Pit Schultz on Sun, 13 Jul 1997 04:13:04 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Interview with Rem Koolhaas

Interview with Rem Koolhaas by Tom Fecht

June 26, 1997 in Workspace at Orangerie, Kassel

(first transcription, audio version available at

	Tom Fecht for Kunstforum International: I would like
to continue a little bit the discussion we had last night
with Edward Said. There was a very important statement, as
far as I understood it, in the context of the division of
labor in the field of aesthetic production. He made a very
important point about the role of intellectuals being
confronted with expertise. And he made a very strong
statement, which made a point very clear in the political
context of Palestine, which I think, we can take the risk
to generalize a bit. He said that "every time there is a
cry for identity we should be careful because scandals and
lies are around"

	Rem Koolhaas: Because what?

	Fecht: "Because scandals and lies are around". And he
had a pladoyer to offer instead several identities to allow
transformation for future partnership. This was one of his
essentials. So when I look to your manifesto which has been
published in 95 about the generic city, the city without
character, identity is one of these important obstacles to
think freely about the future. So I would like to get to
the geographic elements in your terminology of identity.
When you talk about the centers, this becomes a very
important point. Maybe you like to give some points to that

	Koolhaas: Yes, maybe we should not assume that those
texts are known. But anyway, as an architect I became aware
at a certain point, that there was a strange obligation of
our profession to call the dominant condition of the
contemporary urban environment, and when I say dominant I
don't mean the centers but relatively recent urban
substance, that most of us live in, to always call it
identity-less and to always refer to the identities of the
well-known centers, the identity of Paris, the identity of
Berlin, the identity of ... So I noticed a kind paradox: On
the one the vast majority of people was living in so called
identity-less conditions and there was still the discourse
was mostly about preserving identities, establishing
identities and exploiting identities. So basically I
reversed the questions and decided to make an inventory
which I called the "generic city", the general city, the
city without qualities, the city without identity, which is
simply an inventory of a new urban condition that is very
pervasive in Asia but which is equally pervasive in America
and in Europe, and try to explain or basically try to
explain to myself maybe in the first place what the virtues
of this identity-less space could be and obviously one of
the enormous virtues is that once there is no identity you
are also liberated from a whole series of obligations, a
whole series of assumptions and a whole series models.

	Fecht: When one looks at your installation in the
Ottonaeum which is one of the two important key
installations in the whole Documenta if one compares it to
the one in the Friedericianum of Van Eick, the room right
next you has the installation of Reinhardt Mucha, which
shows sort of shrines of pieces of architecture, an
archeology of architecture. In your manifesto you raise the
point that architecture is one of the most important media
to register history on the horizontal level, when it comes
down to archeology and you are scheming up with next
century to have rather an archeology of the horizontal
where you stop digging and instead you need an endless
supply of airport tickets to move around the world.

	Koolhaas: Of course the whole article on the generic
cities has a level of irony. What I am fascinated in is
that kind of compared to earlier civilizations that
actually left traces. It seems as if our civilization is
doomed partly because larger and larger parts of it are
taking place in cyberspace but also because our style of
building is less and less permanent and more frivolous and
flimsy. It seems that this literally age old tradition of
leaving a kind of imprint of civilization in the form of an
architectural layer, that we will be the first generation
not to do that any more. But what you are saying is on the
other hand between Mucha and ourselves: It is very
interesting for me that at the moment that architecture has
lost an enormous amount of its original credibility that
many artists are becoming seemingly obsessed with
architecture. And I don't know whether this is whether that
is simply because they don't know how completely eroded on
the inside the credibility of architecture feels or whether
they actually may have something to contribute.

	Fecht: I can see that architecture becomes a field of
vision for a lot of artists and in your manifesto you raise
the point that exactly at that moment in history when the
city started to die out, you can observe the discussion of
art in public space. And you make the equation that if you
add two dead things you can't get the thing alive again. So
this is not a dracula, the performance doesn't work. So I
would be curious if we come back to the beginning question
of the division of labor, not to say 'industrial' division
of labor in aesthetic production what kind of potential you
see in the artistic production to maybe come to this point
of changing identities, transforming for future partnership
between the art, artists and maybe even the question of
authorship. Maybe you can even give some details of the
organization of your office.

