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Design strategies In Parc de la Villette project By Rem Koolhaas Tsvetelina Todorova

Except where stated otherwise this dissertation is based entirely on the author’s own work





Chapter I Ivan Leonidov’s Social Condenser (projects) Chapter II The urban projects of OMA Chapter III Analisys of Parc de la Villette

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Abstract This dissertation will explore the design strategies that need to be employed in order to deal with the programmatic indeterminacy in an urban. Therefore, the Parc de la Villette project of Rem Koolhaas/ OMA will be studied and critically analyzed to understand its working principles. The main focus of this dissertation is Koolhaas’ strategic mechanism of design, how it works, and how it is constructed.

Keywords: Parc de la Villette, Rem Koolhaas, OMA, social condenser, design strategy, culture of congestion.



The initial program and activities of a building or architectural product in the urban context are constantly changing and modified by cultural,politicalortechnologicalforces. In order for the architectural product to be successful it has to answer to these unpredictable forces. It is important that the architecture should be able to provide solutions and flexibility against programmatic indeterminacy. Aim: The main aim of the text is to look at the design process and explore its strategic approach in order to understand how it works. The strategic mechanism of design will be formed on the basise of Rem Koolhaas’s competition project analysis for Parc de la Villette. Strategy: The term “strategy” will be explored as a structure that is able

to shape and built strategic tools against the constantly changing conditions in the urban environment. Rem Koolhaas is known as a strategist, who defines his work as a matter of strategy. Rafael Moneo states “Koolhaas has always been interested in the analysis of production” (Moneo, 2004). In his work he not only provides solutions to a particular problem, but formulates it with generic architectural concepts. He often states “I think that we are more and more producers of concepts, not executors of program,” (Koolhaas, Whiting, 1999:36-35) and also in “Content” magazine, he acknowledges the key to conceptual production: “a building was no longer an issue of architecture,butofstrategy”(Koolhaas, McGetrick, 2003:118). Moreover, as Frederic Jameson states that the most recognizableaspectofKoolhaas’swork

is “the way he builds an enormous envelopeforallkindsofunprogrammed but differentiated activities” (Jameson, Speaks, 1992:30-37). It can be seen that the strategy itself produces instruments to develop the “enormous envelope”, under which different architectural concepts can be settled. Therefore in the dissertation the analysis of Parc de la Villette project will develop the strategic way that forms the structure of enormous envelope. (Jameson, Speaks 1992:30-37; Özkan, 2008) Subject: Villette

OMA's Parc Competition

de la Project

Koolhaas states that the program of the park should be read “as a suggestion, a provisional enumeration of desirable ingredients” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:921). He is “combining architectural specifity with programmatic indeterminacy” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:921) in order to


answer to the problem that the program is too large in comparison to the site. Furthermore he relates to the project as a matter of strategy and not just “simply design” and the design formula appears as “allows for the most dynamic coexistence of activities x, y and z generating through their mutual interference a chain reaction of new unprecedented events” (Wall, 1983:26). Koolhaasraisesthequestion howtodesign“asocialcondenser”and explains how it works as a generator of various activitiesexisting in a harmony. After that he introduces the strategy of strip which forms the design tactics in La Villette, by generating “an enormous envelope” under which various architectural concepts can be achieved in the future. (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:921; Özkan, 2008) Fig. 1 Model of Parc de la Villette ompetition project by Rem Koolhaas


Structure: The dissertation will be composed of three main chapters. The first chapter will begin by asking the question “how to design a social condenser”, by looking at OMA’s urban works. This chapter will also look at the time and period where the term“social condenser" first appeared as a new concept in the modern architecture, particularly the 1920s and the Russian Constructivist (Kopp, 1985). The text will focus mostly on the works of Ivan Leonidov, which will be analyzed and examined, so it can be understoodhow social condenser works and how it is designed. The second chapter will continue by focusing on Koolhaas’ observations of Berlin, the Berlin Wall and his project Exodus: the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture. The main purpose of these studies is to emphasize on the principles of strip

and void and how Koolhaas creates “dynamic coexistence of activities” in Parc de la Villette (Wall, 1983:26). The book “Delirious New York”, the “culture of congestion” (“horizontal congestion” in Parc de la Villette) will be examined as well. The amusement parks in Coney Island (Luna Park, Steeplechase and Dreamland) and also Manhattan’s strategy of the grid and the Skyscrapers are important to understand how Koolhaas studies the changes in the urban context and to emphasize on the nature of programmatic indeterminacy. The third chapter will examine Parc de la Villette competition project in detail. The conclusion will discuss how the combination of architectural specifity with programmatic indeterminacy is achieved through the instruments of strategic design.


