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Rem Koolhaas turns back on cities

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Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) founder Rem Koolhaas has said he will abandon urbanism to focus on the countryside

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect and theorist told the AJ rural areas are ‘changing more radically than our cities’.

He added: ‘Millions have moved to cities from the countryside. They have left behind a weird territory for genetic experimentation, intermittent immigration [and] vast property transactions. It’s truly amazing when you look closely.’

His comments came as the 2004 RIBA Gold Medallist opened the first major UK exhibition showcasing OMA’s work at the Barbican Centre.

Hanif Kara of engineer AKTII said he would closely follow OMA’s lead. He said: ‘It may well give control to architects who have recently had to relinquish control to the preferences of the elite against their own curiosities.’

Architecture writer Herbert Wright said: ‘We don’t hear much about rural poverty, but it is driving one of the largest social phenomena of our times – the explosion of megacities.’

Alex Haw of Atmos Studio said Koolhaas was ‘swimming out against the tide’. He said: ‘The countryside is man-made, so architects will be experts in that ongoing formation.’


Further comment


Anthony Hoete, WHAT_Architecture
It’s a great idea [and] possibly even an original site for architecture (whose domain has historically been the western city).
However the countryside has always been a site for innovative building without the presence of architecture / architects: as an antipodean I can think of Australian straw bale houses, NZ rotary milking sheds which are examples of the agricultural architecture. You could say that the time is now for a Rural Institute of British Architects.


Roger FitzGerald, ADP
Our environment is all around us, whether it is urban, parkland or countryside, and architects can provide a fresh way of looking at any of these.  The principles are the same, and to be worthwhile any proposals need to be well founded on proper analysis of needs, stakeholder involvement, and consideration of context.  Architects will need to work closer than ever with landscape architects, ecologists and others who really understand the landscape.


Hugh Petter, ADAM Architecture
The question should rather be what can architects learn from the countryside.  Before cheap fossil fuel, vernacular building could only be sustainable as it did not have the luxury of being otherwise.The countryside in the Uk is largely farmland or National parks which limit development. Challenging attitudes to this through innovation could be great.


Ben Adams, Ben Adams Architects
Innovation in brownbelt sites and land use policy could lead to opportunistic re-imagining of the countryside through development which would also be welcome.

Designing for rural locations at present involves the usual constraints plus conservative local opinion (usually), material constraints and a presumption against development - all of which limits innovation.

Chris Dyson, Chris Dyson Architects
It is always a good idea to revaluate our environment whether the city or the country. This idea follows a long tradition and it need not urbanise the countryside new villages could be formed, existing ones revitalised by this concept. 
It could be [original but it] depends how it is handled…I believe we certainly need to step up food production if we are to keep all the people in the planet alive and avoid starvation.
Designing buildings that harness the abundance of natural resources in the countryside such as: wind gas from cows and the sun’s rays, I think this can be achieved in a sensitive and rural tradition.


James Eagle, Gianni Botsford Architects
It is a good idea that quality architecture should be introduced into the countryside, perhaps it can put a stop to the ubiquitous countryside development common place in rural England. Whilst the city educates people with regard to contemporary architecture, there is little such available within rural towns and villages.

Perhaps both planners and normal folk alike will begin to realise that contemporary architecture may be more sympathetic to these pristine landscapes than the shit that is being built with planning consents at present. Personally I think there should also be a countryside appraisal panel, similar to boroughs within London where noted architects are invited to advise planners and improve the quality of rural development…

Christopher Mackenzie, Designscape Architects
I can almost feel the CPRE and English Heritage bristling with anticipation!
Is it a good idea – yes of course, architects should be involved in buildings in the countryside.  Agriculture is the UK’s largest industry, and the countryside needs sensitive and creative responses to the design challenges of accommodating often quite large buildings in their context.  Unfortunately, the normal response is for farmers to go to Agricultural Buildings contractors, and the results vary very little regardless of context. Of course, agricultural buildings are driven primarily by function and cost, but there is always opportunity for creativity, innovation and elegant design solutions even within these tight constraints. And of course the challenges are not just constrained to agricultural buildings.
Designscape Architects recently designed a large barn and a dairy building in Somerset for a farmer who was – unusually – concerned about the buildings:  They were concerned to make the buildings sensitive to the context, and to provide a very healthy and flexible environment for his herd, and also to make the dairy a good working environment for the people who make the cheese. 

They believed that a high quality of the environment would help to produce a high quality product - The dairy was described by a world renown cheese maker as ‘one of the top 3 dairies in the world’, and the cheese has been very successful – even in London!

Is it original?  No, of course not. And of course agricultural buildings are not new territory for Architects – the subject has been tackled by, amongst others Hugo Haring and Le Corbusier.

It may not be a hot topic of debate in the bars of Hoxton, but out here in ‘the provinces’ it is the stuff that we are concerned about on a daily basis, and some of do consider that ‘The Countryside’ is a place worthy of our attention. The future does not have to be twee, and we think that a well known ‘Starchitect’ giving it his attention will be good for raising awareness of the issues and possibilities.  Whether Rem is the man for the job will no doubt be the subject of much debate!



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