Koolhaas' Elements of Architecture - ISPLORA

Koolhaas' Elements of Architecture


Rem Koolhaas updates and rethinks his personal catalog of the fundamentals of our buildings.

“Elements of Architecture” was presented on Friday, 23rd November, at the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts (MAXXI) in the presence of the architect, urbanist and author Rem Koolhaas and Irma Boom, artist and designer, who was in charge of the graphic project of the volume.

The event is included in the cycle of talks “Books at MAXXI” and took place one week after the presentation of the text “Montage and the Metropolis: Architecture, Modernity, and the Representation of Space” by Martino Stierli (Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the MoMA), which traces the story of montage in the urban and architectural contexts of the late 19th century, its use by the avant-garde in the early 20th century and its final success in the postmodern period.

The book “Elements of Architecture”, just published by Taschen, was designed by Irma Boom and is based on the research of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. It includes essays by Rem Koolhaas, Stephan Trueby, Manfredo di Robilant and Jeffrey Inaba, as well as interviews with Werner Sobek and Tony Fadell (Nest Labs) and a photographic essay by Wolfgang Tillmans.

Its 2,528 20x25.5-cm pages represent “something between an incomplete encyclopedia - a seemingly objective depository of found material - and a paranoiac’s scrapbook decoding the motivations and rules hidden everywhere in our built environment”, as stated in the preface, literally located in the middle of the book, where it naturally opens because of its spine.

Rem Koolhaas's exhibition “Elements of Architecture” an essential toolkit to understanding structure

Derived, updated, and expanded from Rem Koolhaas's exhibition “Elements of Architecture” at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, the volume is an essential toolkit to understanding structure, a collection which is a “look through the microscope at the real fundamentals of our buildings, revealing the essential design techniques used by any architect, anywhere, anytime”.


The elements of architecture are presented as isolated components: floor, wall, ceiling, roof, door, window, facade, balcony, corridor, fireplace, toilet, stair, escalator, elevator and ramp. Elements which must be considered “scenery more than structure” and suggest architecture “as a stage, rather than a unified entity and an order”. It is a research which delves into the micro-narrative of architecture and inner space, revealing not a single story but the network of connections, influences and hybridizations which have marked the evolution of architecture up to today: from technology to climate change, moving through regulations and market logic.

Every element is described individually, set in time and space, analyzed through plans, drawings and photographs to understand its use and interpretations, in a technical and symbolic narration which connects it to its present applications.

According to Rem Koolhaas, architecture thus becomes “a strange mixture of persistence and flux, an amalgamation of elements - some that have been around for over 5,000 years and others that were (re)invented yesterday. The fact that these elements change independently of each other, according to different cycles and economies, and for different reasons, turns each building into a complex collage of the archaic and the current, the site-specific and the standard, mechanical smoothness and the spontaneous.  Only by looking at the elements under a wide lens can we recognize the cultural preferences, forgotten symbolism, technological advances, mutations triggered by intensifying global exchange, climatic adaptions, political calculations, regulatory requirements, new digital regimes, and, somewhere in the mix - the ideas of the architect that constitute the practice of architecture today”.


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