This text is based on two conversations between Rem Koolhaas, Arie Graafland and Jasper de Haan, that took place on 6 and 28 May 1996 in Rotterdam. It was published in the book:
The Critical Landscape


The most interesting thing about architecture is arriving in new worlds rather than returning to old ones

Architecture is an area full of often contradictory elements. OMA is seen as an office which works conceptually, but at the same time there are uncertainties involving clients, municipal politics and investors. The Dance Theatre in The Hague is one design that seems to have been extensively mutilated by the play of these forces. How do you perceive these forces and do they vary per country?

Since 1985 we have been working abroad on a large scale. The percentage of work in the Netherlands was getting steadily smaller. That doesn't simply mean a contrast between certainties abroad and uncertainties here, or a difficult situation in the Netherlands and an easy one elsewhere. It's more an accumulation of different kinds of uncertainties. From this we can conclude that every culture has its own frustrations, if you like, and its own danger areas, and that architecture is the perfect means of bringing these to light.

In that respect the tables in SMLXL showing the incomes from the various countries are significant. They show how difficult it is to generate a stable plateau out of a mountain range. But in fact the  story is a lot more complicated, as apart from the irregularity of the flow of funds, there are all kinds of other syndromes in the various countries. The Netherlands can perhaps be characterized as a country with a disintegrated or decadent decision-making syndrome. Where to my mind, the consequences of democratization are still tangible, in the form of decision-making processes that may be extremely hypocritical, extremely opaque, or extremely diffuse, but are invariably snail-pace and arbitrary. Say from the Dance Theatre to Luxor.1 Where the public is always involved to some degree, but without its influence ever being well-defined beforehand. Where juries always have some role to play, but never with any sort of omnipotence. Where politics always plays a role too, but one which is not always evident. In that respect the Netherlands has a culture of decadent decision-making.

Indeed, our experience of France is utterly different as there we have been participants in a tightly organized Blitzkrieg of an enterprise. Perhaps Blitzkrieg is not the right word, but an equal treatment of all parties, with a firm hand, directed from the presidency and effective down to the lowest level of cooperation. The advantage of this approach is an unbelievable efficiency, but the drawback is that by definition it's something which cannot last forever. At a certain moment, the Blitzkrieg is over.

In Lille it seems as if a fatigue of sorts grew up around the entire project. Are those your feelings too?

I think it's a question of a parallelism between politics and architecture. It was a political operation. Politics at the moment is completely fixated on two types of framework. One is the presidential framework, seven years in France; the other is a municipal context of four years. And that means that by definition, every project has to be completed in four years. And that there is a big chance that the next regime won't give a damn about it. And can only distinguish itself by distancing itself from the foregoing. That is what happened in Lille. Delors' daughter is Mauroy's anointed successor, brought in by Mauroy himself, and it seems as though she will establish her own image by doing the opposite in every sense. Baietto is still there like some sort of beached whale, still trying to realize the third tower. It looks as though it won't be completed or resumed in the foreseeable future. Naturally, that also has a lot to do with the fact that there is no economic pressure. I can imagine that things would be different with less willpower and more real pressure. Another factor is that from the beginning of the project the economy has been declining and because of this Baietto was increasingly forced to go all out and stitch it all together using his 'dynamique d'enfer' strategy. And obviously people once they know your game, don't intend to end up in the same awkward situation again. And another thing, to do something like the Lille project, a lot of people have to be put on non-active or put out of action altogether. But they then rejoin ranks to fight back at the ext opportunity. Now Lille is the French candidate for the Olympic Games. And so another group
of individuals has seized upon this to use the Olympic games as a lever. It has its amusing side, but its tragic side as well. Lille has been shot to ribbons by the French intellectuals. The entire city mafia, I'd say, who call the tune in Paris, have renounced it a hundred per cent. I think that was partly because it has had no intellectual defence. They simply saw it as a return to La Defense, and no more than that.

Are those processes different in Asia?

In Learning Japanese I tried to show what decision-making is like there. They have a situation based on consensus, but actually extremely attractive to the architect. Perhaps simply due to the fact that the word 'no' doesn't really exist in Japanese. We are also active in Korea and America, for the first time in fact, and I don't really know yet how things are going there. If you ask how we experience that play of forces, then it's like the back of a big complex gobelin, full of knots and loops. I think that for a long time now I have seen it not as a clear-cut opposition between architect and the decision-making process or between architect and client, but more as an overall fascinating pattern. Less an opposition than part of the existing situation in which you operate.