	Koolhaas: OK, I think one thing which is really
liberating about the Documenta as a whole is that all the
professional kind of identities have been leveled and taken
away and that there has been a much more even condition
where somehow the theme is the urban condition and how we
inhabit the urban condition, it's illuminated by people
called artists and people called architects, and also be
people called photographers or scientists. For me it really
represents an enormous relief and a sense of freshness that
we are no longer forced to pretend to have certain
competencies and abilities, but it seems what the main
theme of the exhibition is that there is a collective and
that each of us makes part of this collective and that
therefore the old play of vaguely different roles that
still the collective responsibilities are asserted above
the individuals and professionalised identities. I think
that is a very liberating theme of this exhibition. I am
very curious whether in reviews that eventually will come

	Fecht: When I spoke several days ago with Katherine
David, one of the key points for her conception was that
she sees the urban area as one most essential and important
aesthetic and social experiences of the 90s...

	Koolhaas:  I don't think so. Ironically it has nothing
to do with the 90s, their interest here... what is
happening now, and I think the 90s are just marking the
condition that whether we want it or not or admit it or
not, for the first time almost every one on the world lives
in an urbanized condition, or is about to live in an
urbanized condition.

	Fecht: So the whole terminology of architecture, the
city, doesn't work any more the way we used to handle these

	Koolhaas: No, I think that for instance in China and
about what I will talk about also tonight. [see links] There
are conditions where a village, or a person in this
village, owns a fishpond, sells the fishpond to a
developer, the developer builds a skyscraper in the
fishpond, the entire village moves into the skyscraper, so
some farmers live with chickens and goats on the 42 floor,
and around the skyscraper there are rice fields. I think
that things that we, in our minds keep separate and place
very far apart, with a kind of suddenly telescoped, as if
according to a computer program like Photoshop where you
can simply combine everything in a single image that you
want to combine. So it seems as if certain inhibitions that
have traditionally organized architectural and everyone's
space have disappeared and we are suddenly in a situation
which is much more absurd and potentially much more
dangerous but where anything can be combined to coexist
with almost anything else. And I think that in that
context, public art and public space as they have
traditionally been interpreted are both extremely dubious,
because  public space is an organized form of space which
implies a certain behavior and insists on a correct use.
And I think that is already too authoritarian to really
function in these conditions. And in the same way art which
is supposed to represent this kind of publicness, also in
my eyes at least is no longer believable. I think that in
the last ten years it just has become bigger and bigger and
more and more desperate.

	Fecht: When you wrote about your generic city you said
the generic city is what's left when important parts of
urban life takes place in cyberspace. Which explains why we
lose places and streets as public locations. To what extent
are these medias in their aesthetic potentials useful to
reorganize the tools and the skills of architects and in
terms of education and practice.

	Koolhaas: That is a very interesting question because
architecture, in my view, is a profession that consists of
concrete entities that are built and that have a real
existence. Or even though, of course, you can also create a
kind of virtual architecture in cyberspace or can have a
kind of architectural experiences in cyberspace. But I
think the more interesting aspect of architecture is still
the more concrete architecture. But nevertheless I think
there is an enormous influence of virtuality on
architecture and you could say and it is only a partly a
caricature that probably out of a sense of insecurity some
of the best architects these days are trying to make their
buildings immaterial, as if they don't exist. And trying to
endow them with that kind of glamour that computer aided
images have, the perfection and the sterility maybe also.
So there is in a way a kind of strange simulation of
virtuality in real architecture. But what is for me more
interesting is the kind of shamelessness and amorality that
basically the computer implies in terms of the ability to
combine everything with everything else in single frames,
that kind of lack of resistance, and the absence of
necessity for discipline, that all these are in effect
deeply effecting architecture, but the built form of

	Fecht: In the portraits given in the guide of the
Documenta, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of
theory in your architectural practice.

