Ten years ago, Rem Koolhas would have been the last person you would have expected to be heavily involved in the protection of ancient buildings. However, in his exhibition Cronocaos, he is even campaigning for the preservation of buildings from more recent architectural periods. The show made its debut at the architecture exhibition of the 2010 Venice Biennale. Now, the unrenovated rooms of the New Museum, in New York’s Bowery district, are lending the display even more optical flair
The old building, located directly next to the New Museum, was purchased by the museum’s directors as a seminal investment. Koolhaas’ »Cronocaos« exhibition was the opening event in May and June of 2011. With »Festivals for the New City« as a background, which had previously taken place across the whole area, the name of the exhibition forms an obvious overlap with the old signs of the former restaurant. The prices in Manhattan are increasingly rapidly. Since the former mayor Rudy Giuliani started his successful campaign to clean up the city, long-established shops and residents in areas such as the Meatpacking District and the Bowery have been replaced by more noble boutiques and luxury apartments. The exhibition reflects this in both the exhibits and the surrounding architecture, with half the room renovated and the other half still in its original state.
According to Rem Koolhaas, increasingly large sections of the constructed world are being classified as listed buildings, while almost simultaneously, post-war architecture across the globe is being wiped out, despite its importance as a social project. »This mixture of destruction and preservation removes the lineal evolution recognisable in the architecture of different buildings and forces us into the age of ‘Cronocaos.«
Rem Koolhaas talking to DETAIL’s Frank Kaltenbach.
Koolhaas, who used to enjoy being quoted with saying »Fuck the Context«, actually goes one step further than just wanting to expand preservation orders to include modern buildings: when asked by DETAIL, he intimated that his Office for Metropolitan Architecture is also currently working on reconstruction concepts.
In typically analytical fashion, Koolhaas has hung 40 large-format posters containing statistics, diagrams and photos on preserving buildings. The exhibition is separated into different sections: the first posters are placed directly in the way of the visitors, while »Planning», Black Hole«, »Side-effects« and »Re-Use« form narrow alleyways in the rear part of the former restaurant. Hanging on a white wall in the restored part of the building is part of the history of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which resembles a tear-off calendar. Each of the OMA’s 30 projects that is confronted with existing buildings forms a part of the calendar. The order is strictly chronological, but it is done according to when the original was completed rather than the new development.
Part of the »Intro« section hints strikingly at the exhibition’s concept: the left half of the former restaurant remains as it once was, while the other half has been renovated with grey, polished flooring and white walls. The contrast is extreme and runs deliberately, and slightly eccentrically, through the cross-section of the slim steel poles in the middle of the room.
A scenically set-up living room, with props from different OMA projects, serves as a display window. The large cushion from a house in Bordeaux can also be used to relax. The scene almost seems to be set on the pavement outside, meaning pedestrians, taxis and trucks form part of a constantly moving background.
Analysis à la Koolhaas, overlapping various different designs, Station 29: The rise of the world market (growth chart), meant the end of the architect as a credible public figure. No architect has featured on the cover of Time magazine since Philip Johnson in 1979. Koolhaas recognises a pergent effect and sees a sort of Faustian pact with the devil between the architects and the media: star architects may have become more and more prominent, but their influence has declined.
The pide between the untouched section and the renovated flooring, walls and ceilings splits the room down the middle.
The worn, untouched main entrance
Station 40: The reinforced concrete structure, built in Damascus in 1984, is still empty today. But Koolhaas doesn’t want to let the unfinished shell be torn down for something new to be built, instead he would prefer to use the existing structure and fill it with his new range. This doesn’t just save costs; it also saves resources and unnecessary disruption in the city.
The reading corners look a little like objects that the bulky waste collectors forgot. On the old tables lie numerous project brochures from OMA.
The real attraction of the exhibition is the overlap of actual exhibits with existing utensils and pictures. It forces the visitors to ask themselves what comes from Koolhaas and what was already there?
Large photos from Hong Kong, Lagos and Libya, which are based on books from OMA, all lie on the floor, as if ready for removal.
The bedroom scene looks just as melancholy as the picture by Madelon Vriesendorp on the wall. »Delirious New York« was the name of Koolhaas’ manifest from 1978 – the city seems to be losing some of the qualities that it describes.
After the press conference, Koolhaas heads off to his famous New York Prada store to buy himself a new coat.
Will the Bowery retain its charming old streets in the future or become a new commercial area? Koolhaas has remained true to his reputation and chosen the right topic for the right location – the preservation of authentic city districts. In the case of the Bowery, however, he may have come a little too late: as Cronocaos opened, across the road yet another store for an international fashion label was opening its doors in an old, long-established building. All photos: Frank Kaltenbach