How did you combine the writing of SMLXL with work in the office?

It's not easy to combine. In a certain sense our work on SMLXL was both long-term and short-term. I say short-term because I only began in December 1992. The book was finished in 1993, but we were thinking about it long before, also with Bruce Mau. It wasn't that a quantity of material was dropped on the designer's desk after the writing, but that we already had a concept before the writing actually began. This is exceptional for a book. This was ten years after the office was founded and it was very much a component in the complete revision of the office's concept. This revision process was helped forward by the fact that while writing SMLXL the office economy caved in, and the writing was partly to blame for it. But it came also from neglecting diverse aspects of the office. At that time I was wholly occupied with Concrexpo and the book. In fact, it was a conscious and unconscious war with the office to ensure the birth of a new configuration.

What was the office's new configuration supposed to look like?

A while before, I had already developed the idea with Cecil Balmond and some people of Ove Arup, to enter into a kind of merger with their engineering office. What was interesting about that was that we wanted to start an office which would be neither architecture nor engineering. At the last moment Ove Arup dropped out because at the highest level they were afraid of losing their identity. Which looking back, I think is a great pity, as in view of the work we now have that would have been a very sensible step rather than a provocative one. It was also inspired by experiences in Asia where many architectural practices are part of an engineering firm. Whatever, I knew I wanted to be part of something bigger. I felt kind of exhausted by my need to be involved with the office's survival, involved to an unbelievably emotional degree. That became unbearable, not in the sense of having so many mouths to feed, I've never had a problem with that, everyone who works for us knows that's not what it's about. It's more that I didn't want it to be an issue on that scale. That you didn't know from one day to the next whether you had work. Certainly, considering the ambitions we had and still have, we couldn't have gone on like that. If you can't present yourself as a continuity, you're finished.

Has that now been solved by your association with de Weger?

For the moment, yes. Through joining forces with de Weger, among other things. It's a very loose association, I should add. More an exchange of people and capacity. That gives us the flexibility to be big or small. Now, if we need a project leader for example, then there's one available. And we have the possibility of turning things down. And due to the flood of work we are now the more powerful partner, who can influence to some degree the future of de Weger.

Against the background of such matters, what is your role in the office? Not the John Portman in your book... but nor are you a process controller in a pharmaceutical company. How do you define your own role? Choreography? Is that the right word?

Yes - orchestration is another good one. Whatever the case, I am closely involved with most of the work we are now doing. As a designer, that is. But I don't regard designing as a solitary act. I think my greatest quality is staging the creative process. At all events, a situation whereby the linking, composing and questioning of certain subjects generates a special insight and special atmosphere of creativity. One thing is that we are steadily losing our fear of researching certain hypotheses. At the outset of every operation we try to make an inventory of all the possibilities, and to leave out as little as possible. We have gradually developed a highly efficient manner of testing hypotheses, namely to destruct. To put them on the rack so that they either break or they work. There is another interesting development in the office which is part of its restructuring. I must say that the office bore that whole difficult period incredibly well. Of course, that was also a time of heightened communication between me and the rest. The upshot is that there are about ten team members who have been part of it for the last four or five years, and want to carry on being part of it, who have braved that difficult period. They will now form the core of the revised office. They will soon be getting a title to make this clear. I have always tried to figure as little as possible as an individual. Hence the name. Our image is to be broadened. I myself am bothered by the fact that critics aren't more articulate about what and who we are, what we do, what our next step is, and above all what we are doing wrong.

Do you think that criticism in this country is working against you?

No - or perhaps working against is the right expression after all. I think that Dutch criticism is fixed in the role pattern of opposition, while it is sometimes much better to cooperate. Like judo. It's too one-sided; this is wrong, that is no good. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it isn't, sometimes we were already aware of it, sometimes it gives us a fresh insight. But I think a classic role like the one Zevi has is most necessary. These are people who play the game and demarcate some sort of territory for you.