	Koolhaas: Basically I don't think that architectural
theory exists,  that's a side I am very modest about, of
course there is thinking in architecture, and what I have
noticed in my architectural practice is that it is
incredibly difficult to combine the production of buildings
and some kind of intellectual reflection because the
production of buildings is really a very brutal and
exhausting process. What I have always been concerned about
is that how in the typical architect's career there is an
initial beginning with ideas, then an enormous effort to
make the ideas real and then at the end of this effort a
kind of exhausted, empty condition where there are no ideas
any more. That is why in our work we try to alternate
between research and reflection and that is also why I am
teaching at Harvard University because this is the only way
in which, against the consumption of ideas, of the
practice, we are able to find domain of renewal.

	Fecht: Do you see any emotional or moral qualities in
architecture that might survive the processes of profound
changes in the next century. When I look at your book of
the "small, medium, large, XXL" it appears to me like the
manifesto which some of your critics put in the context of
the manifestoes by Duchamp or Manetti and the futurists, so
when I think about Marshall McLuhan's book "the medium is
the message" which was a book that had an element of this
free-folded typography, where the message was not that
clear, this was one of the points we had in the discussions
last night, that it is important to see that the
borderlines got out of focus. You describe architecture or
activities in the aesthetic field as the possibility to
give an urban fashion to the planet. What is this free
fold? Is it a movement of search which you could also find
at the Documenta?

	Koolhaas: No. To the extent that the book was called
"free fold", we were only talking about the format of the
book, because the problem of the book is to create a
container or an envelope for work and ideas that in
themselves don't make any claim to consistency. Because I
think that Said didn't speak about consistency, for me the
need for consistency and the way only consistency earns
respect, is one of these other dangers of the intellectual,
because I think inconsistency is at least as important so
therefore in the book we had a lot of different projects, a
lot of different essays, a lot of different insights, and I
wanted exactly to avoid the impression that it is one
theory, one line, one argument. The issue was how can you
develop a container that still allows the diversity, the
conflicts and the contradictions to remain evident.

	Fecht: When you take this container: What do you think
are the most urgent tasks in the education of architects
during the next decade speaking of Europe. In your
installation in the Ottonaeum you make a strong point which
is basically statistics: How many living unions are
constructed in one night, two architects, three computers.
So it is a quality which changes by quantity in a dimension
which is hard to imagine for European traditional
architectural education.

	Koolhaas: I am always very bad in saying what people
should do or I am already bad on the level of the
individual, I am certainly bad on the level of a continent,
but I think that, just as an example, I negotiated a
situation with Harvard University where I said I would
teach there under the condition that I would not be
involved in design, or design education. I guess that
basically suggests that I don't believe in design education
at this moment. And that I think that the discrepancy
between issues that could inspire architecture and the
education has become so big so that it would be probably
much better to suspend design education for 10 years, and
to introduce 10 years of solid research. I am sure that
there is vast research to do in the urban condition in East
Europe, in Kazachstan, where ever. The pretension that you
can still tell people how to operate is becoming for me
personally more and more unthinkable.

	Fecht: To what extent you could imagine a cross-
cooperation between artists, no matter what field. Do you
see any chances in your economic and developing structures
to include artists in this process or is this rather a
position of analysis and observation.

	Koolhaas: It is hard to say,  and you yourself started
with it already, that the basic idea of specialization is
one of the things that inhibits  forms of thinking. For me
it is more interesting to think about brains, and to assume
that artists also have brains, and the artists have a very
particular reflection of intellectual processes. In that
sense we work with friends which happen to be artists or
sometimes we actually formally invite somebody because he
has specific reasons to do it. It is not the need for
architecture to encounter artists, but it is more to
combine different kinds of brain power.

	Fecht: One specific question in the context of
identity. Last night we had this interesting position of
Mr. Said, where he basically said: Many identities are much
better then one. But we can't understand history without
memory. Since architecture is a very important element of
storing memory and history, what function could memory have
in the context of architecture from your point of view
looking at the next century.