CHAPTER 1 Ivan Leonidov‘s Social Condenser (projects)

The chapter will study Ivan Leonidov’s projects of the “social condenser” and how they influenced Koolhaas to design Parc de la Villette’s program as a “social condenser”. Social condenser Rem Koolhaas defines the term “social condenser” as a “layering upon vacant terrain to encourage dynamic coexistence of activities and to generate through their interference, unprecedented events” (Koolhaas, McGetrick, 2003:73). He claims series of patents placed under the name of “Universal Modernization Patent” and the first one is the “Social Condenser” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998). His whole design methods and strategies are created to accommodate the “social condenser”, and in Parc de la Villette project his strategy is “to design a social condenser, based on a horizontal congestion”(Koolhaas,Mau,1998:921).

The term “social condenser” first appeared during the 1920s and it was introduced by the Russian constructivist movement (Khan, 1987). They incorporated social problems in to the architectural field in order to “reorganize the life of the mass population according to the direction outlined in the Bolshevik party’s Marxist program”, (Cooke, 1995:29) during the post-Revolutionary years. The architect’s mission was as a “social catalyst” and had the function of “social construction” (Cooke, 1995:99). From the constructivist view, the term social condenser is used to determine architectural or urban structures of any scale that are estimated to play great importance in the transition of the society according to new way of life (Cooke, 1995:99). The book Style and Epoch is defined as a manifesto for the constructivist movement and architectural practice and the author Moisei Ginzburg

specifies the role of social condenser in the constructivist architecture: “Our work should essentially be based on a scrupulous and detailed study of the brief in the light of our political and social circumstances. Its essential aim should be the creation of SOCIAL CONDENSERS for our times. This is the essential objective of Constructivism in architecture” (Kopp, 1985:70). Anatole Kopp highlights the multifunction of the social condenser in society in such way that: “… in addition to its immediate function, [social condenser] would firstly foreshadow the architecture and town planning of the future so that future users would grow accustomed to both; and secondly influence users through its use of spaces so as to introduce a new way of life into their social habits” (Kopp,1985:70).



Social condenser was applied to as “Mechanism for transforming habits” (Kopp, 1985:70) by the constructivists and it was explored in many different scale ranges. In his early career Rem Koolhaas was interested and made a research with (Gerrit Oorthuys) on Leonidov’s architecture, and some of Koolhaas’ European projects (Parc de la Villette, Exodus, Meloun Senart) are clearly inspired by Leonidov’s social program and its representation through architecture (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995). Moreover, it is important to explore how Leonidov designed the social condenser and to study his projects of social condenser in order to understand Koolhaas’ pursuit of social condenser. In most of OMA’s texts, it is cited that the experimental designs of Leonidov’s social condensers are as one of the main references of La Villette project (Ducatez, 2005:10).

La Villette project is significantly addressed to a socially interactive program and it stands for “the moment of extreme intensification in quantity and quality of metropolitan congestion” (Ducatez, 2005:12). Leonidov’s Social Condenser Projects Three kinds of social condensers , such as the workers’ club “Club of a New Social Type” as an example in building scale, the “Palace of Culture” in an urban scale, and the “Socialist Settlement at Magnitogorsk” in a larger scale of city planning will be examined to understand the mechanism of the social condenser. Leonidov designed his Club of a New Social Type in a new way. He rejected every existing type of club designs, because they weren’t able to solve the problemswiththeculturalorganization of the working class. Instead new “method of cultural organization”

