Carefully Reading Koolhaas

Introduction to Course:This course is a reading seminar, focusing on a selection of texts written by Rem Koolhaas, and a parallel selection of projects designed by his firm, OMA, across the span of his career to date. It succeeds a similar course conducted by the same instructor in the Spring Semester of 2006, in which the focus was placed on a series of texts only. Discussions in that course brought to light the fact that Koolhaas occupies a unique and complex position in the debate that has recently raged in American architectural theory in regard to the \”critical\”. In the seminar, it became clear that Koolhaas cannot be placed straightforwardly in either the pro- or anti- \”critical\” camp. At the same time that this conclusion came to light, it also became apparent that various texts of his that have often been taken to be intellectually and polemically consistent with one another, actually embody significant differences – even, from time to time, deep and significant contradictions.This year\’s version of the seminar is intended to bring the complexities of his intellectual position into sharper focus. Like last year\’s version, it also will focus on a series of texts, but the series will be a shorter one that last year\’s. Complementing it will be a focus on a series of design projects of OMA, that have been selected to illustrate three distinct formal strategies that the instructor believes can be discerned within the body of OMA\’s work as a whole, and which are, in his view, related to some of the key arguments of the texts. As a preliminary statement, it seems to the instructor that one characteristic group of the projects follows relatively straightforwardly, the design precepts that have been associated with the \”mat\” building so familiar from the work of Team 10, and well as the idea of the \”field\” familiar to \”landscape urbanism\”. A contrasting group or projects can be seen to flow from a powerful urge to organize a complex – almost urban – set of programmatic elements within the interior of a large, unitary tectonic object. In between these two contrasting types, the instructor believes it is possible also to discern a grouping of projects that manifest a design strategy intermediate between the two just described, and which typically focus on a geometrically complex public plane. The three groups may, in the view of the instructor, be loosely – and provisionally – characterized as \”mat\” projects, \”object\” projects and \”hybrid\” ones.It is hoped that a review of the texts, and of the three sets of design projects, will further elucidate the relationship between the polemical stance, and the design production of the author, overall.Each student registered in the class will be expected to read all of the assigned texts, and to study material relating to all of the assigned design projects, on a week by week basis (not including the introductory readings at the first class on March 17), and to be prepared to participate in class discussion of them in class each week. Each student will also be expected in one of the classes scheduled, to participate as a member of a group of three or four of the students, whose responsibility it will be to make an introductory presentation of the group of readings and/or projects for that session to the class as a whole. It will be up to the group in question to decide how to divide the responsibility for the presentation. It might be by text or project, it might be by theme, or some other schema devised by the group. The entire introductory presentation should not take more than 1 hour, so as to leave plenty of time for class discussion of the texts and projects in each class session. The presentations may be illustrated by PowerPoint, if such illustrations are useful to clarify the views of readings held by the presenting group of students. Means of Assessment of Student Performance in the ClassStud