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OSA REVIEW: REM by Tomas Koolhaas, OxArch Special

Successful opening of OxArch’s programme with the UK premier for Rem, a

documentary about Rem Koolhaas by Tomas Koolhaas

With its experience of delivering incredible and versatile events, this year OxArch

opened its programme with the first screening of Rem in UK. The event presented

the opportunity for the audience not only to see the documentary about the architect

Rem Koolhaas but also to speak with the film’s creator, Tomas Koolhaas. Having

garnered interest among professionals from all parts of the field, the screening was

held over two evenings - one meant for the general public and one for the staff and

students of the Oxford Brookes University - followed by a Q&A session with the

filmmaker himself.

The film is the result of four years of a continuous process of shoot-review-repeat

chase between Tomas Koolhaas and his famous father. The final product is a

75-minute long piece exploring not so much Rem, the Architect, as Rem, the Thinker.

The film manages to subtly establish a dialogue between the narrative of the architect

and the narrative of the architecture. It poses questions about their place and

significance within the framework of a very personal observation on one of the most

famous architects of our time.

Tomas does not hide that his aim was not to make an architectural film within the

existing canon of the genre. Instead he offers a much more intimate look into Rem

Koolhaas’s thoughts, as he gives him the opportunity to ponder questions about life,

identity, architecture on tape. The camera work alternated between sequences

following the architect from behind (a highly expressive technique that Tomas

accidentally establishes, as he explains himself), and striking en face shots, building

a persona different from the calm and collected Rem outsiders have been presented

with before.


“A building has two lives: the one imagined by its maker and the life it lives afterward.”


The film has little to offer in terms of describing his work from a traditional

architectural point of view. While scenic shots of some of OMA’s most famous

projects are still present, Tomas has chosen to focus on the human experience as the

true judge of the significance of architecture. From the beautiful running opening

sequence of the Casa de Musica to the interviews with Louise Lemoine (owner and

occupant of Maison à Bordeaux) and the homeless visitors of the Seattle Public Library, the film explores Rem’s architectural work not as an object but as a living

thing that changes people and is, in its turn, itself changed by people.

Following the screening of Rem, the audience was given an opportunity to ask

questions about the film and the architect’s work. The audience was enthusiastic and

highly engaged, providing Tomas with an hour in which he could explain his work

process and inspirations as a filmmaker, as well as give further insight into the life

and modus operandi of his father.

The Q&A session was essential to the full understanding of the documentary.

Primarily focused on the subject of the film (as it naturally happens), the questions

ranged from topics such as Rem Koolhaas’s work ethic (and yes, even at the age of

just over 70, Rem Koolhaas goes on for 72 hours without sleep at a time) to his drive

to continue practicing the profession. And while Tomas confessed that he could only

offer his own thoughts and observations on the latter, it seems that the source of the

architect’s motivation and inspiration is simple - even after having passed all

professional milestones one could hope for, architecture is still the only thing Rem

Koolhaas would rather be doing.

Interest in Tomas Koolhaas himself was not missing either, even if questions often

came back to his famous father. In his answers Tomas honoured not only the

influence of Rem but also that of his mother, Madelon Vriesendorp, a painter whose

artwork graces the cover of Delirious New York and the co-founder of OMA, who

also attended the event. The session closed with an enthusiastic ovation from both

staff and students.

The UK premier screening of Rem and the follow-up session with Tomas Koolhaas

were an appropriate opening of a promising year for the Oxford School of

Architecture. The event was a valuable insight into the thinking of one of the most

influential figures of contemporary architecture and architectural theory and will

leave a lasting impression on many aspiring architects.

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