was developed as an approach to the workers club design and “the organization of consciousness” (Gozak, Leonidov, 1988:66). Anatole Kopp states in the book Constructivist Architecture in the USSR that Leonidov “broke with the usual architectural forms both of Constructivism and more generally of Modern Architecture of the period. It also broke with the program that … constituted the common basis for the majority of clubs”. He abandoned the existing club typology and declared: “…in order to involve those strata of workers who are not so far being properly served, it is essential that cultural work should not be confined within the framework of the club, but be developed within the enterprises themselves, the workshops, workers’ barracks and hostels, and workers’ settlement” (Gozak, Leonidov, 1988:61).


Fig. 3 Club of New Social Type model and plan Variant A


Fig. 4 Club of New Social Type plan and elevation Variant B

Leonidov’s Club of a New Social Type had a “number of separate but interconnected buildings, some of which were reserved for specialized purposes, while the rest were intended for unrestricted use” (Khan-Magomedov, Selim, 1987:457). “Leonidov treated a club complex as a kind of social cultural center, with a winter garden, a generalpurpose hall for lectures, cinema, demonstrations, meetings, use as a planetarium etc.; a laboratory; an open ground for glider competitions, motor racing, war games, tourism etc.; a sports hall; a playroom with playpens and a pool; and a park. In architectural terms, the ‘Club of a New Social Type’ represented a broadly conceived and loosely organized park-like composition with, as its centerpiece the great hall roofed by a parabolic vault-like covering“(KhanMagomedov, Selim, 1987:457).

Leonidov organized the club “as a vast park” (Kopp, 1985:112), which can contain different cultural and educational facilities, despite the established architecture of that time and making his design to emerge amongst the others. His park-like approach is to be observed by regarding not only its geometrical spatial organization but also its extensive program of club. In addition to the usual programmatic elements for club, he proposed a new spectrum of facilities, an open area for mass activities, as well as open-air screens (Gozak, Leonidov, 1988:60). By injecting these mass exhilarating activities and the new technology to the "Club of New Social Type", he responded to the necessity for developing intellectual needs of workers, and transforming complexity of urban life. In his Palace of Culture for the Proletarskii district of Moscow competition project in 1930,

Leonidov continued his “park-like organization”, emphasizing on the green and open areas for employing collective activities, which was more detailed with more specific and expansive program. “He used a large site on which he proposed to create a cultural complex forming an oasis of greenery amid throbbing modern urban life, and shielded from its hubbub, where one might find spiritual relaxation after a day work” (KhanMagomedov, Selim, 1987:458). Four specific programmatic sectors, divided by grid system to accommodate different activities were introduced. The first sector was designed for scientific and historical researches, the second one for mass activities, the third one for a field for demonstrations, and the last one for physical cultural activities. Despite the proposal of different shaped buildings in the sectors such as pyramid shaped gymnasium or the hemispherical glass domed


Fig. 5 Palace of Culture, elevation and plan


auditorium, Leonidov has designed the district with its peripheries as well. Moreover, this strategy of the grid and the four sectors also divided into different facilities enable the local production to be contained as well as the maintaining of an overall unity. Rather than limiting cultural activities within a particular building, he delivers series of events that are accumulating on the improvisations of the active users. Leonidov defines the future of the Palace of Culture to “be the headquarters of the Cultural Revolution, which on the basis of mass independent work and of wide-ranging development of workers’ initiatives organizethewholesystemofspreading political knowledge, the whole system of cultural development, for its district” (Gozak, Leonidov, 1988:74). In the 1920 there was a rising industrialization and new changes from the private ownership to a collective economy, which resulted

into new city planning projects. Leonidov continued using the linear organization in his project for the socialist settlement at Magnitogorsk. “The mood of time favored a multilateral approach to all town planning projects and the solution of the entire range of architectural problems within the framework of a general concept of ‘socialist settlement’ which of settlement and its component elements; a more flexible organization of planning; the creation of communal centers; the opportunities for zoning buildings vertically in cities, and many other such problems” (KhanMagomedov, Selim, 1987:271). Leonidov’s project at Magnitogorsk uses the same linear design strategy in order to deal with the problems of the socialist settlement stated above. There is a great similarity between the Palace of Culture and the settlement at Magnitogorsk, because they both

