Biography of Rem Koolhaas

Deconstructing the Pritzker Laureate b. 1944

Architect Rem Koolhaas in 2004
Architect Rem Koolhaas in 2004. Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage/Getty Images (cropped)

Architect Rem Koolhaas (born November 17, 1944 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands) has been called in turns Modernist and Deconstructivist, yet many critics claim that he leans toward Humanism. Koolhaas's work searches for a link between technology and humanity. 

Although he was born in Rotterdam, Remment Lucas Koolhaas spent four years of his youth in Indonesia, where his father served as cultural director.

Following in the footsteps of his literary father, Koolhaas began his career as a writer. He was a journalist for the Haase Post in The Hague and later tried his hand at writing movie scripts.

Koolhaas's writings won him fame in the field of architecture before he completed a single building. After graduating in 1972 from the Architecture Association School in London, he accepted a research fellowship in the United States. During his visit, he wrote Delirious New York, which he described as a "retroactive manifesto for Manhattan" and which critics hailed as a classic text on modern architecture and society.

In 1975, Koolhaas founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in London with Madelon Vriesendorm and Elia and Zoe Zenghelis. Focusing on contemporary design, the company won a competition for an addition to the Parliament in The Hague and a major commission to develop a master plan for a housing quarter in Amsterdam.

Delirious New York was reprinted in 1994 under the title Rem Koolhaas and the Place of Modern Architecture. The same year, Koolhaas published S,M,L,XL in collaboration with the Canadian graphic designer Bruce Mau. Described as a novel about architecture, the book combines works produced by Koolhaas's architectural firm with photos, plans, fiction, cartoons and random thoughts.

A few decades after founding OMA, Rem Koolhaas reversed the letters and formed AMO, a research reflection of his architecture firm. "While OMA remains dedicated to the realization of buildings and masterplans," states the OMA website, "AMO operates in areas beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture, including media, politics, sociology, renewable energy, technology, fashion, curating, publishing, and graphic design."

That's Koolhaas—he thinks forward and backwards, all at the same time. This short profile only scratches the surface of this 2000 Pritzker Laureate (and 2004 RIBA Gold Medalist).

Selected Projects:

Quotes By and About:

  • "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."
    —Rem Koolhaas, quoted in The Critical Landscape, by Arie Graafland and Jasper de Haan
  • "As more and more architecture is finally unmasked as the mere organization of flow—shopping centers, airports—it is evident that circulation is what makes or breaks public architecture...."
    —Rem Koolhaas, architect's statement for the MoMA expansion project
  • "Rem's approach to architecture represents a possibility of re-connecting with reality, finding opportunities to make architecture everywhere....So in his buildings, details address the everyday life rituals, lifestyles, conventions rather than simply delivering manual-like tried and tested details. The Bordeaux House, the Kunsthal, the Porto concert hall, the Dutch Embassy in Berlin are full of these significant small-scale inventions...."
    —Zaha Hadid, citation from the RIBA 2004 Royal Gold Medal
  • "Architecture is a dangerous mixture of power and impotence."
    —Rem Koolhaas, included in archi-quotes collected by Canadian architect Tony Kloepfer

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    Source: OMA [accessed November 15, 2014]