The decision to award Rem Koolhaas with the estimated 200 million dollar commission is based, to a large extent, on his bold suggestion to erase most of the existing LACMA campus with its hodge podge of buildings, loved by no one. The only two to survive are the former May Co. building and the Japanese Pavilion, built by Bruce Golf, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.
As we know now, French architect Jean Nouvel was the most serious rival of Koolhaas for the commission and, truth be told, he was my favorite. There are two amazing buildings done by him in Paris, the Arab Institute and the Cartier Foundation. There is very little in common between these two, other than they demonstrate Jean Nouvel's genius to reinvent himself for each new project. The architecture of the Arab Institute, while embracing the language of Modernism, evokes rich ornamentalism of the Moslem mosque, while the Cartier Foundation looks, literally, like a huge diamond, thanks to a series of uniquely placed glass panels. I thought that the friendly vibes of these two buildings made Jean Nouvel an especially well suited candidate for LA. After all, our city is the embodiment of informality and mixture of cultural influences from all over the world. Surprisingly, in his proposed model, the French architect didn't succeed in expressing any of these qualities. Koolhaas' model, on the other hand, has intriguing aspects which brings to mind the famous words by Winston Churchill about an enigma wrapped in a mystery.
Though I was quite disappointed by my first face to face encounter with Koolhaas' architecture this summer in Venice, Italy, where he designed a super chic and super tony environment for the Prada store, I significantly warmed to his brand of architecture this October, during the unveiling of his two museum buildings in Las Vegas. As I said in a previous program, the rigorously intellectual aesthetic of this architect makes it difficult to fall in love with his buildings, but it sure commands and deserves one's respect. Let's hope that it augurs well for LACMA's remodeling, which is the biggest and the most important project of Rem Koolhaas' career so far.