have the same linear organization of programmatic lines separated in to different sectors accommodating different facilities and activities. In This project there are three main programmatic lines – one residential line that is positioned between two leisure lines. The residential line is divided into a pattern of smaller squares that accommodate housing sectors of low-rise and high-rise buildings, and children’s sectors located in the green zones between the complexes. The low-rise sectors are arranged and subdivided in order to form typical housing estates that are surrounded by sports grounds, swimming pools and gardens. In addition the leisure lines are also separated into sectors that contain different services such as public buildings, stadiums, parks or zoological and botanic gardens. Overall, the organization of the city is actually a result of this repetition of dividing in the settlement.


Fig. 6 Plan of the settlement at Magnitogorsk


Fig. 7 Diagram for future development

Fig. 8 Perspective view of the settlement at Magnitogorsk


The diagram shows Leonidov’s three social condenser projects (Club of New Social Type, Palace of Culture and the Socialist Settlement at Magnitogorsk) and that they can be explored and studied togetherforbetterunderstandingofthe social condenser strategy, how it works and how it is applied in different scales. In all three projects can be seen a socially condensed program, which is an essential ingredient in creating the social condenser mechanism. Leonidov solved the problems of the new society by designing the Club of New Social Type as a prototype for a socially condensed program, that later evolves and becomes more complex and organized and allows infinite possibilities for the users. As a result the formulation of the social condenser looks like that:


-“socially interactive, programmatically condensed� architecture

- to define a flexible and unified organic process with active improvisation of users. Leonidov uses this formula also in a linear way, which becomes the strategy of strip in the project Palace of Culture to allow a park like organization. In order to achieve better interaction he organizes the different events into a sequence, resulting into a clear spatial order. The formulation is developed within the city scale through a combination of the strategies of the grids and the strips. The city is first divided into strips, which later are divided into grids in order to accommodate a mixture of facilities and services. The constant relationship between the strategies of grid and strip guaranteesthediversityandflexibilityof the program at any intersection point.

Social condenser is a successful program, because of its potential to be open for improvisations and diversity. In the above mentioned social condenser projects, the design is strategic, but also allows tactical improvisations, flexibility and future growth and development. It is open for many possibilities.


CHAPTER 2 The urban projects of OMA

“OMA produces an architecture that embraces aspects of the maligned metropolitan condition with enthusiasm, and which restores mythical, symbolic, literary, oneiric, critical, and popular functions to large urban centers. An architecture which accommodates and supports the particular forms of social intercourse, characteristics of metropolitan densities, an architecture that houses in the most positive way the Culture of Congestion”(Koolhaas,Mau,1998:926). Rem Koolhaas’ architecture position and projects are mostly driven and shaped by the tools for design that he gained from his urban researches. Moreover, he relates to “Berlin as a laboratory” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:200) to imagine nothingness or he says that “Coney is the laboratory of Technology of Fantastic” (Koolhaas, 1997:56) or “Manhattan as a laboratory” (Koolhaas, 1997:9) is about “the Culture of Congestion.

This chapter will begin with his European research of the Berlin Wall and how the strategies of the strip and void are developed and later used in the La Villette project; and continuing with Koolhaas’ book “Delirious New York” in order to see how he extracts tools for design from Manhattan on the baseofhisexplorationofthemetropolis. The Berlin Wall and OMA’s Exodus Project “OMA’s place of origin is not New York, but Berlin” (Niemeyer, 1990:38). OMA’s founding project is “Exodus or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture”, which is shaped from Koolhaas’ impressions from the Berlin Wall. The project represents the strategies of strip and void on an urban scale, which later on can be seen in Parc de la Villette project. The Berlin Wall is described as a continuous urban void, but it is

actually both strip and void, into which varietyofscenarioscanbeinserted. Itisa stripwhichdividestheEastandtheWest sides creating different connections on eachside.“Sometimes,…thewallwould separate, swallowing, for instance, a church. Sometimes the fencing would surround, like a tiger cage in a circus, a forlorn satellite of Westernness so that a nine-year-old could bicycle to the school every morning” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:221). The wall is also the void that eliminates the need of a form to predict the complexity and establishes that “… emptiness in the metropolis is not empty, that … void can be used for programs …” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:11). The Berlin Wall combines the flexibility of the strip and the infinite possibilities of the void, it “is the strip of no man’s land” as Niemeyer states. Exodus or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture is Koolhaas’ first project in which he combines and uses the strategies of strip and void. He


