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OMA Cooks Up Stack of Mies for Louisville
Latest design by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus unveiled.

Expanded ArchitectureChicago Plus posting from February 8, 2006


"I do not respect Mies," Rem Koolhas has written. "I love Mies . . . I do not revere Mies." Nowhere is this in greater display than in OMA's design, unveiled yesterday, for the $380,000,000 700 foot tall Museum Plaza in Louisville, whose upper reaches look like Koolhaas and OMA design partner Joshua Prince-Ramus took Mies' IBM and Seagram Buildings and stashed them atop a high shelf.

The design is like a highrise version of the same team's Seattle Public Library, a set of three massive concrete cores around which a series of platforms are cantilevered, most strikingly in the case of the one-acre 22nd floor "island" structure that will house a contemporary art museum, which will actually be constructed at ground level and then lifted up into position.

Unlike Mies, who created buildings that could house diverse functions in a uniform structure, OMA likes to break out the individual functions into different forms. At the Seattle Library, all of these forms were united by the curtain wall-facade, a continuous steel mesh of diamond-shaped windows. In Louisville, each function has its own building. At the base two separate structures, a 300 room hotel, and a tower with 150 lofts, are built around two of the cores, and have a strong visual affinity to Mies' 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments. The huge "island" museum (passing resemblance to Mies' proposal for a massive exhibition hall on the site of the current McCormick Place) sits atop these buildings, with the third core rising as a sort of a concrete peg leg for balance.

Set atop the museum like so many wooden blocks are two tall luxury condo towers, looking like the short ends of the IBM and Seagram, and a lower and broader office structure. looking a bit like it was carved out of the Dirksen Building, cantilevered over the edges of the museum. A free standing glass elevator structure rises diagonally, like the ladder on a firetruck, from ground level up 22 stories to the museum.

One of the early models for the complex resembled a bundle of sticks held together by the museum island as if it were a rubber band, but the sharp diagonality of that concept now survives only in the glass elevator shaft - the rest is surprisingly angular and four-square. Whether the final product comes out looking cutting edge or merely cloyingly mannerist will largely depend on the quality of the curtain wall. In the illustration above, the curtain wall is darker, with a distinctly Miesian ambiance. In other renderings, the curtain wall shows up lighter and spikier, more like that of the Seattle Library.

In one sense, the Louisville project seems almost quaint. In contrast to Chicago projects like Trump Tower, where half a million gets you a starter unit, Museum Plaza's luxury condos start at $400,000, and the prices of the lofts top out at $275,000. The Louisville Courier-Journal has extensive coverage of the project on its website.

Thumbing through Koolhass's 2004 compilation Content, I came across a section Rem Koolhaas OMA Concept for The Hyperbuilding, Bangkok ThailandI had forgotten: "The Hyperbuilding - OMA's brief, titillating brush with sci-fi." a proposal for Bangkok, Thailand - "a city on the edge of the tolerable (which) offers the perfect context in which to test these theories." The theories are for a "self-contained city", a 1,000-meter-high "mass of thin towers and blocks of program."

The idea went nowhere, but Koolhaas and his collaborator Joshua Prince-Ramus are nothing if not persistent. Once they develop a theory, they kept refining it, often through several unsuccessful competitions or pitches, until they finally find a willing client. Who would have thought the client for OMA's wildly radical hyperbuilding would be found not in Tokyo, New York or China, but along the banks of the Ohio River? It's not unlike how OMA's Seattle Public Library is a direct extension of their thinking for losing entries in competitions for a library in Jussieu and for the National Library in Paris, where the concept of floating programmatic elements within a large rectangular void can also be seen in simplied form in the Wyly Theatre project in Dallas, where programs are stacked vertically in an 11-story-high glass cube.

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© Copyright 2006 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.






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