‘Every architect carries the utopian gene.’ Rem Koolhaas, Founding Partner of OMA
This is an exhibition with a big visual message about architecture as process. A note at the beginning of the exhibition states: “The problem with architecture exhibitions is that they can’t show what they promise? Architecture.” Like a Large Hadron Collider meeting of the Blue Peter studio and Venice Architecture Biennale in the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) the exhibition is a stimulating and exciting condensed presentation of 36 years of OMA. The Barbican Art Gallery’s exhibition OMA / Progress is bang on brand and message for the OMA practice, “known for their daring ideas, extraordinary buildings and obsession with the rapid pulse of modern life.” What it is not is a smooth corporate presentation of archi-models, archi-text and archi-photos. What it is is a transfer of the OMA working reality into the gallery – enquiring, self-referential, complicated, practical and messy. The exhibition is curated by Rotor, a design, research, publication, writings and conference resource collective for design and architectural projects, based in Brussels. With access to OMA’s archives and daily practice, Rotor has selected and arranged a wide range of materials, relics, documentation, imagery and models to reveal perspectives on OMA’s built and unbuilt projects and conceptual work. A Rotor message states: “This show is still about the portrait of OMA, essence of architecture. How do you want the world to be? What changes in the absence of rhetoric. We invite you to think for yourself.”
OMA / Progress delves into the inner workings of OMA’s intense productivity, providing up-to-the minute detailed insight into OMA operations across Europe, Africa, Asia and America. It features projects currently in development including the Prada Foundation, Milan; those under construction such as Cornell University’s Milstein Hall, New York; and the CCTV headquarters in Beijing; recent competition entries like the Broad Art Museum in Los Angeles; and those that are on-hold indefinitely, like the Dubai Renaissance hotel and the White City masterplan in London. Recent projects by OMA’s research unit, AMO, are also on show, including its plans for a European renewable energy grid, a curatorial masterplan for the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and the work of Strelka, a new postgraduate school that AMO helped set up in Moscow.
Entering the gallery visitors are immersed in a workshop, laboratory, archive, library, storeroom of objects, samples, models, photographs, films and written material generated by OMA, from the 1970s to now. The rooms have epigrammatic motto titles, the typography created with felt pen on masking tape – eppur si muove and yet it moves; adaptation instead of quitting; white or shiny. A5 tear sheets with ideas and information are an interactive touch and indicate the architects’ desire to educate, inform and inspire. The occasional God like tendencies of all utopian Castalian architects to save the world and all who live in it are tempered by scraps of poetry and humility: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a King of infinite space” Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act 2. Life size 2-D cut out figures ponder at OMA projects. A ‘project machine‘ presents a quick sample view of OMA projects on a hanging rail like fashion samples or maybe like beasts at an abattoir. The message is Process, Progress, Process, Progress. Sporadic seating is provided by blue square foam blocks created for a Prada catwalk show in 2011. An OMA-curated shop features a wide range of products, including OMA’s seminal books together with a selection of publications that inform and inspire their buildings and ideas, and a ‘research room’ comprises a series of computer screens and books allowing access to their projects online. On the Barbican’s sculpture court is a 1:1 footprint of OMA’s design for a Maggie’s Centre in Glasgow, where visitors can walk over the outline of the building.
Founded by Rem Koolhaas in 1975, OMA is a practice concerned with architecture, urbanism, and cultural analysis. AMO, its research and design studio, works in areas beyond architecture: culture, media, politics, renewable energy, technology, publishing and fashion. OMA is led by seven partners – Rem Koolhaas, Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu, Iyad Alsaka, David Gianotten and Managing Partner, Victor van der Chijs and a staff of around 280 architects, designers and researchers working in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong. The work of OMA’s partners and Rem Koolhaas has received the Pritzker Prize for architecture in 2000 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. OMA / Progress is the first major presentation of OMA’s work in the UK and coincides with the opening of their first buildings here, Rothschild Bank HQ in the City of London and a Maggie’s Centre in Gartnavel, Glasgow.
Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and The Netherlands Architecture Fund. Additional support provided by The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture
OMA / Progress, 6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012, Barbican Art Gallery, London. Open daily 11am–8pm, except Wed until 6pm; Late night every Thursday until 10pm. Tickets online from £8, on the door £10. T: 0845 120 7550. A programme of talks, workshops and events aims to question of progress in architecture and society and illuminate the work of OMA.
Event: OMA: Show & Tell . Tuesday 25 October, Barbican Theatre. brings together all seven partners from OMA for the first time in public, to examine and debate the nature of society, progress and the built environment across the world today.