It's not easy to define your books. Delirious New York was simultaneously a statement about intellectuals in Europe, a critique of inertia. SMLXL also has a parallelism. That applies mainly to the structure of the European discourse, in the theoretical sense. The structure of essays. A second message to the same intellectuals with a new set of contents? Is there a relationship between Delirious New York and SMLXL?

Everyone is talking about fragmentation, but Delirious New York was written in episodes. The great attraction of episodes for me is that between them there is a space in which you don't have to make things and links. But which even so have an autonomous power if the episodes are well put together. It isn't stated explicitly but the linking alone is enough to allow you to make
things. One of the important departure-points then was to make SMLXL in the same way. By not making any connecting material the reader is called upon to make the connections himself. There are a few things which keep recurring, such as the glossary, the interruptions, but also a number of secret references, analogies or comparisons and similar sources. The odd thing is that when you're making a book you certainly don't spend all your time reading it. Just this week I was reading SMLXL and to my surprise saw that there is absolutely no connection between IJ-plein and the white sheet, except that you can distil it from the context. I don't think that this book is especially concerned with the European discourse. It as much deals with the American. It is an incredulousness, if you like, at the incapacity of the discourse to name or even identify certain ongoing features. Take the impotence of the European discourse, whose departure-point is still the same idŽe fixe of the city, and how indeed the scale of operations and the speed of operations is not really understood as something that incontrovertibly redefines the entire contents. The practitioners of the discourse simply plod on as if nothing has happened. It's an acute problem, I feel. Coincidentally, last Saturday there was a moment at lunch when I counted as many white as non-white people - an important moment for me. Our small branch in Hong Kong is presently paying us a visit. For me it's an exploration of the consequences of the discourse by a group to which I admittedly belong, but that I feel is ignoring huge areas with an astounding nonchalance.

Certain themes seem to keep occurring in OMA's work. The Down Town Athletic Club, The City of the Captive Globe, elements that cropped up in your design for La Villette and the World Fair in France and in a less pronounced form perhaps in many other projects. Does that have something to do with the problem of structurality? Structurality, connection. Tectonics and on the other hand the making of freedoms for that which cannot be predicted. Rietveld or Mies. Could you say something about that? Is there a constant? Is there a play of forces?

It is a mixture of instincts and considerations. A subconscious level, which is deeply rooted without our having had to formulate it ourselves.

Your fascination with the void, nothingness, emptiness, strikes us being as another theme. Talking about the void soon brings one to the work and thinking of Yves Klein. Are you familiar with his work and has it influenced you?

I've been very interested in art since I was fourteen. That was certainly because at that time Sandberg organized a number of what then seemed very important exhibitions in the Stedelijk Museum. I think one was on Yves Klein. Without giving it much thought I felt it was important and incredibly exciting, certainly considering what I had read and heard. When I was a journalist I had extensive contact a couple of times with Fluxus, and its German branch. The feeling was similar. I also met Uecker, Klein's brother-in-law. I think they were all attempts to recognize the sublime without overblown pretensions. That is, on the basis of thoroughly contemporary conditions, a need
to get at the sublime without necessarily having to attain great heights.

There is a certain layered aspect to SMLXL. It's not just about architecture. Bigness rallies against everything that is in vogue in philosophy, recovery of the whole, back to reality.

Yes, the book aims at a larger reception. It is exhilarating when you notice that this is indeed its effect. That there is a kind of 'detonation' arround the texts. Bigness and Generic City are considered to be extremely dangerous texts.

You also find Bigness in Boullée and Leonidov, but then it is monumental through and through. We have the idea that there is an affinity on the level of the detail - or absence of the detail, the non-detail. Did that play a role or is that too far-fetched?

It's not far-fetched, as in a sense everything that has absorbed me, and that is certainly true of Leonidov, has a part to play. We have, in a certain sense, turned away from the Constructivists because they were being horribly misused. Dutch architecture seemed in danger of becoming a repetition of three buildings, which is why we decided to back off. I still think all Leonidov's work is amazing, both the earlier and the later work. I just don't think we have a preference for the monolithic aspect of Leonidov and Ledoux. Bigness can be read in two ways, as a predilection for something big and as a mode of subdividing the total volume. Which is not the same as a simple accumulation of details, but more the dismantling of the areas inside the volume. And I never really had that feeling with Leonidov, as his work has no internal oppositions. I think it is more a question of carrying through a certain direction, and at least identifying that direction. Add to that the fact that at present there is absolutely nothing deserving monumental expression, so that by definition a form of secularization is required. A secularization, if you like, of the whole idea of monumentality.

