Rem Koolhaas, Mythologized on the Big Screen

[Originally published in Azure Magazine Nov. / Dec. 2016]

Filmed, produced, directed and edited by Tomas Koolhaas over the course of four years, Rem is a film about an architect more than it is a film about architecture. The feature-length documentary provides glimpses into the daily life of Rem Koolhaas, arguably the most important architect of our time, as the filmmaker followed his father during his continuous travels. The spectacular cinematography, much of it in slow motion, cuts effortlessly and seemingly at random from one site to another while its subject intones his personal reflections, all to the accompaniment of a dramatic musical score composed by Murray Hidary.

The film portrays Rem as being seemingly everywhere at once. He visits a construction site in Doha, attends an office meeting in New York, swims in the Mediterranean, walks an arid desert at one moment and a verdant Dutch polder at another. He rides in a water taxi after a morning press conference in Venice and stands pensively on the CCTV rooftop helicopter pad, overlooking Beijing at sunset. Occasional testimonials from partners, clients and building users – including two homeless men who frequent the Seattle Central Library – provide some welcome additional voices to a narrative that would otherwise be a monologue.

Among the many subjects Rem ruminates on are the importance of “doing the opposite,” the concept of “time as a barcode,” and his sense of still being a journalist – “a question machine.” Defining himself as “an expert in different contexts and environments” who “counteracts the cynical effects of globalization,” Rem reveals that the world in its complex entirety is precisely his specialization. By foregrounding Rem’s worldview over the body of fascinating work that earned the architect his reputation, the film undoubtedly aims to appeal to a wider audience than just acolytes and architecture geeks. It thus mythologizes and aggrandizes even further a figure who is already larger than life.

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Image courtesy azuremagazine.com

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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