Architecture on Film: O.M.A. Rem Koolhaas

Flemish pioneer of the interface between culture and TV, Jef Cornelis, offers a feature length interview with Rem Koolhaas from the beginning of his career, in 1985.


04:00pm, Sunday, 14 January 2018


12:30pm, Saturday, 20 January 2018


Cinema 2
Barbican, Beech Street,
London EC2Y 8AE


Sunday 14 January, 4.00pm [SOLD OUT]

Saturday 20 January, 12.30pm [Extra screening]


O.M.A Rem Koolhaas + REM:
£16 (subject to availability)

AF Members:
£10.00 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

Architecture on Film: Rem Koolhaas

A unique opportunity to view two portraits of architect Rem Koolhaas. Separated by 30 years, together the films – O.M.A. Rem Koolhaas (Netherlands, 1985, Jef Cornelis, 76 mins) and REM (USA, 2016, Tomas Koolhaas, 75 mins) – provide an intimate insight into the breadth of the architect’s influential and celebrated career, guiding us through his thinking and projects in his own words.

A limited number of specially priced combined-tickets (£16) are available for the viewing of both screenings, O.M.A. Rem Koolhaas and REM. The discounted price will automatically be given at the checkout, when booking tickets for both screenings at the same time.

O.M.A. Rem Koolhaas

A feature length interview with Koolhaas from the beginning of his career, by Dutch pioneer of the interface between television and culture, Jef Cornelis. Ten years after setting up OMA with Madelon Vriesendorp and Elia and Zoe Zenghelis, the practice had still not built anything – despite major and widely reported conceptual experiments, competition entries and as yet unrealised commissions.

In a black room, lit by the bulb of the slide-projector, Rem presents his early provocative projects, including the Berlin Wall-inspired Exodus (1972), the fable of the Floating Swimming Pool (1978), and the satirical Welfare Palace Hotel (1975-6). Over models and drawings, Rem then talks us candidly through his intense design work, and multiple setbacks, on OMA’s first commissions, such as The Netherlands Dance Theatre and urban planning for Amsterdam Noord, none of which had yet been realised.

Throughout the film the rigor of Rem’s thinking takes centre stage, mirrored through Cornelis’ editing into a monologue of fierce and relentless intelligence – a guide to Koolhaas as the architect of a radical “intellectual multinational”.

1985, Netherlands, Jef Cornelis, 76 mins

Geert Bekaert, Koolhaas Presenteren, Maastricht 29 November 2004

Published in De Witte Raaf 117, September-October 2005

Belgian architectural critic and writer Geert Bekaert (1928-2016) worked with Cornelis’ on many of his architecture films, and participated in the creation of O.M.A Rem Koolhaas as scriptwriter. This is a translated and extensively abridged version of Bekaert’s full presentation, which is available in Dutch at:

Many thanks to De Witte Raaf and the heirs of Geert Bekaert for permission to use and translate this text.

I think [with O.M.A Rem Koolhaas] we are dealing with a unique congruence between maker and protagonist… A documentary on the verge of a feature film, or vice versa. It should not be forgotten that Koolhaas started his career as a scriptwriter, and that Cornelis comes from the theater world… 

Koolhaas had to be presented - 'had to', that is to say, in the context of the art and architecture programming we had planned. But presenting Koolhaas is not easy. It soon becomes ridiculous or childish. Because nobody can present Koolhaas better than Koolhaas presents himself. He is constantly his own presentation. Explaining or commenting upon Koolhaas is even less appropriate. Everything he says is crystal clear, at least when he says it (and often only at that moment)… And yet Jef Cornelis had the guts to present Koolhaas. Cornelis himself is never looking to explain or even less to comment. He wants to show. No, he does not even want to show. He wants to see for himself, to discover everything there is out there for us to see ourselves. A film is his instrument to approach people. 

In a master move Jef Cornelis locks Koolhaas in a dark tent behind a projection device, without an audience. His fundamental loneliness becomes evident. Also his vulnerability. In Koolhaas’ open office full of light and views and movement, a dark room was improvised especially for the occasion, at the expense of much effort and time, just to place him in that mise-en-scène. The slides themselves, which illustrate the story, were recorded later. It is clear that Koolhaas does not feel easy in this role. He looks like a skittish animal, not knowing well how to escape the threat of the hunter. In that darkness the story of architecture appears as a children's fairy tale, a bedtime story, a romantic campfire… The story of Koolhaas is placed in the right perspective, that of the myth. This literally mirrors Koolhaas’ own convictions, expressed in his receipt of the award of the Rotterdam-Maaskant Prize in 1986: "A plan for reconstructing the mythology of the architect is needed." We are not allowed to breathe for 25 minutes. One improvised or seemingly improvised one-liner follows the other. Koolhaas is not shy about paradoxes, sophisms, contradictions. He always knows how to explain them. After all, these paradoxes are the only means to approach reality and life. Everything is summarized in: "The terrible beauty of the twentieth century".

After about half an hour, Koolhaas finally comes into full light, as another, now dominating figure… He wants to get started... As an architect he wants as direct and efficient an architecture as possible, far from all formal fuss… We suddenly see this other Koolhaas – made evident through the film's approach – a real architect, someone who sells his soul to the devil in order to build… The work arises out of itself and follows its own development, its own way through the jungle of external circumstances that seem to determine it from the outside… To me, this ambivalence is also reflected in the way in which Jef Cornelis filmed and edited this sequence. Both the film director and the protagonist play the game here, on the back of the serious architecture... The rhythm is amazingly fast, while the camera movement is almost painfully slow. It looks like a poker game. One project has not yet been completed whilst the next is already being addressed… The fact that the film was shot at different times is only apparent from the various T-shirts that Koolhaas wears.

After this hyperactive sequence, in which Koolhaas is enormously present, with his questioning eyes regularly directed at the imaginary spectator, he unexpectedly returns to his cave. To tell his story further… Because of this sudden return to the cave, the film is rounded off in a classic way and the unity and independence of the story is emphasized… A well-considered construction that further expounds the paradoxical aspects of Koolhaas' work on the one hand, and, on the other hand, shows the internal coherence of it... In their opposition, the character of the film and that of the work perfectly match, distant and engaged, present and elusive, charming and brilliant, comparable to the unnoticeable laughing gas mixed into the air-conditioning of the Radio Music Hall.