	Koolhaas: Well I am very bad to tell people what to do
and I am also incredibly bad in looking forward, I don't
know why that is exactly but I think I have an obsession
with the present and I am extremely reluctant to make any
claims or dictates for what is going to happen. We have
already talked about the way architecture leaves less and
less traces. What I guess is that some other domains have
to take over the role of memory from architecture. Exactly
this traditional doesn't work any more, for instance you
can look at Berlin now to see very clearly what is
happening because to the extent that architecture embodies
memory the present reconstruction of Berlin is a kind of
blatant attempt to extinguish and to eliminate certain
kinds of memories, the memories of communism, the memories
of the fifties, the memories of a kind of sober, optimistic
moment of modernity. So already see that this kind of
responsibility to embody memory is no longer part of the
inner self-image of the profession. So, there is such a
kind of ruthless judgment in terms of what is good and what
is bad that the most intelligent part of the profession
which for the sake of argument we should assume, is
involved in redoing Berlin is actually basically a single
empty memory operation.

	Fecht: I don't know if you had the chance to look at
the most part of the exhibition. Let's take for example the
installation of Syberberg, called "Memory Cave", the cave
is explicitly not architecture, it is an element going
beneath. In this context Syberberg starts with Plato's
metaphor of the cave, and he gives some images of the
Potsdamer Platz in the context of the Reichskanzlei, and
some images out of the car, a few days later, all these
images interfere with memory which looses its location,
which obviously no longer has a consistent place. Is this
an aesthetic approach which you could feel to get into
closer communication with advice for a solution. Or if you
look at the national library which has been recently opened
in Paris, where you have this metaphorical element and you
have practical implements of the building in the same time.
In this context, could you reflect on memory maybe.

	Koolhaas: I think this building is a kind of desperate
attempt to impose a memory on an entity which, as you say,
in terms of its pragmatic needs has nothing to do with a
memory. Therefore the only consistency, if I can make a
confession, that our thinking in our work have had in the
past, is that we refuse ever to be bitter about anything
that happened in the past and we try to, without being
foolish, try to interpret the inevitable, which allows a
forward movement. To the extent that we no longer have the
responsibility to symbolize memory or to represent memory
or no longer have the responsibility to represent anything,
I think it is extremely exiting for us, then it means that
we can be completely new, completely dumb, completely
inarticulate, completely inert, completely meaningless. It
simply reintroduces a vast amount of possibilities.

	Fecht: thank you very much.

	Eike Becker: Just a very quick question. A lot people came here to
this exhibition and they expected something similar like
the gestamapet kunstwerk or so on. They identify where they
identity of one single artist or so on. The question of
Gestampt kunstwerk.Then the question of collage, what is
your position towards collage, what is your position to
these two area.

	Koolhaas: Are you talking about Documenta as a whole?

	Becker: Yes, Documenta as a whole, and of course, the
relationship of gestamptwerk and collage to your work and
the works of others.

	Koolhaas: I don't whether I can answer the question,
but for me in spite of the criticism we have heard and read
I think what is extremely exciting there is a very thematic
and ambitious and uncompromising situation in this
Documenta. Greater Urban and all its aspects has been
represented as the dominant and continuos setting. Whether
its gezamptkunstwerk or not, I think gesamptkunsterk is a
kind of romantic notion and I think that there is a kind
of, very insistence on a romantic view in whole ex and an
insistence on cooling the temperature kind of rather than
creating an overheated expectation an almost clinical
quality which I think is extremely stimulating because it
allows you for the first time to really look clinically at
a number of things and relate make your own connections,
between them instead of being guided by hand of the
gestampgtkunsterk.in terms of forcing you tom make those
decisions so the clinical quality  also has a certain
freedom for creating your own raptor. IN terms of collage,
I've always been uncomfortable with the notion of collage,
because I've always been much more interested in the notion
of montage, I think because the montage is basically the
planning of a series of events or the planning of a series
of visual or other episodes. Whether its stories or in a
movie, or episodes in a painting. I think that collage is
something that anybody can do but montage introduces an
abstract strategic value which I sense here in the hand of
this exhibition. It is much more a montage than a collage.

	OK, thank you.

more info:

Rem Koolhaas lecture within the 100 days / 100 guests program:
(only with real video player)

fan page with many links:
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