This autumn Barbican Art Gallery
will be transformed by a major exhibition on OMA, one of the most influential architectural practices working today. Known for their daring ideas, extraordinary buildings and obsession with the rapid pulse of modern life, OMA play an active role in the architectural, engineering and cultural ideas that are shaping our world. Founded by polymath Rem Koolhaas in 1975, OMA currently comprises seven partners and a staff of around 280 architects, designers and researchers working in offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong. OMA / Progress is the first major presentation of OMAs work in the UK and coincides with the opening of their first buildings here, Rothschild Bank HQ in the City of London and a Maggies Centre in Gartnavel, Glasgow.
OMA / Progress is guest curated by the Brussels-based collective Rotor, who were behind the much praised Belgian Pavilion at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. With unprecedented access to OMAs archives and daily practice, Rotor has selected and arranged a wide range of materials, relics, documentation, imagery and models yielding fresh perspectives on OMAs built and unbuilt projects and conceptual work. Rotor comments: Our ambition is to make a portrait of OMA accepting its contradictions. What we try to do is reach beyond polemics to create a space where nuance is possible.
OMA / Progress delves into the inner workings of OMAs intense productivity, providing up-to-the minute detailed insight into OMA operations across Europe, Africa, Asia and America. It features projects currently in development including the Prada Foundation, Milan; those under construction such as Cornell Universitys Milstein Hall, New York; and the CCTV headquarters in Beijing; recent competition entries like the Broad Art Museum in Los Angeles; and those that are on-hold indefinitely, like the Dubai Renaissance hotel and the White City masterplan in London. Recent projects by OMAs research unit, AMO, are also on show, including its plans for a European renewable energy grid, a curatorial masterplan for the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and the work of Strelka, a new postgraduate school that AMO helped set up in Moscow.
Triggered by OMAs preoccupation with architectural preservation, the west entrance of Barbican Art Gallery is opened up for the first time in the buildings history, making the exhibition spaces directly accessible from the high walks of the surrounding Barbican Estate. With the existing entrance also in use, visitors are able to freely walk through and occupy the space in the way originally intended by Barbican architects, Chamberlin, Powell & Bonn. Upon entering the gallery visitors are immersed in an abundance of photographic, filmic and written material generated by OMA, from the 1970s to now. An OMA-curated shop features a wide range of products, including OMAs seminal books from Delirious New York ( 1978), S, M, L, XL (1995) to Al Manakh (2007 & 2010) and the brand new Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, together with a selection of publications that inform and inspire their buildings and ideas.
The carefully orchestrated upper galleries feature a diverse and unexpected range of objects, photographs and films selected by Rotor from OMAs archives and offices worldwide. Highlights include Koolhaass hand-written faxes; colour prints by German photographer Candida Hoefer of the Dutch Embassy in Berlin; a drawing of how to cut the form of CCTV from a block of foam in four easy steps; and samples of the skin of the Prada Transformer Pavilion (Seoul 2009). Displayed on their own or in juxtaposition the exhibits tell revealing and often surprising stories about OMAs unprecedented and intuitive ways of working.
Installed on the Barbicans sculpture court the exhibition also includes a 1:1 footprint of OMAs design for the next Maggies Centre in Glasgow, allowing visitors the opportunity to walk over, through and around the plan to investigate and playfully imagine the building themselves.
A programme of live events will tackle the question of progress in architecture and society and illuminate the work of OMA. The headline event, OMA: Show & Tell on Tuesday 25 October in Barbican Theatre brings together all seven partners from OMA for the first time in public, to examine and debate the nature of society, progress and the built environment across the world today.