Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Image courtesy of OMA

Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Image courtesy of OMA

By Jakob Harry Hybel

OMA is  Rem Koolhaas.  Rem Koolhaas is OMA. That seems to be the popular belief, but one should not make the mistake of equating the two. In fact, Koolhaas is just one out of six partners in a collaborative partnership based in Rotterdam with offices all over the world.

It is a quite understandable misconception, though. For one thing, of OMA’s four founding partners – the others being Madelon Vriesendorp, Zoe Zenghelis and Elia Zenghelis – Koolhaas is the last one remaining in the firm.

More importantly though, the stern but charismatic Koolhaas has always been a vigorous social critic and a polemic, idiosyncratic writer. In fact, it was the early writings of Koolhaas (especially his seminal dissection of the modern metropolis, “Delirious New York”) that made him known in the architectural world. They also laid the foundation of OMA’s philosophy.

OMA bases their work on the premise that in our modern, high-technological society, traditional city structures have become obsolete. They see no point in adhering to site-specificness in an increasingly globalized world and thus, their projects are strictly self-referential.

The huge commercial success the firm enjoys today was not always a given. The first decade-and-a-half following OMA’s formation in 1975 was characterized by controversial competition entries, which earned the firm a certain amount of international attention, but very few buildings were actually realized.

From the late 80s, things started to take off when OMA won the commission for one of their key projects: Euralille, a hub for high-speed trains in the town of Lille in northern France. This was a turning point.

Since then they have designed large-scale projects such as the Zollverein Historical Museum and master plan in Essen, public buildings the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, high-profile landmarks such as the much acclaimed Casa da Música concert hall in Porto and most recently the China Central Television Tower in Beijing. They have also dabbled in private residential projects.

OMA has won several international awards including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000, the RIBA Gold Medal in 2004, the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2005 and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2010 Venice Biennale.

Visit OMA’s website here.