Take a tour of the Dutch architect's most dazzling buildings
Remment Lucas Koolhaas, AKA Rem Koolhaas, is a Dutch architect and urbanist. He is the founding partner of Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) an architectural firm based in Rotterdam that was set up in 1975 by Koolhaas with fellow architects Elia Zenghelis, Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp.
He is widely regarded as one of the most important architectural thinkers and urbanists of his generation, and in 2000 Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize – an annual award that honors an architect whose work combines talent, vision and commitment and contributes towards humanity. In 2008, Time magazine included the architect in its top 100 of The World’s Most Influential People.
Critics have found it difficult to classify the work of Koolhaas as he doesn’t subscribe to a particular movement. Although some have said his work or at least his approach derives from Deconstructivism, a style of architecture which is characterized by an absence of harmony, continuity, or symmetry. Buildings in this style often appear to be distorted so the finished visual appearance culminates in a sort of unpredictable, controlled chaos.
Here we take a Street View tour of 8 of Koolhaas’ buildings from around the world, which play with scale, materials and shape, and get a sense of how he's injected modern cityscapes with a sense of intrigue and innovation.
De Rotterdam Complex, Rotterdam, Netherlands
The De Rotterdam complex is located in the Dutch city of the same name and was devised as a vertical city. Designed in 1998 by Koolhaas’ firm OMA, it was finalized in 2013. Containing space for offices, a hotel, restaurants, shops and apartments the complex is composed of three towers and is 500ft tall.
When designing Koolhaas thought that the most frequent view of the structure would be in motion, from the window of a car. As a result, the architect’s design allows the view to seemingly change as you drive past with the towers rising from a shared six-story plinth, appearing as separate structures and then merging as one.
Byzantium Building, Amsterdam, Holland
Built between 1985 and 1991, the Byzantium building is a structure of contrasts inspired by the neighborhoods it adjoins with: one side being a busy metropolitan hub, and the other a quiet lane. At the time, the complex was one of the largest buildings in the city and was created to contain apartments, shops, cafes and offices.
A range of external features were added to the building including the blue apartment block with a sloping, golden entrance to the garage and shops. The most noticeable element is the half floating round penthouse that sticks out of the facade like a gold disc. The tower is a nod to Amsterdam’s tradition of “failed” skyscrapers, where to compensate for a lack of height in the city’s buildings there’s an abundance of tower-like motifs. At the time, the building was met with criticism, as the structure was deemed as “monstrous”, yet today it sits rather inconspicuously in a busy street in Amsterdam.
Casa da Musica, Porto, Portugal
Designed in 1998 and opened in 2005, Porto’s Casa da Musica is home to the National Orchestra of Porto. The faceted, white concrete building is sat in the middle of a public square and extends over nine floors.
Alongside white plaques of cement, the building is cut by large corrugated glass windows. The building features a 1,300-seat auditorium, a smaller performance space, rehearsal rooms, bars, and a restaurant. The Casa da Musica attempts to reinvigorate the traditional concert hall by redefining the relationship between the interior and the exterior.
McCormick Tribune Campus Center, Chicago, USA
The McCormick Tribune Campus Center is a building on the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Opened in 2003, this was the first project Koolhaas had in the United States. A single-story, 110,000-square-foot building, Koolhaas responded to the surrounding environment in his design.
The site was previously a heavily-used student parking lot with the tracks of an elevated train passing over head. Observing the movements of the students across the lot before the structure was built, Koolhaas introduced diagonal passageways as the building’s interior thoroughfares. A major design challenge was the noise of the train track above and the solution was to enclose a 530-foot section of the tracks in a stainless steel tube passing over the building. The tube’s support structure is completely independent of the building, which minimizes the vibrations passing between them.
Embassy of Netherlands, Berlin, Germany
Opened in 2004, the Embassy of The Netherlands in Berlin was designed by Koolhaas as a solitary cube building, which aimed to combine the requirements of conventional civil service security with Dutch openness. Traditional city planning guidelines stated the new building had to reflect the 19th-century style present in the neighborhood, but they were open to innovation.
Koolhaas’ structure is cut into two parts. As the diplomats used the hallway in the old embassy a lot for informal meetings, the architect gave them a building with an enormous hallway at the centre—a continuous corridor that zig zags across all eight floors. The workspaces are the “leftover areas” from the path of the hallway and look out from the building.
Seattle Central Library, Seattle, USA
The Seattle Central Library is the flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system. It was designed to accommodate all kinds of media and grow over time. A celebration of the written word, the 11-story structure, which was completed in 2004, has a capacity for over 1.5 million books. From the outside, the library is a striking, yet unusual shape, but Koolhaas adopted an interesting philosophy for the project. Rather than imposing a structure and making the functions conform to that, Koolhaas let the building’s required functions dictate what it should look like.
As a result the building contains innovated solutions for library goers including the “Books Spiral”, which displays the library’s nonfiction collection without breaking up the Dewey Decimal System by allowing it to spiral up through four floors on a continuous series of shelves. The idea was to allow visitors to peruse the entire collection of 6,200 books without having to travel to different parts of the building.
CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China
The China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters in Bejing is where Koolhaas managed to turn the skyscraper completely on its head. Completed in 2008, the building is constructed of two towers that are connected by a 246-foot cantilevered section known as “the overhang”.
The exterior of the building is covered in sun-shaded glass set out in an irregular diamond pattern made from triangulated, which forms part of the support structure. Traditionally skyscrapers had been built with height in mind, whereas here Koolhaas makes it an entirely three-dimensional experience.
Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Russia
In 2015, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow moved to a new location designed by Koolhaas. The building utilizes the former structure, which was an abandoned Soviet Modernist restaurant from the 1960s.
The concrete building has been encased in a polycarbonate facade, giving a space-like, shiny appearance. The museum contains two floors of exhibition space, an auditorium, a children’s center, a shop, cafe, offices and a roof terrace.