Ignore Rem Kookhouse

Hotel in Zaandam, Neth., by WAP Architects (Architectural Review)

Hotel in Zaandam, Neth., by WAP Architects (Architectural Review)

Rem Kookhouse. That is his Dutch name translated into English. In my last post I took a leap of faith and landed, well, awkwardly to say the least. I urged readers to consume an interview of Rem by Andrew Mackenzie in Architectural Review that I had not read, and, having now read it, find myself deep in apology mode. Don’t read it. It is filled with claptrap. I will extract the only passages worth plowing through for. So I have plowed through for you and here are the passages:

[A]t first sight the Netherlands is a very internationalist country, but looking closely you can see an enormous return of, not vernacular, but quasi-vernacular architecture and quasi-old fortresses that are newly built with a national flavour. Look at Zaandam, and that huge assemblage of so-called vernacular buildings. I understand this moment very well, because the vast majority of so-called modern architecture now is really a kind of gimmicky Modernism, and this creates space for traditionalism to be gimmicky too.

Maybe that passage, which is at least coherent, explains something, something of which those who prefer traditional architecture and its revival must be wary. The gimmicky traditional hotel in Zaandam is a good example, partly because it does have a sort of plasticky charm to it.

The next and final passage I pluck out to illustrate as exemplary of the silliness of Rem and of modernist thinking in general. He describes a commission for a house (the Y2K House in New York?) and asserts that it re-emerged as the design solution for an concert hall, the Casa da Música, in the Portuguese city of Porto (home, by the way, of Malcolm Millais, the author of Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture). I find it highly unlikely that the thought process was anything like what Rem describes:

I had done a project for a house for a family, where the client said “we don’t really like each other, so we each need our own part of the house and then a place where we can get together if we want to.” It was a challenging proposition, which we thought was negative at first, but was actually quite inspiring. But every time I presented the house, the client keep pulling back and resisting the design. At the same time we were doing this competition in Porto and I was getting increasingly desperate to get an idea. Then I realised that, if we multiplied the scale of this house we were working on by five or six, the space that we had designed for the family to get together would work perfectly as a concert hall. We simply took the idea and enlarged it. It was a purely intuitive leap, which we subsequently won the competition with.

Not bloody likely! But illustrative of a way of thinking in which the explanation for a thing is created in retrospect. It is not an accurate description of what was thought. It is an attempt to reconstruct what was thought in a way that seems to carry more meaning, or at least more interest. In a way it’s what a playwright or a novelist does when he abstracts reality into something intellectually useful for consumers of art. The main difference is that the novelist and playwright think it important that there be some correspondence between reality and the work of art. Modernism, in its many forms, has severed that connection, and has successfully convinced the art world, and of course, the world of consumers of art (and architecture), that cutting art off from reality is valid.

As a reward for making it through that last paragraph, I offer a final bit from Rem, just a juicy tidbit (beginning with the question from the interviewer) that hints at his relationship with former employees:

Former principal of OMA New York, Joshua Prince-Ramus, has described the [Casa da Música] concert hall as determinedly irrational and the [Seattle] library as a kind of hyper-rationalised organisation. Is this an accurate description?

It’s always slightly disconcerting to hear my former collaborators describe the projects.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Ignore Rem Kookhouse

  1. WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for click through to the following web page


  2. Flux says:

    Does anyone get along with Joshua in general? 🙂


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