Rural revolution

One of the leading architects of our age believes the countryside holds the key to our future
Art | 12 February 2020

Still, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Top image: Still, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017) dir. Denis Villeneuve

The future of our world resides in the countryside, at least according to leading Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The 98 percent of Earth’s surface not covered by cities, but which for so long has quite literally been obscured by them, is the site of the most urgent developments that will shape the course of this century, from climate change, migration, ecological preservation and energy.

For over a decade, Koolhaas (who has largely dedicated his life to designing urban spaces) and his specialist research team at Office for Metropolitan Architecture (AMO) have been tackling what they perceive as a deficit in knowledge and awareness of our countrysides. Hypnotised by the money, speed and newness of our cities, half the world’s population that now squeeze into just two percent of the Earth’s surface have failed to see what Koolhaass regards as the quiet revolution happening everywhere around them.


It is this revolution that Koolhaas is spotlighting with a new show at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Countryside, the Future. Together with Samir Bantal, Director of AMO, the exhibition presents original research with students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing; Wageningen University, Netherlands; and the University of Nairobi.

From Siberia’s thawing permafrost to technological change in America’s midwest farming and Chinese development in Africa, the exhibition is an attempt to show a new kind of architecture that has nothing to do with people… or indeed architecture, at least in the conventional sense. Koolhaas’ interest stems precisely from this fact. His pioneering instincts: to look in places where no one else is, drew his attention to New York in the 70s and now the countryside, where he believes current architectural practice can evolve by learning about changes to rural landscapes.

From ‘pinkhouses’ – giant warehouses stacked with plants grown under pink LEDs that reduce carbon emissions and increase yields – to enormous process plants that defy all sense of scale, the countryside is presented as a repository for everything our cities require but can no longer contain.

Greenhouses in Almeria, southern Spain

It is this type of philosophy, what Koolhaas refers to as “post-human” architecture, necessitated by companies larger and more powerful than most countries, that interests him most. Accordingly, the exhibition will see giant photographs of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) in Nevada, also known as the storeroom of Silicon Valley where Google, Apple and Amazon own hangars and distribution centres on an otherworldly scale, and in the case of Amazon, are disturbingly referred to as ‘fulfilment centres’. Tesla is soon set to unveil their 1million sq. meter Gigafactory there, which will be the largest building in the world.

This new kind of sublime, characterised by tedious functionality and scarcely conceivable proportions, is the future of a brave new world Koolhaas demands we begin paying attention to.

Countryside, the Future is on at the Guggenheim Museum, New York from 20th February to 14th August.


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