Now an international firm under the direction of seven partners, OMA (initially Office for Metropolitan Architecture) remains, despite the many transformations it has undergone since 1975, indissociable from its founder, Rem Koolhaas. His first book, Delirious New York, A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (1978), written in part with Madelon Vriesendorp, Zoe and Elia Zenghelis, contains certain basic ideas that characterize OMA’s work to this day. By means of a bold and pointed analysis of the invention of modern-day Manhattan at the beginning of the 20th century, Koolhaas designates architecture and urbanism as receptacles but more especially as catalyzers of new uses and a contemporary metropolitan culture. From its inception, the firm has explored underlying spatial and architectural features—such as the grid, the continuous inclined plane, the elimination of volumes and the adaptability of components—all strategies likely to foster the emergence of new practices, specific to the times. This approach, which is part of a larger refusal of the idea of the autonomy of the discipline of architecture, has led OMA to diversify its business and to found AMO, a think tank charged with developing an independent intellectual program managing commissions but supporting the full scope of production. The firm explores contemporary themes–sustainable development and generic architecture—through theoretical, sociological and historical research, book publishing and exhibitions, then reintegrates the data thus collected into their architectural and urban projects.
A journalist and scriptwriter, Rem Koolhaas (1944, Rotterdam) shifted his focus to architecture in 1968. It was at the Architectural Association in London where he studied until 1972, that he met Vriesendorp and Zoe and Elia Zenghelis. Together they developed Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, a dystopian variation on the excesses of ideological architecture, and went on to found OMA in 1975. Their first projects contributed to establishing the firm’s critical reputation. The unbuilt ones, such as the panoptic prison in Koepel (1980), the Parc de la Villette in Paris (1982), the university libraries for the Jussieu campus in Paris (1993) and the headquarters of Universal in Los Angeles (1996) were matched by emblematic built projects such as the Villa dall’Ava in the Paris suburb of St. Cloud (1991), the Kunsthal in Rotterdam (1992), the House in Bordeaux (1998) and Euralille, the urban renewal plan for Lille based on the concept of mobility (1989-94). The 2000s were marked by a number of important projects—of which the Embassy of the Netherlands in Berlin (2003), the Casa da Musica (Porto, 2005), the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in Dallas (2009) and the London headquarters of Rothschild Bank (delivery early 2012). The firm’s international success only increased thanks to their early focus on emerging markets, notably in the Middle East and China, where they are currently completing the headquarters of CCTV, the national television broadcast company. OMA has also distinguished itself by the numerous books it has published, among which S,M,L,XL (1995) and Content (2003), as well as exhibitions, including OMA / Progress in 2011. Rem Koolhaas was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2000 and the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2005.