In a recent interview with Nathan Gardels of The Washington Post, theorist-architect Rem Koolhaas spells out his updated vision for the future of global urbanism, describing a type of multi-nodal and highly-resilient conurbation that, at least according to Koolhaas, might look a lot like Los Angeles does today.
The wide-ranging interview covers a variety of topics, including the creeping threat of the “digital city” and whether the architect would be able to build his iconic CCTV tower in China today given tightened formal controls on new development—he says not in Beijing, but perhaps in Shenzhen—among other provocative issues.
But what stands out most is what Koolhaas sees as the future of global urbanization, as the “generic” postmodern city he detailed in works like S,M,L,XL undergoes existential change in the age of Donald Trump and global nationalism. According to Koolhaas, the various urban manifestations of generic international development have started to diverge into highly localized and diffuse variants. Koolhaas complains that despite the prolific growth of urban areas over the last thirty years, societies are currently doing a poor job preparing for an uncertain future. Koolhaas blames a reliance on the market economy and its attendant excesses as a prime driver for this type of impotence, saying, “For me, the issue is not about the inefficiency of democracies versus efficient autocracies but how and where a society wants to allocate its resources. It is really a matter of ideology, of whether the interests of the market or the society as a whole are the priority.”
Decrying the demise of “strong state capacity” to get massive works of infrastructure and urbanization built, Koolhaas takes aim at the inability of the contemporary city to deliver necessary and vital transformative projects and services just as the localizing forces of globalization take root. Koolhaas says, “It is ironic that just as people want to see a built environment that reflects who they are, what we are seeing in much of the world is that urban planning is scarcely possible because market economies are not generating the necessary funds for it. Any major project of public interest, including even precautions against hurricanes in coastal regions of America, can’t get done.”
The Dutch architect is unclear about whether or how cities will persevere through this crisis, but nevertheless has recast the generic, profuse city that sprawls into and out of the countryside as an apt model for absorbing future instabilities. Koolhaas points directly to the Dutch courbation known as Randstad, where he resides, and to Los Angeles as sources for potential solutions:
WorldPost: You’ve traveled the world many times over and built all over. In your view, what cities are most prepared to face the future?
Koolhaas: I have lived for 30 years in either New York and London, but now I’m living in Randstad [a metropolis consisting of the four largest Dutch cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht]. It is a bit bizarre for me. There are no dominant cities but together the whole area is connected in a kind of metropolitan field. All the facilities and amenities you’d find in a city are here but decentralized across the whole zone. It is kind of an extended city not dependent on coherence or adjustment of each of the parts to each other. Yet it is able to sustain itself as a connected entity — kind of like a collage.
So I would say cities like this that are more open and not so complex to operate are best prepared for whatever the future throws at them. Los Angeles is the prototype of this kind of habitat for the future.