A pragmatism?

Exactly, there's a very strong element of secularization in my books. But oddly enough it is seldom recognized as such. That's why we were so taken with the idea of founding a single office with Arup.

Conflicts in the Netherlands always flare up when it comes to articulation. Van Eyck gets very angry about the fact that space is not articulated: the Team X syndrome. Dutch architects regard architecture, even when it's big, as a form of repetition. Big seems to be inhuman as it no longer relates to the human body. You and your office evidently have no affinity with that notion. Why?

I've always had the deepest contempt for that ideology, without knowing precisely where it comes from. Perhaps the main reason is the pretention that something made can ever be the counterpart of the human body.2 The body embraces such a wealth of nuances. The pretention that you could somehow contain it, or counter it, is quite unthinkable. That is one very important aspect. Another is that quite early on in Indonesia I was confronted with the mass aspect of the human body. That's something I feel you seldom encounter in the Netherlands, certainly not as an idea. In Indonesia, there were huge masses mobilized for some speeches of Sukharno's. That has been a taboo issue since the war. I regard it as a means of safeguarding against the pretention of the human scale. One case in point is our design for the house in Bordeaux. It's a house made for a man who is an invalid. The crux of the house is a room specially for him. It sits on a lift and moves up and down through the house. This room can stop on all levels and also in between them. That movement alters the architecture of the house. Of course, this also concerns a body. But not clearly explicated as such. It was not a case of 'now we're going to do our best for an invalid'. The starting point is rather a denial of invalidity. So we are quite interested in the relation to the body, but not as a norm. Perhaps making it a norm is the inhibiting aspect.

Another constantly recurring point, especially among certain critics, is the so-called absence of detail. OMA doesn't seem to be interested in details. How should we see that, is it a question of the budget or is there more involved? In the Kunsthal, for example, it comes across rather as a manifest mode of detailing, was that the intention?

First of all, I was intensively involved in building the Kunsthal. It was built under my nose, so to speak. All through the construction I was there in the morning between seven and nine. The ultimate aim was to settle the myth once and for all. The myth that we couldn't do it. Not that we succeeded that well, however. But that was why the work on it was so intense. But the most important motivation is that I have always regarded with suspicion the idea that detail is actually based on turning issues into problems. That is, instead of taking a positive attitude to how a wall meets a roof, there is this amazing problem, that a roof is to meet a wall and how are we going to organize that meeting, how are we going to articulate it and how to make an issue of it. It is rooted in a negative image, an assumption that nuances can only be done justice by turning them into problems. With Scarpa as an extreme example. That is why I think that kind of detail is almost always detrimental to the idea, because how the roof meets the wall can never be an idea. You can have ideas about it, of course, but I don't find it an area inspiring or critical enough to be interesting. The detailing in the Kunsthal is a mode of detailing that frees the attention for other aspects such as the way the ground is read, the sensing of abstractions, of transparency and translucency, of concrete and of the conditions themselves. The sensing of a whole instead of all that fixation on
the joins and the encounters. That's what it is ultimately about, yet money and costs feature every bit as prominently. We are at present working on a project where vast sums of money are available. If roughness and refinement fuse in the sublime, then for the first time we have to ask ourselves whether we can still operate with roughness. Because there is so much money, such important clients, such great expectations.

Are you afraid that the roughness will become a sort of pastiche?

I don't think so but we are wrestling with this problem. But we have to avoid the same sort of development as, say, Gehry. I see Gehry as an example of an architect whose transition to bigger and more major briefs has turned him from a maximum authentic into, let's say, a maximum

You have just managed to secure a big brief for the MCA site in Los Angeles (Universal City). The MCA head offices are there already, the film studios and an amusement park. As we understand it the brief is to double the total surface area in use. This brief seems to fit very well into your frame of reference; culture industry, large scale, globalization, and in the US as well - in principle all the ingredients of your work up to now. Could you say something about your ideas for this project?

