I deserve a slap. I missed this one first time round. Tonight, via City Comforts, through to John Udell and then finally on to Keith Pleas, I’ve found a great article on the much talked about Seattle library by Rem Koolhaas.
Keith Pleas is a software architect. By making comparisons with an enthusiastic Seattle Times article, and assessing the detail rather than just the grand gestures, he punches gaping wide holes in the supposed success of Koolhaas’ design. It’s a great, but depressing, read. Seemingly obvious design flaws abound and he has pictures to prove it.
I’m taking solace in the idea that it’s character building to learn that one’s heros can make mistakes too.
Here’s a quote from his summary (my emphasis).
Some parallels between the worlds of construction and software architecture are obvious. Starting at the top, a truly creative architectural design needs people all the way through the hierarchy to implement it. We also have similar “materials” issues in terms of the infrastructure, tools, and libraries that are available. However, we have one fortunate advantage over the construction world in that you can write literally anything in code if you have enough resources, whereas there are some absolute limits in the construction world.
Only last night, I was telling another software architect that I’m interested in how the recognition/negotiation of those limits is the point at which Architecture as opposed to Building takes place. There are certain immovable forces in architecture, such as the laws of physics and building control inspectors, that mean compromise of one’s aesthetic vision is inevitable at some point. In my experience, well executed solutions to those compromises become the defining moments in the success of a project.
From the looks of some of the issues raised by Keith’s write up, it seems Koolhaas has ducked the need to tackle a few glaring compromises. To give some context to why this is such Bad News, here’s an anecdote to demonstrate how highly regarded Koolhaas has been over the last decade or so.
A few years ago I attended a lecture and discussion given by Lars Spuybroek from NOX and Winy Maas of MVRDV. It was chaired by the author of ‘SuperDutch’, Bart Lootsma. His book discusses the history of Dutch architecture.
The pragmatism required for land reclamation, the self-assessment that has occurred through the forces of internationalization, a history of welfare state politics, it’s cultural institutions, the cautious nature with which it approaches economic success and the growing culture of public consultation are all cited by Lootsma as instrumental in forming the present Dutch architectural attitude.
Also examined in the book are the influences of Rem Koolhaas’ approach to undertaking research and theoretical work and the financial support provided to upcoming students by the Dutch government.
It’s widely recognised that Koolhaas is the Father of contemporary Dutch architecture. This is partly because of the influence his work has over his peers; but also because many of the Netherlands’ new practices are started by ex-employees of his office. Winy Maas from MVRDV is one such example. During the lecture, to demonstrate the importance of Koolhaas’ work in Dutch architecture, Lars Spuybroek proposed that;
“There are two forms of postgraduate architectural education in the Netherlands – the grant system and Rem.”
I’m going to go and load my dishwasher in an effort to take my mind off badly executed architecture. Let’s hope I don’t come across too many design flaws whilst I stack the plates.