Dutch architect designing for change in China
A leading Dutch architect under fire for designing official buildings in China believes his work there is an expression of support for change. By Rachel Levy
One of the projects undertaken by Rem Koolhaas and his partners in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) is for CCTV, the Chinese state television network (see photo above), which is due to be ready in time for the Beijing Olympics in August.
Many people wondered why OMA, known for combining architecture with social and political consciousness, decided to go through with the scheme in a country accused of trampling on human rights.
But Koolhaas has few doubts about participating in projects in China as well as in other countries governed by non-democratic regimes.
"There is much more awareness in China that things have to change," he says. "What we are trying to do is support a more modern China," he said in a recent interview.
Referring to the huge building for CCTV that is currently nearing completion, he said the idea of change has also been incorporated into the design of the building.
"The building looks different from every angle. Whenever you change your position towards the building and look at it, you will see something different. That in itself is a symbolic message and also reflects that China is moving into a new direction."
Apart from that, Koolhaas (picture on left) added: "We think China is moving in a direction of change and ought to be supported."
OMA works with six partners, including 64-year old Koolhaas. It has offices in Rotterdam, Beijing and New York as well as temporary premises at locations where it is developing projects.
OMA was founded in London by Koolhaas and two partners in 1975 and moved to Rotterdam in 1981.
Buildings by OMA and Koolhaas are not simply designed and then built. Instead, the design incorporates a metropolitan concept to match a certain area and conveys a message.
"Architecture is opinion," said Ellen van Loon, one of the OMA partners, outlining an ongoing project in Qatar - a modern university library that includes a collection of classical Arabic works.
It took OMA until the early 1990s to gain international recognition. Today, OMA boasts a list of projects throughout Europe, the US East Coast, Asia and the Middle East. The 575,000-square-metre CCTV building is its biggest assignment so far.
Most of its 300 member staff is relatively young - under 35. "We like to attract new ideas and fresh influences," explains Van Loon, "so we often bring in young people. We also try to hire locals for each project we are working on."
When we are working in Africa, we try to hire African architects and engineers, even if they are difficult to get. The CCTV building means we had Chinese staff working with us for the first time."
In the late 1990s, OMA founded a research institute that cooperates closely with Harvard University, where Koolhaas also teaches.
It is typical for the way Koolhaas and his partners view architecture - as a comment on humanity, society - or vice versa, to let society speak.
"When you start a building, you need to look at the context," Koolhaas says.
"Where will it be located? What kind of buildings surround it? What are the functions of the neighbourhoods surrounding it? Do you want to interconnect those neighbourhoods and functions of the city? Or is your building to separate parts of the city and make a statement of its own?"
Meanwhile, OMA has already moved to its next project - it is co- planning part of the city of Dubai.
A short computer compilation by OMA-partner Reinier de Graaf has the final word: the most densely inhabited metropolitan areas today are located in the Middle East and Asia.
"We simply have to be there," De Graaf says.
Click here to see a video clip (in English) which includes the CCTV building project.
2 June 2008
[Copyright dpa 2008]