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What Ever Happened to Urbanism?

by Rem Koolhaas

EVDA 621: Introduction to Design Theories

Theme Illustration by Sumer Matharu (10047835), 20 Sep 2016

The main theme in which this reading, What Ever Happened to Urbanism? by Rem
Koolhaas, is placed is Formations in Architecture. This reading specifically refers to the
authors perspective on how Urbanization has evolved since the time it was conceived,
and how we can attempt to salvage it.
The paradoxical nature underlying the concept of urbanization and its condition forms a
core part of the reading. In the authors words, Modernisms alchemistic promise to
transform quantity into quality through abstraction and repetition has been a failure, a
hoax: magic that didnt work[pg.1], explains that the very intention of modernism in the
context of urbanism has led to its own demise. It did not yield the result that was expected
or more so anticipated. It was almost self-destructive and the author exclaims that
Pervasive urbanization has modified the urban condition itself beyond recognition[pg.1].
Now we are left with a world without urbanism, only architecture, ever more
architecture.[pg.2] is where the author explains that the prevalence of Architecture
comes from a focus on the individual rather than the collective. We have taken a narrow
minded approach to creating boundaries and setting limits [pg.2]. Rather than focusing
on open boundaries and room for change, we have gone about with creating separation.
To counter the sad decline of urbanism, a new type of urbanism needs to arise from its
ashes. And the author writes urbanism redefined as a way of operating on the inevitable
will attack architecture, invade its trenches, drive it from its bastions, undermine its
certainties, explode its limits, ridicule its preoccupations with matter and substance,
destroy its traditions, smoke out its practitioners.[pg.2]. He suggests that urbanism will
have to counter the effects that the perfectionist nature of Architecture has had. Instead
of trying to define the urban concept of a city and then moving towards it, perhaps the
inclusion of open-endedness or no-endedness can make urbanism lighten up, become
a Gay Science Lite Urbanism[pg.2]. In conclusion, there is an underlying notion on
creation becoming its own destruction, with the author prescribing a scenario where this
creation can yet adapt by giving up control.

Rem Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism?, in S,M,L,XL, The Monicelli Press,
New York, 1995, pp. 959-971 (page numbers shown in text refer to the document
provided for the reading)