The strange thing is that 'fitting into' my field of interests is in one respect highly attractive, but on the other has its inhibiting side, as everyone is saying 'this is just the thing for you because you've been involved with film and all the themes are there'. And that's the feeling I have too. In other projects, you might be flung with a bang into a totally new world you don't know. Here it's exactly the opposite, you are being thrown with a bang back into a world you know very well. And I must confess, the most interesting thing about architecture is arriving in new worlds rather than returning to old ones. But should this happen, you then rediscover many things that are unfamiliar. What is significant about this project is that it is simultaneously a sort of production site for film and television. There are offices, a 'tertiary sector', it is a theme park and it is also a condition intended as a theme park but which by accident, through the context of LA, has become authentic. That was where they once made the so-called City Walk. A street with a roundabout and another street and yet another street, and a 'cineplex' of 18 screens. In fact a kitsch version of the city with a Krieresque configuration. What is unusual is that because there is no real city anywhere in LA, and
certainly not in this part, this entire piece has been annexed as 'real city'. All the teenagers and young people from the neighbourhood spend their time here from Thursday to Sunday evening -then this becomes real city. Ironically, what was intended as kitsch has ultimately become genuine. The brief is to make a masterplan for this entire area. And that means doubling the volume. But that is highly theoretical, as a masterplan is also a zoning proposal. This would give them a maximum return, raising the question of whether they will ever implement it. And then headquarters for the entire company. The first result of the masterplan is that we will perhaps have to design at speed a parking garage for 10,000 cars.

Another plan is the one designed for the banks of the IJ in Amsterdam. The big problem here was to design a high density almost on top of the existing tourist heart of the old city, and place of 'ultimate centrality'. A modernity issue if ever there was one. How did you handle this task?

What I can still remember is that when we began, the sole issue was the waterside. The most important discovery was realizing that the entire island was available to us. Where the Postal and Telegraph Service building now stands. We began with an analysis from which we learned that this was not an area where you could generate any kind of critical mass. The most regrettable aspect is that everything has since been cancelled, yet this area is now being constructed after all, tacked together bit by bit. They wanted a TGV station here as a prime-quality enclave. It was more the idea that you could interpret the TGV as a ground-breaking element. And then we took a look at what Amsterdam would be able to put up with. I myself felt that high-rise here would be in poor taste. I've always been far less interested in highrise than is generally assumed. I've deliberately kept away from those Dutch high-rise clubs3 as I think it's stupid to blindly insist on high-rise. And then we looked at how you could fit the biggest volume into the least tall architecture. This in the knowledge that offices are increasingly home to activities that disallow daylight altogether. It was in fact more to
ascertain whether there were tendencies in modern office building, or in the mutation of work, that enabled new morphologies to emerge with indeed a medieval slant to them. And there are strong indications that this is in fact the case.

You are currently examining the development of the office workstation in the near future. Isn't it a paradox to take the work space as an object of research in a world economy where the office market is getting 'footloose'?

We are researching the workplace of the future. Like everybody else these days, it seems. One of the advantages of travelling so much is that you are confronted with the same issues everywhere. In Singapore, for example, they have factories and they have offices. Originally these were separated, but recently there has been a tendency to combine them, as the factory in the classical sense doesn't really exist any more having become completely automated. Then there is the idea that the assembly hangars are too primitive for some processes you would like to locate there, and that offices again are too limited. There could be a convergence of sorts between office and factory, but then as a
loft. That would in effect signify a return to the most original and pure loft type, such as those built in large numbers in New York last century. It's no coincidence that you are confronted in New York with a species of generic accommodation which has proved its flexibility and mutability more than any other. We hope to obtain a commission in Singapore where we can perhaps build a factory building of forty stories in which trucks can reach the top floor. They've got buildings in Hong Kong that achieve this at twenty floors. We are busy researching, but it hasn't yet gotten off the ground, due to all the work we have.

Is that something you want to expand, research and development?

That is one aim of this whole collaboration deal with de Weger.

Is that research linked to projects?

Yes, in that we intend to use it to support the projects. We have someone working full-time providing all our projects with precedents, with analogies. This is to sustain an intellectual or information level.

But from your words we gather that you want more. To generate a basic knowledge, to discover things which may not be needed now but perhaps in six months' time. How do you organize that, how do you set it up?

