“First, What kind of life was lived in this place, that is, Why and how did its builders build as they did?
And second, what rules with general validity and applicability did they follow?”
Carroll William Westfall, Learning From Pompeii.

Friday, November 14, 2014


But now your own architecture is infected, has become equally smooth,  
all-inclusive, continuous, warped, busy, atrium-ridden . . . 
                                                                            Rem Koolhaus, Junkspace

Urbanismo was recently introduced to this essay called "Junkspace" by international architect Rem Koolhaus, whose much earlier work Delirious New York we found exhilarating in our excitable youth.  The piece, which consists of one long, excoriating paragraph, is Koolhaus' unflinching, compassionate, satiric ode to the city. It brings to mind, not only the life-destroying blobs that are modern convention centers, but the sanctimonious art museum, which he mocks as "a donor-plate labyrinth with the finesse of the retailer."  Not just shopping malls and airports, easy targets for satire, but just about everything that is built today for public use is infected with Junkspace, which, he insists, "is the residue mankind leaves on the planet." 

Koolhaus employs a rich vocabulary, stream-of-consciousness delivery, and an offhand tone to craft this unrelenting harangue. He is able to isolate and accurately render the banal distortions that have degraded the smallest episodes of our experience of common life. By encyclopedically collating seemingly everything that he finds wanting among the denatured public buildings of recent decades, he forces our gaze towards the extent of our collective loss, if not towards a remedy. Although now more than ten years old, his critique remains well suited to the architectural scene here in Richmond. 


"Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of science, universally. Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown . . . Although its individual parts are the outcome of brilliant inventions, lucidly planned by human intelligence, boosted by infinite computation, their sum spells the end of Enlightenment, its resurrection as farce, a low-grade purgatory . . . Junkspace is the sum total of our current achievement; we have built more than did all previous generations put together, but somehow we do not register on the same scales. We do not leave pyramids. According to a new gospel of ugliness, there is already more Junkspace under construction in the twenty-first century than has survived from the twentieth . . . It was a mistake to invent modern architecture for the twentieth century. Architecture disappeared in the twentieth century; we have been reading a footnote under a microscope hoping it would turn into a novel; our concern for the masses has blinded us to People’s Architecture."

Junkspace seems an aberration, but it is the essence, the main thing. . . the product of an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning, conceived in an incubator of Sheetrock (all three missing from the history books). Continuity is the essence of Junkspace; it exploits any invention that enables expansion, deploys the infrastructure of seamlessness: escalator, air-conditioning, sprinkler, fire shutter, hot-air curtain . . . It is always interior, so extensive that you rarely perceive limits; it promotes disorientation by any means (mirror, polish, echo) . . .

"(Note to architects: You thought that you could ignore Junkspace, visit it surreptitiously, treat it with condescending contempt or enjoy it vicariously . . . because you could not understand it, you’ve thrown away the keys . . . But now your own architecture is infected, has become equally smooth, all-inclusive, continuous, warped, busy, atrium-ridden . . .  JunkSignatureTM is the new architecture: the former megalomania of a profession contracted to manageable size, Junkspace minus its saving vulgarity."

Excerpts from Junkspace

OCTOBER 100, Spring 2002, pp. 175-190. © 2002 Rem Koolhaas.


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