Heads work of OMA and also AMO, the conceptual branch of OMA focused on social, economic and technological developments and exploring territory beyond architectural and urban concerns. A utopia that is indifferent to topography, imposing the mental over the real. The grid system in Manhattan predicted the future condition of the city; its two dimensional restrictions gave way to three dimensional freedom, and the millions of people that it now houses was envisaged far before a tiny proportion were even present. Any site could now be multiplied ad infinitum to produce a proliferation of floor space. By separating the internal and external, the monolith of the skyscraper spared the outside world of everyday life, a shell housing layers of reality. Entering a building in Manhattan, even changing floors, could become an act of moving between worlds.
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Beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of Bigness. Bigness is ultimate architecture. It seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological programme, independent of the will of its architects.
Of all possible categories, Bigness does not seem to deserve a manifesto; discredited as an intellectual problem, it is apparently on its way to extinction — like the dinosaur — through clumsiness, slowness, inflexibility, difficulty. One hundred years ago, a generation of conceptual breakthroughs and supporting technologies unleashed an architectural Big Bang.
By randomising circulation, short-circuiting distance, artificialising interiors, reducing mass, stretching dimensions, and accelerating construction, the elevator, electricity, air-conditioning, steel, and finally, the new infrastructures formed a cluster of mutations that induced another species of architecture.
The combined effects of these inventions were structures taller and deeper — Bigger — than ever before conceived, with a parallel potential for the reorganisation of the social world — a vastly richer programmation. Theorems Fuelled initially by the thoughtless energy of the purely quantitative, Bigness has been, for nearly a century, a condition almost without thinkers, a revolution without programme. Beyond a certain critical mass, a building becomes a Big Building.
Such a mass can no longer be controlled by a single architectural gesture, or even by any combination or architectural gestures. This impossibility triggers the autonomy of its parts, but that is not the same as fragmentation: the parts remain committed to the whole. The elevator — with its potential to establish mechanical rather than architectural connections — and its family of related inventions render null and void the classical repertoire of architecture.
Issues of composition, scale, proportion, detail are now moot. The "art" of architecture is useless in Bigness. Where architecture reveals, Bigness perplexes; Bigness transforms the city from a summation of certainties into an accumulation of mysteries. What you see is no longer what you get. Through size alone, such buildings enter an amoral domain, beyond good or bad. Their impact is independent of their quality. Together, all these breaks — with scale, with architectural composition, with tradition, with transparency, with ethics — imply the final, most radical break: Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue.
It exists; at most, it coexists. Big mistakes are our only connection to Bigness. Bigness recognises that architecture as we know it is in difficulty, but it does not overcompensate through regurgitations of even more architecture. Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. A paradox of Bigness is that in spite of the calculation that goes into its planning — in fact, through its very rigidities — it is the one architecture that engineers the unpredictable.
Only Bigness can sustain a promiscuous proliferation of events in a single container. It develops strategies to organise both their independence and interdependence within a larger entity in symbiosis that exacerbates rather than compromises specificity. Through contamination rather than purity and quantity rather than quality, only Bigness can support genuinely new relationships between functional entities that expand rather than limit their identities.
At first sight, the activities amassed in the structure of Bigness demand to interact, but Bigness also keeps them apart. Like plutonium rods that, more or less immersed, dampen or promote nuclear reaction, Bigness regulates the intensities of programmatic co-existence. Although Bigness is a blueprint for perpetual intensity, it also offers degrees of serenity and even blandness.
It is simply impossible to animate its entire mass with intention. Zones will be left out, free from architecture. Team Bigness is where architecture becomes both most and least architectural: most because of the enormity of the object; least through the loss of autonomy — it becomes instrument of other forces, it depends.
Bigness is impersonal: the architect is no longer condemned to stardom. Even as Bigness enters the stratosphere of architectural ambition — the pure chill of megalomania — it can be achieved only at the price of giving up control, of transmogrification. Beyond signature, Bigness means surrender to technologies; to engineers, contractors, manufacturers; to politics; to others. It promises architecture a kind of post-heroic status — a realignment with neutrality. Bastion If Bigness transforms architecture, its accumulation generates a new kind of city.
Bigness can exist anywhere on that plane. Bigness no longer needs the city: it competes with the city; it represents the city; it pre-empts the city; or better still, it is the city. If urbanisation generates potential and architecture exploits it, Bigness enlists the generosity of urbanism against the meanness of architecture.
In spite of its size, it is modest. Not all architecture, not all programme, not all events will be swallowed by Bigness. Bigness is the last bastion of architecture — a contraction, a hyper-architecture. Bigness surrenders the field to after-architecture. A, Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau.
Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large. Monacelli Press, New York, Beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of Bigness. The best reason to broach Bigness is the one given by climbers of Mount Everest: "because it is there.
London Review of Books
Taschen, pp. It presents the Empire State, Chrysler, and other landmark buildings of the time with a visionary twist — a dirigible is set to dock at the spire of the Empire State. It is an image of the 20th-century city as a spectacle of new tourism, to be sure, but also as a utopia of new spaces — people are free to circulate from the street, up through the tower, to the sky, and back down again. The image is not strictly capitalist: the utopian conjunction of skyscraper and airship appears in Soviet designs of the s as well.
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