elements: ceilings unnoticed overhead; corridors too quickly bypassed; those overlooked conveyances, elevators.

“If you look at each element in isolation” you can feel its powerful, psychological dimension, Koolhaas said, beyond any “technical, artistic and pragmatic details.”

Koolhaas, 69, is known for eschewing a defined esthetic in favour of using modern materials and technology to meet clients’ needs. Projects by the Dutch architect and the team he leads at Rotterdam-based OMA have included a plan for the city centre of Lille, France, as well as such award-winning buildings as the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin and the new Seattle public library.

In preparing for the Biennale, Koolhaas seemed thrilled to have found kindred spirits taken with the fundamentals of the architecture that surrounds us daily, such as a German professor’s thesis on the corridor and an Italian scholar’s study of false ceilings. He himself has written a treatise on elevators.

While he has sought to distinguish architecture in this Biennale from art and design — a line that he says has blurred in recent years — he is actually one of the cross-disciplinary masters who have helped blur them. Read more…

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