The irony is that when things were going badly for us we had more time for that than now, when things are going well. But that is the curse of this profession. If it's going well you are more or less permanently occupied. We're now planning to invite some experts to prevent the research from drying up altogether. We are working with Arup to set up a number of associations, so that the research is no longer misused by our own office. We are also on the lookout for briefs so that the research can achieve autonomy, so that it can become widely applicable. Until now it works for us,
but not yet in an outward direction.

There are very few architectural practices that do that. But don't you think that this is work which should be done in universities, Delft for example? That research there should concentrate on such things?

I agree entirely. That's why I said yes to Harvard. So as to get involved and stay involved with that line of production. That chair in Harvard is connected to what is called 'The Harvard projects on the city', a deliberately open name. My original version of it was 'projects for the study of what used to be the city'. In other words, the suggestion that the city is finished, exhausted. I went back to Harvard on condition that I didn't have to teach design, but just do research. In America students do a thesis at the end of their studies. That takes two semesters where the first is used to demarcate the subject and make intellectual explorations and the second to develop the subject, usually in the form of a design. These are autonomous projects and at almost all American universities, an anti-climax. Because first you get intimidated by a really intricate subject which is then worked out as an architectural design, usually some species of disenchanting pavilion in a national park. In other words the thesis creates expectations which are almost never satisfied. This is the dilemma. Every semester I get eight students who do a thesis and I keep them for two semesters. In the first we do collective research and in the second they work out the research independently. I started in January, then we went to a Chinese megapolis in the making. The entire cluster of cities consists of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Canton, Dongguan, Zhuhai and Macau. It is an area a little smaller than the Netherlands where 25 million people are now living in types of cities that are all booming in different ways. It is interesting because it is now a single entity, but in four years it will be a single administrative entity too. Where now there are two separate sovereign areas. We first of all explored that area together. We spent ten days there and divided up the project. Each student had one facet. One had money, another architecture, infrastructure, politics, ideology, etc. We were also able to seriously profit from the Harvard line-up. For ideology, for example, we had a Romanian, an ex-communist. This way you could get into some typecasting. For demography, we had someone from Mexico City. When we were there it seemed on the surface an apotheosis of the market economy; but you don't see a single building that is occupied, where people live, that is full, where profits are made. The same logic which led to socialist realism is still active, but now as market realism. It seems as though only communism can produce conditions like these.

We have just presented that research, everyone made a book out of his own story. We made an extract of about forty new terms we want to introduce into the discourse on the city and urban planning. They are now all copyrighted. We partially annexed existing terms, asymmetry for example,
that is now copyright. By way of example, they are now busy planning a bridge eighty kilometres long between Zhuhai, a glorified flowerbed, and Hong Kong, that is, going from metropolis to flowerbed. So first you think, why? Then you consider from metropolis to flowerbed and it dawns on you that that was the intention. The movement is one way only: that is asymmetry. The thesis is that the entire area will become a new urban entity but that its unity is premised on constant exaggeration of the differences between each element. Thus, it has no pretention of homogeneity and at the same time makes all manner of connections which again do not generate homogeneity or equality but are based on the contrasts; and these connections will serve to reinforce those contrasts. By this means we are introducing a model: 'The city of exaggerated difference'.Crude by all appearances, its interest lies in the fact that it is in effect very delicate, a single change somewhere causing the whole system to readapt entirely. Because if it didn't it would cease to exist. For instance, we have designed a highway from one place to another that includes all kinds of remarkable, visionary facilities. We call these Potemkin Corridors. Corridors which simultaneously embody a kind of vision, without that literally being the case. I do indeed think that universities should engage in this sort of thing, but I don't see it happening. It would be fascinating to have Dutch graduates systematically do research, instead of allowing them to work on their own things. What is attractive about Harvard is that every year I'm free to define the theme myself. I'm thinking of taking shopping next year, that being one of the last remaining human activities. And because it occurs in all continents, so you have shopping in Africa, shopping in Germany.... But research is still important, and I think this is bound to reflect on our own work. For me such interaction remains critical.

So in Harvard you are mainly concerned with the city?

