Friday, April 03, 2009
Rem Koolhaas was at Harvard tonight, and did not disappoint. He was the keynote for the Ecological Urbanism conference at the Graduate School of Design, a role he confided he first thought was some kind of "cruel joke." He suggested that green sensibilities began at least with Vitruvius, and continued with Ian McHarg and Buckminster Fuller, in a co-existence of culture and nature, and the ventilating walls and other features of "tropical architecture" he learned about as a young man. He was scornful of the "apocalypitc streak" of those predicting environmental calamity, citing the Club of Rome's "Limits of Growth." Showing a collage of contemporary skylines including Dubai, London and his own CCTV building in Beijing, he acknowledged that "that's out," in terms shortcomings in green performance. But he said "our responses are not that deep, equating responsibility with literal greening" -- green roofs, lining walls with grass -- and pilloried Renzo Piano's California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Piano's defense of the grassy-knolled creation was either "outrageously innocent or deeply calculation, and probably both," he said. In a house-of-mirrors moment came when he criticized Nicolai Ouroussoff's praise of the building. A more effective approach that goes beyond "good intentions and branding," he said, was the Nordzee wind power project in The Netherlands, in combination with the harnessing of tidal and solar power southward across Europe. That was the kind of marriage of "politics and engineering" that Buckminster Fuller was getting at some 40 years ago, Koolhaas said. Fair enough. I regard Koolhaas much the way that Jane Jacobs appreciated Louis Kahn or Mies van der Rohe; the Kunsthall and Seattle Library are certainly compelling. His take on the green mandate and architecture's response was nothing if not provocative.