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OMA/Progress






London's Barbican Art Gallery is transformed by a retrospective of one of the leading architectural practices working today, OMA. With high profile clients including The Prada Foundation, Viktor & Rolf, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, OMA and its think tank AMO is globally celebrated for their daring and unconventional ideas and buildings. Co-founded in 1975 by Rem Koolhaas as the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, OMA now comprises seven partners and a staff of around 280 architects, designers, researchers and support staff in offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Given their reputation, we were initially apprehensive when Barbican confirmed the OMA/Progress for their programme, for two reasons; firstly, this would be the first major presentation of OMA's work in the UK. Secondly, even with the technology of today, architecture exhibitions are tricky to pull off, often let down by the fact that you can't exhibit a building in any gallery/museum. Compromising with scaled models, technical drawings, 'making of' videos and 3D computer generated CADs. Somehow the vast, all-consuming feeling of seeing a building/structure is never fully translated.

However, this is not an average exhibition. The problem in representing an architectural practice is something that OMA's co-founder, Rem Koolhaas was very much aware of. Koolhaas intended to give an outside view on the inside of his office(s). That's not to say OMA/Progress does not use the aforementioned methods to present it's ideas. There's plenty of sketches, research photography and models (scaled and life size!) to marvel at. But the breadth of detail and 'work in progress' (hence the word 'Progress' in the exhibition's name) on display is really what sets it apart from previous architecture retrospectives. Curated and designed by the Belgium-based collective, Rotor, who have enjoyed unprecedented behind-the-scenes access and the opportunity to ask candid questions. The result is a compelling selection of materials from archives, collections and OMA offices across the globe.

Highlights include the "Secret Room", a small space, where all walls, floor and ceiling are covered in discarded papers that were found in the bins of the Rotterdam office; emails, sketches, 3D models, notes, spreadsheets, photographs and OS maps weirdly let you into the working lives of OMA
On the upper level, between the rooms that divulge on key issues like materials, structure, budgets and location, every now and then there are hand written commentaries by Koolhaas, written in red pen, taped to the floor (new to Rotor's commentaries, all of which are also on the floor), which informs us of his true thoughts on OMA's projects.

What was really unexpected was the effort put in to make each room personable and easy to digest for those of us who don't have architecture degrees. Feeling like we momentarily stepped into the shoes of this prestigious design practice and its employees, OMA/Progress really sets the bar for the future of architecture exhibitions.

OMA/Progress is open at the Barbican Art Gallery until 19 Februrary 2012.

Image Credits

01-08. Barbican OMA Progress. Lyndon Douglas
09-11. © OMA; Image by Agostino Osio
12. CCTV 2010 OMA © Jim Gourley
13. Prada Transformer 2008 © OMA
14. Casa de Musica 2005 © OMA
15. Taipei Performing Arts Centre © Rotor
16. OMA Model Shop © Rotor
17. Broad Arts centre © Rotor
18. Rem Koolhaas © OMA & Dominik Gigler
19. Rotor. Photo by Benjamin Brolet

Louisa Lau
21:23 - 04/01/12

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