Catherine Shaw: You’ve talked
about this project “expanding”
the repertoire of spatial
technologies. Can you explain
what you mean by this?
Rem Koolhaas: For a couple of years now, I have
been … well, I don’t know what the best word is,
but it is somewhere between bored and irritated,
by the current course of architecture forcing
people to be extravagant even if they don’t want
or need that. I think there is a fatigue with “original-
ity” now and an interest in the modesty of an
artist. In this case, this was important for me as it
allowed us to find a new relationship with architec-
ture. It was more interesting than saying “Prada”
or “We are interested in strange new materials.”
I saw an opportunity to use preservation as
an antidote to this, so I declared I would work on,
investigate, and mobilize the potential of ren-
ovation as a kind of a countermovement. We have
done this for a couple of years now. When we
worked on the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg,
we analyzed everything that existed and made
a commitment not to add anything new but to
simply reinterpret some of the buildings from that
point of view.
We discovered that—in terms of size, intimacy, and also materials—existing architecture has
so many conditions that, even if we wanted to,
we couldn’t reproduce any more. It would be too
expensive, and there are so many invisible rules
now that didn’t exist before.
CS But how is this “new”? Surely
preservation has been part of
the architect’s repertoire for
some time now?
RK Architecture in the past 20 years has been
focused far too much on the expression of indiv-
idual architects. The new Fondazione is not a
preservation project and not new architecture.
It is about respect for what was here. We started
by analyzing what exists. There were a number
of conditions and needs that were missing, so we
added those into the new architecture.
There are multiple levels to look into, and that
is what we tried to do here; to mobilize the
skill and the freedom and the steepness and the
compression that is there and then add things
that expand the repertoire so that we have a collection of spaces.
A lot of things here may look authentic, like
the sequence of small rooms that become bigger
in one of the galleries, but that was our intervention rather than a “found” situation, so we are
also playing with the look of a found object. We
actually intervened everywhere on that level.
We didn’t work with contrast, but, on the
contrary, we tried to create a situation where
old and new can work very seamlessly together,
and are sometimes actually merged together so
that you cannot tell at any one moment whether
you are in a new or an old situation. That was
our ambition: to create a kind of seamlessness.
CS The Fondazione Prada is a
vast complex with ten very different buildings of varying scale,
but the most visually striking is
the gold building at the center.
Where did the idea to cover it by
hand in gold leaf come from?
RK It was actually a last-minute inspiration to
find a way to give value to a seemingly mundane
and simple industrial element. But we discovered
that gold is actually a cheap cladding material
compared to traditional claddings like marble and
even paint. What I love is the way it contaminates
the walls around it. Milan is like a pancake with
few highrise elements. The environment is so gray
that it needed a little color.
CS Using industrial buildings as
art galleries is a common practice today, but you seem to have
avoided slipping into the generic
white-box art gallery mentality.
RK I find it surprising that the enormous expan-
sion of the art system has taken place in a re-
duced number of typologies for art’s display, but