Architecture / Curating Design / Curator / Design / Exhibition / OMA/Progress / Rem Koolhaas / Rotor / Share

OMA/Progress at Barbican Art Gallery, London, 2011-2012, Review

OMA, one of the most influential architecture practices functioning today, Co-founded in 1975 by Rem Koolhaas as the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, comprises of seven partners, staff of around 280 architects, designers and researchers and support staff in offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong. The exhibition is curated and designed by the Belgium-based collective, Rotor. Rotor commented on the challenge of designing an architectural exhibition saying the problem with architecture exhibitions is that they can’t show you what they promise: architecture.

The exhibition narrative is non linear, and thematic. The galleries in the show are divided according to themes such as materials, movable building parts and urban studies. It is a dense and heterogeneous collection of 450 objects which conveys the broad spectrum of projects OMA works on. Rotor decided to show the OMA in progress as a firm which is globally proactive and progress-oriented, rather than retrospective. The interior areas contain an OMA shop which is a public zone with no ticket required to enter. The shop is positioned centrally; the interpretation of this space suggests the complex relation between commerce and culture in design. They have also reopened a previously closed entrance, which was meant to be the public route through the galleries. This route allows visitors to enter free of charge, and pass through while seeing some of the exhibits. There is however no strong underlying theme that emerges throughout the exhibition, other than how the design process is explored and transformed, relating to the title ‘progress’ as in work in progress.

OMA/Progress, Image Courtesy Barbican Gallery

The galleries display finished models side by side with rough prototypes, conceptual sketches, material explorations, printed matter from OMA, documents out of waste paper baskets from OMA’s offices and correspondence with clients. Also included amongst these are site photographs sent from their office, that are printed directly in the gallery, giving one a sense of being part of the real-time activities of the office. In addition to this, acquisitions lists are on display (confidential material has been blacked out). There is a secret room( secret because it is not shown on the exhibition map) where printout from the OMA working files have been pasted all over, and then staff from the office blackened out the confidential part, this seems more of a gimic, as much of the information was really administrative.  One of the displays is a large screen which plays a video on a 48-hour loop which Rotor made by collecting all the images from the OMA server. There are 3.5 million images in the entire video.[1] However, this simply seems to be a gimmick, as these images do not communicate anything in terms of meaning or added value except their bulk. The same effect could be achieved if one connected the Google images server to the video feed. Architecture critic Rowan Moore of The Observer, in his review on OMA/Progress writes…

‘…It does not present, as some architecture exhibitions do, a series of projects to be contemplated and understood. Architecture is rather seen sidelong. A problem of architectural exhibitions is that their subject is the background of life, but must become foreground for the purposes of a show’.[2]

[1] Botazzi Roberto, ‘Casting a critical eye over OMA’s oeuvre’ in architectural review, 31st October 2011.

[2] Moore Rowan, ‘OMA/Progress- Review’, in ‘The Observer’, 9th October 2011, design/2011/oct/09/rem-koolhaas-oma-progress-barbican?newsfeed=true


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