Yes. But there's a good chance that the phenomenon 'work' will become the subject of study in a year's time. I mean the assumption is growing stronger that work will eventually become autonomous and no longer be connected to cities. But as to the consequences of this trend I have no idea as yet. In the China project we did a lot of quantitative work. Masses of statistics, an enormous amount of demographic work. That aspect has been neglected for so long. I would love to look at Roman cities in the third year. That for me is one of the most fascinating paradoxes. If you look at the average Roman city you'll see that there are masses of public facilities. But how could such a culture generate so many public facilities and maintain them with so little money? And with so few resources?  How is it that with a thousand times as many resources, we are not able to do so, and are actually having to give up more and more areas?

Another point is the Generic City in SMLXL. It reminded us of a book by Garreau (Edge Cities). He mentions Atlanta, New Jersey, among other places: tomorrowland. New residential enclaves supported by a shopping mall. A diffuse type of urban development without periphery or centre. Is the Generic City comparable to Edge Cities or is that something else entirely?

I was busy writing all kinds of things, primarily about differences. In Singapore for one, and at a certain point I turned it around and wrote about similarities. You can choose both approaches, you can write about similarities and about differences. It is at once fantastically similar and amazingly different. I think that the similarities are ultimately caused most by the scale and the speed of building. That seems to be the linking element. Those are two things which I think have not yet completely penetrated to the architectural consciousness. That is, that at present everything happens about three times as fast as before and that that leads to enormous complications. Right down to the details. It is as if everything is becoming the same but in fact it is as much an explosion of differences.

Is that also true of work places?

Already you have offices which are nothing more than places where people come together. People who in fact all work at home. Or offices where nobody has a fixed station anymore. That is already the case in some places in America. And we ourselves are now going to invest in all kinds of techniques such as video conferencing, etc., because it can make for an incredible drop in travelling expenses. My intuition is that this will lead to a complete interchangeability of every program, to a complete disengagement between program and form. And not just program and form, but program and place, program and everything, on a highly abstract level.

You talked of a detonation around texts like Bigness. Dangerous texts about dangerous phenomena, perhaps. But of course there are enough people who with the help of your texts and statements will legitimate things which I suspect you yourself would not be enthusiastic about. Even if it were only in universities where a student armed with Bigness defends his plan against a teacher trained in the Forum tradition.

The whole question of influence is a horrifically tricky subject. Firstly, if you make it your concern you then develop a kind of schizophrenia. That is, you operate as a kind of intelligence, while wondering straight off what the consequences will be of that intelligence. That is perhaps a purely egoistical stance but I think everyone who wonders what the consequences are of his stance, by definition undermines his own authenticity. I think it's an option to ignore the entire subject of influence instead of having the pretention that it is a controllable process, which would imply that you would only want to have a good influence and that in turn would imply that you wouldn't write dangerous texts. I think the larger part of our influence is horrifying. I mean, I didn't even see the exhibition in the architecture institute.4 Not as a stance, but through a complete inability to relate to that subject.

You are not going to found a movement?

I have seen so many people destroyed by the fact that they had a position and that they were aware of their position.  There's nothing attractive about that particular model.


1. OMA was invited to submit a design for the new Luxor Theatre in Rotterdam.
2. From the 1960s on into the 1980s large sectors of the architectural world in Holland have been in the grip of the local doctrine of Dutch Structuralism. Claiming Aldo van Eyck's Orphanage and allied researches of the Dutch 'Forum' group as their ancestors, the doctrine preaches, in the name of humanism, that all larger institutions can and should be broken up into smaller components which re-establish the human scale - as if each institution, whatever its nature, will become more transparent, less bureaucratic, less alienating, more understandable, less rigid through the mere fact of subdivision. But whereas Aldo van Eyck subdivided a larger group of orphans into smaller 'families' and the 'houses' they inhabit, such a connection was totally lost in later manifestations of the theme, where subdivision became a mere mannerism. (From OMA's design account of their 1978 competition entry for the extension to the Dutch Parliament, in International Architect vol. 1, no. 3, 1980, p. 50.)
3. Ever since the 1920s there has been a group of architects in the Netherlands who promote high-rise. They organize congresses about it and issue publications.
4. 'Referentie OMA', exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam 5 August - 5 November 1995. An exhibition of the work of 16 architectural practices founded by former OMA staff, including Kingma and Roorda, Kees Christiaanse, Willem Jan Neutelings, MVRDV, Christian Rapp, Alex Wall, Art Zaaijer and Rients Dijkstra.