Twelve percent of the Earth’s landmass is untouchable by Rem Koolhaas’ count. Whether a U.N. World Heritage site, plush nature preserve or lowly landmarked brownstone, architects are running out of room, with only 44,700,815 square-miles left to build. It is for this reason that the severe Dutch architect–The New Yorker once accused him of trying to kill the skyscraper–believes there must be a Landmarks Destruction Commission.
“I think that preservation has become a default position,” Mr. Koolhaas said. “If you don’t know what to do, preserve it. Bureaucrats and planners are suffering, because they don’t know what else to do. That is where some kind of charter of destruction is needed.”
He was speaking to reporters last Thursday inside a whitewashed storefront next door to the New Museum, which was hosting his Biennale-recycled show, Cronocaos, as part of the Festival of Ideas for the New City. Mr. Koolhaas was out to expose the perversions of preservation–what used to take 2,000 years or 200 years to become historic now takes 20, and so on. “We need a prospective approach, we will have to decide what to preserve in advance,” he noted on a screed. The Library of Congress’ decision to catalogue all tweets comes to mind.
It makes sense that Mr. Koolhaas–as always, dressed head-to-oily-black-oxfords in Prada–might want to sow some destruction on New York. This is the city he co-opted for the manifesto that launched his career, Delirious New York, even though he has realized but three projects here, all interiors: his friend and favored tailor Muccia’s store in SoHo, off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theater and the Lehmann Maupin Gallery. Christened instant landmarks by the popular and professional press alike, perhaps they are due for a run in with the Rem wrecking ball.
Mr. Koolhaas has, like so many proud architects architects before him, suffered glorious Gotham failures, as well. A hotel for Ian Schrager on Astor Place fell apart after 9/11, two condos were victims of the most recent recession and then there was the Whitney addition. A Blade Runner boomerang jutting violently out the top of Breuer’s masterpiece, the plan was defeated by stodgy Upper East Siders. Mr. Koolhaas told The Transom she is not one to revisit old projects, but this is the rare exception, a vision he wishes could still be built, even as the Whitney has abandoned Breur altogether.
And here we are downtown some eight years later plotting an end to preservation, as least as she is currently practiced. Go figure! “There is very little new stuff in New York that is noticeable,” Mr. Koolhaas said cooly. “You need to get a grip on the bureaucracies.”