07.05.2013 Cordula Vielhauer

REM: Documentary about Rem Koolhaas by Tomas Koolhaas

Tomas Koolhaas made it quite clear right from the start that this documentary film about his father, aptly entitled "REM", was not going to be an emotionally charged father-and-son story. It aims instead to expose the human experience of architecture – to explore what architecture means to those who inhabit it, and to those who create it. By accompanying his famous father's work using the medium film, Tomas Koolhaas is trying to create a new form of communication of architecture. An ambitious aim, which he expresses as follows:
"Architecture is often viewed from the outside, as an inanimate object represented in still imagery. The resulting documentary is more revealing than the generic poster image, and more evocative than the intellectual reality of architectural renderings. The audience (through the camera) gains a rare insight into the reality of the hidden internal life of the buildings. 'REM' brings the human back into architectural representation. The film reveals an architecture infinitely more meaningful than its iconicity. Film proves, once again, to be an important medium to discover meaning within spatial experience." Clips of REM can be viewed at www.remdocumentary.com.
Tomas Koolhaas, who studied film in Los Angeles, explained in an interview with ArchDaily that to him, the image quality of a documentary is just as important as that of a feature film. He initially tried to make things look beautiful, but soon realised that the harsher images were much more compelling and powerful in their expression of the architecture and the people using it. He also gives an insight into what motivated him in the first place: the realisation that most of the documentations about the OMA projects ignored specific angles and corners as well as people – exactly those that actually interested him.
It is precisely these "angles and corners", these deliberately open and public spaces in the buildings by Rem Koolhaas, subtle disruptions, for which many architectural critics forgive him his otherwise often rather pragmatic handling of existing building fabric, or the refusal to refrain from construction contracts for moral reasons. Koolhaas' attitude has always been something like: if he doesn't do a specific project – the CCTV tower in Beijing for example – then someone else will do it, possibly worse, but definitely different than him. In the images that Tomas Koolhaas captures of the vicinity around the CCTV building, the descriptive words of Rem Koolhaas, as well as the large shiny CCTV building, contrast disturbingly with the pictures of poverty and misery of the nearby slum.
The clips focusing on the work and builders at the two large construction sites, CCTV and De Rotterdam Complex, are also interesting. While the Dutch workers face the camera with attitudes ranging from self-confidence to standoffishness, the Chinese virtually beam at the lens. It is moreover striking how crude and archaic the CCTV building site appears in contrast to the high-tech construction work carried out in the Netherlands.

So much for the first and very fragmentary impressions of the film available for preview in the web. REM is set to debut in end of 2013. We are looking forward to the final product of new and already seen sequences. One thing is certain though: it will be a different picture than the one we have had so far of the buildings by OMA or Rem Koolhaas.
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