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Assessing The Background Of Koolhaas Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2547 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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After the devastating fire bombs of the Germans strategy during the early stages of World War II, Rotterdam’s centre was destroyed, together with many other older buildings of the city. The restoration of the Rotterdam’s centre presented a great challenge to architects of building a city from the start. Rotterdam was then a post World War II empty canvas which gave birth to some of the upcoming architects of the time. One of them was Rem Koolhaas, who four years after the destruction had the chance to design one of the cultural museums in the centre of Rotterdam. Kunsthal museum was built as a way to encourage tourism in Rotterdam’s cultural capital. The Kunsthal museum was design and built as a way to draw global attention for the architecture of the building in order to put Rotterdam on the European Cultural stage.

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Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect that was born in Rotterdam in 1944. He started his career as a writer and he worked as a journalist for the Haagse Post and as a film screenplay writer. In 1968 he moved to London to study Architecture at the Architectural Association School. By 1972 a scholarship, that he was awarded with gave him the oppotunity to stay in the United States where he started his analysis of the impact of the metropolitan culture on architecture. He wrote ‘Delirious New York’, which was published in 1978 and he described it as a ‘retroactive manifesto for Manhattan’.( eneshi reference?)

At that time Rem Koolhaas returned to Europe in order to step forward from theory to practice and in 1975 he founded OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architecture) in London with Elia and Zoe Zenghelis and Madelon Vriesendorp. In the first 10 years OMA’s designs were theoretical; they were only captured on paper but never build. The intentions of OMA were to define new types of relationships between architecture and contemporary cultural situation, both in theory and in practice. OMA’s projects like the Educatorium in Utrecht, the Seattle Public Library and the Kunsthal Museum are undoubtedly revealing those objectives.

Rem Koolhaas was mainly influenced by the early modernism of Destijl and the Russian Constructivists and his attempt was to reinvent the variety of the modern movement before the establishment of the Rationalist canon. In the 1980’s he turned towards more realistic projects like housing programmes, some of them being a residential building project in Rotterdam (1980 – 1982) and public housing in Amsterdam (1983). By 1987 Rem Koolhaas had the commission to design the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands which was the first large project by OMA to be built.

Kunsthal Museum is located in Rotterdam, Netherlands and lies between the city’s Museum Park and the busy highway Maasboulevard creating a division to the site which Koolhaas used to shape architectural design accordingly. The building contains three large exhibition halls (3300 square meters) on three different levels that can be used jointly or independently, two gallery spaces, a design gallery and a photo-gallery, a large auditorium, a bookshop, a VIP room and an independently accessible restaurant – cafe.

The museum is not only an exhibition building but also acts as a traffic intersection as well. The south facade of the building faces the main artery of the city, a busy highway which is built on top of a dyke and is connected through the building with the north side where the museum park takes place. In the perimeter of the museum park there are located 4 other museums among them the Netherlands Architecture Institute and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Rem Koolhaas is using the surrounding features of the site to contrasts the two sides of the building, the quiet, green park and the busy and noisy highway, and uses Kunsthal museum as a ‘bridge’ that connects the urban and the natural landscapes.

The main idea behind the building’s design was that of a square crossed by two routes. One of those routes is a public pedestrian ramp linking the north and south sides of the museum and a road, parallel to the highway, running east – west. Those routes would divide the square into four autonomous parts that would be joined by an axis of movement. The challenge for Rem Koolhaas and his partners was to design a museum- building as four different, autonomous projects, a feature that is used before in the Seattle City Library (2004) where Koolhaas designed the building as several different parts connected by a spiral route.

From that challenge the concept of the building was a continuous circuit through the spaces. The concept idea was achieved by the use of ramps running through the interior, connecting the different levels and divides the functional areas. The ramps are connecting the interior spaces on different levels but at the same time the floor slopes and ramps are traversing the structure as the several parts of the building are piled on top of each other. Circulation is an important element of Rem Koolhaas architecture and as he stated: “The movement changes the architecture.” [1] 

Appendix: 1 Sections of the building showing the floor slopes created by the ramps.

One of the ramps that divides the structure is the public, pedestrian ramp that runs from the highway level of the north facade to the access road at the lower level of the museum park. A glass wall separates the public path from the interior exhibition space that creates a connection between interior – exterior spaces.

Another passage through the Kunsthal

Museum is an access road that runs Appendix: 2 Exterior public ramp – glass wall

beneath the building.

A second; interior ramp runs parallel but reversed and crosses the pedestrian ramp. The entrance of the museum is defined when the two ramps meet.

The interior ramp at the entrance of the building leads to the ground level into the Exhibition Hall One that faces out to the museum park. Rem Koolhaas used tree columns scattered on the interior to refer to the exterior view. At the end of Hall one a ramp leads to Hall two that faces out towards the urban landscape. Through Hall two a path leads either back to the entrance or leads up a different ramp to a roof garden but halfway up the visitor faces Hall three.

