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September 2005 - The K Factor

The K Factor

Understanding the influence of Rem Koolhaas on architecture and creativity in the contemporary world

Led by: Manoj P Kesavan + Jack Ossa

Not only is an eccentric not always a particularity – a separate element – on the contrary, it happens sometimes that such a person carries within him the very heart of the universal, when the rest of the men of his epoch have for some reason been temporarily torn from it.

– Fyodor Dostoevsky • Brothers Karamazov

Who is the single most influential architect right now? If someone had asked me that ten years ago I would have found it hard to single out one person. However right now I don’t have to think too hard – it is that lanky Dutchman with the funny name:
Koolhaas. In a rough and restless field that is always in search for the next Messiah, how did he manage to end up on top of the pile?!

Almost all his awkward-looking projects generate a lot of discussion even before they are built, and often controversy if they are. Mega brands look up to him for redefining their own identity. And he is almost a rock star in architecture schools, having a cult following that no one has enjoyed… well, maybe since Pink Floyd in the seventies!

Moreover, his fat flashy tomes on everything from politics to pornography sell more that any architecture book in history. Well, that is the interesting point: very little of his work or theories is about architecture. He is an advocate of “non-architecture” (“Where there is nothing, everything is possible. Where there is architecture, nothing [else] is possible”) Is it an irony of our times that the most influential architect is someone who makes a big deal out of not caring for architecture?

During an interview, Picasso was once asked how he compared himself to the legendary painters of the past like Raphael, Rembrandt, Velazquez etc. In a rare moment of humility, he is reported to have said: “They were true Masters, while I am only a performer who understands his times”.
How much of Koolhaas’s appeal is due to the “performance” and how much of it is “mastery”? Moreover, in an era when “understanding the times”, imbuing the zeitgeist, is considered a primary task of all artwork, what is the relevance of a concept like mastery over the medium? Also if architecture is no longer about architecture, then what is it about?

So whether you are a Koolhaas groupie or hate his guts (is there an in-between position?) join us as we try to figure out the enigma. During the presentation we will briefly review his projects including the Chicago IIT Students’ Union, Seattle Public Library, his books like S,M,X,XL, and Content, his re-branding work for the “Wired” Magazine, the European Union etc.

Because studying the exception might give us new insights into our own times, and the changing roles of the creative artist in it. Because whether you like it or not, one of the Koolhaas clones might soon be teaching at a school near you, drawing up new plans for your downtown, or building that house right next to yours.