More Than Meets The Runway: Koolhaas’s Prada Transformer


[image via Prada Transformer website]

A oddly malformed pavilion-like object stands next to the 16th-century Gyeonghui Palace in Seoul, Korea. What is it exactly? Whatever you need it to be. Composed of four uniquely-shaped sides—hexagon, cross, rectangle, and square—the Prada Transformer is another in a long list of collaborations between the famed Italian designer and arguably equally famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. While the structure may epitomizes Koolhaas’ penchant for cross programming, the tetrahedronal pavilion does not “transform” autonomously – much to the chagrin of fans of a certain 80’s robot cartoon series, I’m sure. Instead, the pavilion will “transform” with the assistance of cranes, as shown in time-lapse videos on the official Prada Transformer website. Starting tomorrow, April 25th, the convertible construct will host a variety of events that transcend both fashion and architecture. “What was also important is that, for the first time, Prada gave up on the idea that all the activities should be separate,” said Koolhaas in Interview Magazine.


The Subversive High Rise Designs of Rem Koolhaas and OMA

rem koolhaas high-rise designs
From left to right: 23 East 22nd St.; 111 First Street; The Zac Danton office building

Rem Koolhaas and OMA are perhaps best known for the controversy and spectacle of the CCTV Building in Beijing, the Seattle Public Library, and the sci-fi designs in the Middle East, but I think some of their most successful buildings are the subtle subversions of the classic high rise. There’s a—I don’t quite want to say “deftness”—to his high rise work, but there is a definite sense of wit that’s often missing from contemporary architecture projects at this scale. This embrace of ironic banality is evident in the recently announced 23 East 22nd St. building in New York, the 111 First Street tower in Jersey City, and the unbuilt Zac Danton office building in Paris’ La Defense district.

OMA’s first building in NYC, 23 East 22nd St. (we really need to get this building a name) lampoons the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the building codes that require setbacks from the street as a building rises in height. 23E22 takes the setback one *ahem* step further, and actually steps back, looming over the adjacent low-rise buildings. But you can still sell it by saying the “asymmetrical from simultaneously provides views of Madison Square Park whilst maximizing light penetration to the neighbors below.” Well played, OMA. You’ve convinced people that an ironic game of peek-a-boo at the scale of one of the world’s largest city is really all about practicality.

111 First Street, the Jersey City tower announced last year and currently in design development, is 52-story mixed-use building containing retail, apartments, lofts, and live/work space for artists. Here, the office tower is again subverted — this time, with a massive 90 degree turn. “The stacking maintains the independence of each block, optimizes views from the site and creates a dynamic relationship between the building and its surroundings: Spectacle from Convention.” That pretty much says it all.

The unbuilt Zac Danton office building, the final example and sort of proto-koolhaasian high rise, was planned to be built next to Jean Nouvel’s stunning (and also unbuilt) Tour Sans Fin in Paris’ La Defense disrict. Koolhaas’ reaction? “When faced with the sublime, how can you be anything but banal?” Yet even Koolhaas’ banality is soaked in irony as he turns one of capitalism’s greatest icons against itself: the classic office tower is split into two disjointed units by a scrolling marquee displaying anti-corporate messages.

Koolhaas’s unprecedented Realism lends itself well to a critique on the modern high-rise. a whimsical disruption of corporate architecture that is, in some ways, reminiscent of Mannerism’s attitude towards Classicism. There’s no doubt that the man can create a formal spectacle, but using the tropes of Modernism to do so give these high rises a sarcastic reverence that make me remember why I started liking Koolhaas in the first place.

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Rem Koolhaas and Prada Team Up on Art Force Field in Milan

[image via ARTINFO]

Rem Koolhaas’ most recent collaboration with Miuccia Prada isn’t a store in Dubai or a high-rise in New York, it’s an ambitious interdisciplinary arts center in Milan. Koolhaas will transform an industrial complex in the Italian city for the Prada Foundation, whose director says the project’s goal is “to create a force field in which all artistic languages might converge and radiate energies that reach beyond the walls containing them into the urban context.” A force field of art. The design wil add an auditorium, tower and an exhibition building to the seven existing structures and courtyard. These new buildings will house multi-media studios and play host to symposia on architecture, cinema, and of course, fashion. Sounds interesting, right? But what about something a little simpler..?


Death Star Architecture Around the Globe

It’s a case of life imitating art as Death Stars sprout around the globe and the inevitable struggle between competing Galactic Empires will surely annihilate the planet. Rem Koolhaas strikes first with a new scheme for Dubai. It’s like Manhattan…but way more futuristic and in the desert:

Development for Dubai by OMA

The 44-story sphere is actually a “a self-contained three-dimensional urban neighborhood” containing smaller spheres joined together by a series of tubes. As is their nature, OMA seem to be establishing a new intra-office archetype (quick, call the patent office!), as this scheme is not entirely dissimilar from the one they visited with the RAK Convention and Exhibition Centre…