This complex spatial circulation creates a unique experience through spaces with the use of different contemporary lighting systems and materials for each of the paths, ramps and spaces through the museum. Koolhaas is also using this technique in order to divide the private and public areas but also to create a unique relationship between interior and exterior.

Appendix: 3 Lighting systems through spaces Appendix: 4 Roof Lighting systems

Circulation is the main idea behind Kunsthal museum and as Rem Koolhaas stated for the MOMA expansion project: ”…It is evident that circulation is what makes or breaks public architecture. ” [2] 

In the Kunsthal museum ramps are used as connectors but also are used to move the viewer from one space (gallery) to the next in order to experience the journey between spaces. Rem Koolhaas attempt to contain in Kunsthal, but also in some other projects, a complex spiral shape – movement within a square which refers back to Wright’s Guggenheim Museum with the circular circulation, the unbuilt ‘ endless museum’ project by Le Corbusier and the pinwheel plan of early villas by Mies Van Der Rohe.

Rem Koolhaas has used the spiral circulation within a rectangular volume in several projects like the 1989 design for the French National Library in Paris. Many of Kunsthal design elements were used in the famous Seattle city library 10 years later, like the use of ramped spiral circulation, diverting public routes through the building, translucency and transparency.

In order to create a contrast between interior and exterior spaces but also private and public areas, Rem Koolhaas used a various collection of contrasting materials, cheap and expensive, elegant and banal. The use of inexpensive, everyday materials is another element of Rem Koolhaas architecture that is contained in Kunsthal Museum. The architect stated that: “Architecture is always the encounter of vision and circumstance. The Dutch don’t believe in spending a lot of money on buildings so there’s no choice but to build with really cheap materials.” [3] 

He created a collage of materials, with Miesian aesthetics, on the exterior of the building which reflects the Mies Van der Rohe’s National Gallery in Berlin but in a deconstructed adaptation marked with contemporary elements and a contrast of fine marble and glass with raw materials.

For Kunsthal museum Koolhaas used a collection of different materials like steel, glass, stone cladding, concrete, translucent corrugated iron sheets and plywood. This differentiation of materials had as a result the fragmentation of the facades and each side of the building is completely different. The architect used heavy, solid materials where the interior spaces had to be kept private and the use of glass gave a feeling of openness and a link between exterior-interior. With the use of glass he also achieved to open the exterior facades in order to show to the public the interior spaces without giving a clear image of what’s really happening behind the walls.

Appendix: 5 East Facade of the museum Appendix: 6 North – West Facades of the museum

The complexity and uniqueness of the building but also the detailing that Rem Koolhaas added to the Kunsthal museum is revealed not only through the exterior and interior architectural details but also through the structure of the building. Kunsthal museum, unlike most of the buildings, especially that time, embraces many options that create a varied spatial experience that make the concept and the building itself, stronger. The design of the structure for Kunsthal reveals the relationship between architectural intent, rationality and structure.

Many elements were embedded in the structural system in order to create a unique structural system in each area of the building. There is a distortion of the structural grid and it is visible in the interior, in each hall the columns were placed diagonal in plan.

Appendix: 7 Architectural and structural plans of the museum.

In Hall one there are two rows of columns slipping past each other but in Hall two there is a complete free span space. The Auditorium has also a different structural system with slanted columns and the pedestrian’s ramps- path is being designed as a double cantilever with columns running across, diagonal in plan.

The irrational structural system that is used in Kunsthal museum is exposed on the exterior of the museum at the main entrance, leaving a taste of what is to come on the interior for visitors. Next to the entrance there are four different columns very closed to each, one H – column, one reinforced concrete column, one castellated and one cylindrical column.

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The unique structural systems used in the Kunsthal, the cheap exposed materials, the fragmentation of the facades by different materials, the use of a complex circulation, the extensive detailing throughout the building but also some functional problems that came to the surface after the opening of the museum in 1992, set Kunsthal as the pace for a lot of criticism about Rem Koolhaas and his architecture.

Rem Koolhaas stated at one of his interviews for his book S.M.L.XL that: ‘I was also interested in showing the implications of failure – showing both the

calculations and the miscalculations of projects.’ [4] Kunsthal museum is a great example of many architectural elements that Koolhaas wrote about and used at many of his later projects, but some ‘failures’ was found in some of the detailing of the building after the opening in 1992.

Problems associated with the building were indicated by many of its visitors. Some of the comments made by the visitors stated that the entrance of the building was not exactly obvious so later on a lighting arrow indicating the door was placed outside the entrance. Other problems associated to the building were some of the narrow corridors and metal grid flooring used in one of the exhibition halls that caused several drawbacks to the function of the building and created a lot of criticism for the architecture of the museum.

Appendix: 8 Entrance of the museum


Alli mia paragraph g tin simantikotita p ennan to conclusion se 2

Perhaps it’s because Koolhaas is not wedded to any one style that he finds McArchitecture easy to digest. Unlike the work of Peter Eisenman or Gehry, a Koolhaas building isn’t easily identifiable. “In some ways I consider that a compliment,” says Koolhaas. “You work in so many conditions that it would be artificial and unreal if your work did not become very different too.”


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