Rem Koolhaas is that rare combination of visionary and implementer—philosopher and pragmatist—theorist and prophet—an architect whose ideas about buildings and urban planning made him one of the most discussed contemporary architects in the world even before any of his design projects came to fruition. It was all accomplished with his writings and discussions with students, many times stirring controversy for straying outside the bounds of convention. He is as well known for his books, regional and global plans, academic explorations with groups of students, as he is for his bold, strident, thought provoking architecture.
His emergence in the late seventies with his book Delirious New York was the start of a remarkable two decades that have seen his built works, projects, plans, exhibitions and studies resonate throughout the professional and academic landscape, becoming a lightning rod for both criticism and praise.
One of his earliest plans for the expansion of the Dutch Parliament aroused such interest that other commissions followed. The Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague was one of the first completed projects to garner critical acclaim from many quarters. Since then, Koolhaas’ commissions have ranged in scale from a remarkably inventive and compassionate house in Bordeaux to the master plan and giant convention center for Lille, both in France. The Bordeaux house was designed to accommodate extraordinary conditions of use by a client confined to a wheel chair without sacrificing the quality of living. Had he only done the Bordeaux project, his niche in the history or architecture would have been secure. Add to that a lively center of educational life, an Educatorium (a made up word for a factory for learning) in Utrecht, as well as housing in Japan, cultural centers and other residences in France and the Netherlands, and proposals for such things as an Airport Island in the North Sea, and you have a talent of extraordinary dimensions revealed.
He has demonstrated many times over his ability and creative talent to confront seemingly insoluble or constrictive problems with brilliant and original solutions. In every design there is a free-flowing, democratic organization of spaces and functions with an unselfconscious tributary of circulation that in the end dictates a new unprecedented architectural form. His body of work is as much about ideas as it is buildings.