‘Once again, it is time for something new’

Newspaper Trouw
Newspaper Trouw

This title is a quote by Rem Koolhaas. It was published as part of an interview with a newspaper (TROUW, October 19 2013) this weekend. These journalist had not spoken to him in nine years. Rem is not so keen on interviews. Partly because he does not like to fuel ideas about any stardom he supposedly has (or has not). Instead of personal stardom he mentions that he works in a team. That is an honorable statement. I sympathize with that. Indeed his team in both AMO and OMA is crucial, busy and productive. I even admire that. At times I think that I might be in a similar condition at my work at the university. My students are crucial, busy and productive. They are what make our school a success. Yet unfortunately there seems to be no stardom involved. Although, there is a star walking our halls every week now. Adriaan Geuze is extraordinary professor at our faculty and he sits with us as if we are normal.

What most struck me while reading this article, was the idea that one single human being can count for so much. Without Rem, so many things that have happened in architecture, would not have existed. Even when a team joins the work, it is the energy of one singular being that motivates and urges. There is a terrible reliance on this one person. A weak spot and a very concentrated clear spot at the same time. Maybe that is what is missing at our university now. There is no such concentrated clear spot in one person, unless perhaps by the occasional presence of Adriaan Geuze. But of course it is not his faculty. Foremost, as a faculty, we are a team. Or at least, we appear to be. A team of specialists with each our own little shop. Maybe if Adriaan would be our direct boss, something similar as the stardom design offices could arise. I spoke to Adriaan about this and asked him what he knew of the university of Virginia. They seem to me a team of stars. Multiple individual lights (Elizabeth Meyer, Teresa Gali-Izard, Rueben M. Rainey) with a collective lightning capacity. Adriaan nodded yes, that is a great place to be.

Read for instance what they write as part of their mission statement:
‘Students, If you wish to be a leader in this field, we invite you to join us in our work with urban communities and urban landscapes. Our educational program is very demanding, but the exceptional opportunity we offer our students to learn, question, and develop their own approach to these urgent matters is also exceptionally rewarding. The people who are best suited to our program understand that success as a design leader requires consistent effort and rigorous reflection, as well as a sense of humor and integrity in collaborative work.’

Gosh. What to think of that? It sounds frighteningly self secure, alarmingly honest and challenging. Is this a school for the excellent only? Like OMA is an office for the excellent only? I think not. My experience is that the culture in the Netherlands has trouble with this kind of stardom straight forwardness. They rather reject a star like Rem because the Dutch culture does not know how to treat a star. Rem has probably no trouble being a star outside of the Netherlands, because there, stardom is more often synonym for sincere respect. We Dutchies can be straight forward without proper manners. We can be so downright brutal and clumsy that we get ahead of ourselves. We act first, then reflect but hardly ever regret. Vice versa it would be: first we regret what we have become, then we project what would be better and so finally we pay respect to those that seem to embody these improvements. That would sound like the right therapy for the Dutch culture.

On second thought… it is probably better for me to join the Virginia staff than to try and fix this within the cultural presets of our team.

Back to his statement. It is time for what new thing? Well, Rem is fed up with the city. He wonders what the countryside is doing at the moment. Must be busy doing and becoming something. He has seen that his holiday house in Switzerland is part of a village that is run by Asian housemaids for 50 weeks a year. Only twenty years ago there were still local dress codes and many agrarian rituals (see also: agrarian rituals and the future sublime). Rem’s attention for the countryside is late, but nevertheless welcome. There is even a certain pride I feel, that Rem will be looking at my expertise. A little reward by the blink of a star. A notch-notch familiarity. Seeing the black and white picture of the intense stare of a man that has accomplished so much more than I have. Maybe even pathetically jealous. A sense of Sublime, as Edmund Burke would declare: ‘God has planted in man a sense of ambition, and a satisfaction arising from the contemplation of his excelling his fellows in something deemed valuable amongst them’ (Burke 1759: 96). Long live the strategic and economic sense of competitive ambition.

Burke, Edmund (1759), On the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. David Womersley (second edn., Penguin Classics; London: Penguin Books).
Roncken, Paul (2011), ‘Agrarian Rituals and the Future Sublime’, in Wapke Feenstra and Antje Schiffers (eds.), Images of Farming (Heijningen: Jap Sam Books), 102-13.