It is the evening before the opening of the Venice Architecture Biennale and, after a long day of back-to-back meetings scheduled in 20-minute intervals, his publicist explains that our interview is now unlikely to happen. The famed Dutch architect, who is also this biennale's director, wants to leave right after the panel on which he's currently speaking. ...Read the whole thing (and if the Journal's Web site wants you to subscribe, remember that Google is your friend). Touchy artistes. Grand pronouncements. Tedious talk about theory. Yada, yada, yada, right? Well, not so much actually. Koolhaas' mention of the "creative process of transgression" is illuminating if you about it, which is precisely what I hope we can do for a moment.
Mr. Koolhaas thinks that contemporary structures have become too conformist. "This biennale confirms the irrelevance of architects," he says, noting that this year's focus is on architectural elements rather than architects themselves. ...
When the group arrives at a cafe overlooking the Grand Canal, Mr. Koolhaas turns around and introduces himself. He mentions that his son is filming a documentary on him and might come by. Mr. Koolhaas used to be involved with film himself. Before he became an architect, he worked as a journalist and a screenwriter—taking after his father, who was also a writer. ... His writing can be grandiose. "Manhattan is the arena for the terminal stage of Western civilization," he writes in "Delirious New York."
Mr. Koolhaas speaks in similarly broad terms when he sits down at the head of an empty cafe table. He explains that architects used to be much more adventurous than they are now. Recent decades, he says, have seen an emphasis on comfort, security and sustainability, and "those three together form a new mantra that is beginning to dictate the norms of our society, which is replacing another mantra, which is liberté, egalité, fraternité." All that, he says, leaves little room for "any creative process of transgression."
Every writer -- indeed, every artist -- has to ask himself this question: "What should art do?" To Koolhass, art should transgress social norms, shatter tame pieties, do something really striking to catch the plebes off guard. Others answer it differently. Consider the recent brouhaha over the gender composition of published SF and fantasy authors. To many in this camp, art ought to cleave to the logic of proportional representation. Some in the literary scene think that the author is a phantom and believe art should twist itself into elaborate trick knots that slip apart in the reader's grasp.
Note that I'm not passing judgment on any of these approaches. I'm simply saying that everyone answers. That answer -- no matter its degree of clarity or coherence -- will ultimately determine the kind of art that gets made. That answer matters, not least of all for you and me.
(Picture: CC 2011 by Paolo Margari)