“transformed the [strip of] no man’s land at the wall into a ‘strip of intense metropolitan desirability’” (Niemeyer, 1990:46). Exodus creates “framework for the programmatic needs of complex reality” (Niemeyer, 1990:46). Koolhaas’ approach to the project is very similar to Leonidov’s social condensers by introducing condensed and collective program with a similar way of organization. They both wanted freedom for the users to operate, flexibility, infinite possibilities for future development, the use of manyopenspacesandtheimportance of technology and its insertion into the program, and organizing all these elements into various scenarios for the service of new culture. Koolhaas collected his design tools for the Exodus project not only from the Berlin Wall, but also from Leonidov’s social condenser mechanism.


Social condenser and the strip and void “The wall as architecture” was basically an ordinary strip of space delineated by a minimal architectural intervention, a space waiting to accommodate program. Leonidov’s ribbon cities, which likewise attempted to generate a complex reality with a minimal architectural effort, followed a very similar concept. The linear territory of the no man’s land rigorously demonstrated a way to neutralize space through its displacement in layers and strips… (in) the early OMA projects, such as Exodus, or… (in) the projects for the Parc de La Villette… Even in the OMA’s interpretation of the skyscraper,forexample,theDowntown Athletic Club, the preoccupation with linear space seem to be backup of ‘the wall as architecture’” (Niemeyer, 1990:38). Koolhaas uses the Berlin wall as a base and injects it a maximum program,

collected from Leonidov’s social condensers and as a result Exodus projectbecomesthishybridbetweenthe void and program. “OMA’s architectural theory distilled the classical formula”, “a minimum architecture and a maximum program”- to define a script that combines the strip of void (the Berlin Wall) with an intense program (Social Condenser) (Niemeyer, 1990:38). Koolhaas continues to use this combination of program and architecture in his further projects and researches (the Skyscraper, amusement parks), they also appear in his book “Delirious New York”, which will be explored below.



Fig. 11 Leonidov’s ribbon city collage

Fig. 12 OMA's Exodus project illustration

The Berlin Wall


Interactive program


Fig.13 Exodus combines the strip of void and social condenser



Fig. 14 Steeplechase's mechanical track


Fig. 15 Dreamland's calculated circulation

Fig. 16Luna Park's Moon theme entrance

Analysis of Delirious New York

Coney Island

Koolhaas analyzes the city in Delirious New York, as a constantly changing place, because of the influence of the economy, culture and politics. Moreover, he looks upon organizational strategies that can raise future changes and possibilities. This subsection will focus on Coney Island’s amusement parks with their ever changing and unstable program, where Koolhaas discovers evidence of congestion and learns how to proceed with Manhattan; then the growing cultural demands and Manhattan’s Culture of Congestion, the “Grid” and the “Skyscraper” will be analyzed. The final part will be focused on Koolhaas’ investigations and how he uses them to define his design strategy for Parc de la Villette project.

Coney Island’s amusement parks allow the understanding of the culture of congestion. Koolhaas studies their unstable programs and searches for instruments that can handle these constant changes of their conditions. The amusement parks also help to comprehend the busy metropolitanwayoflivinginManhattan. Koolhaas describes Coney Island: “The strategies and mechanisms that later shape Manhattan, are tested in the laboratory of Coney Island before they finally leap toward the larger island. Coney Island is a fetal Manhattan” (Koolhaas, 1997:30). Steeplechase, Luna Park and Dreamland are the three major amusement parks, constantly competing with each other, that made Coney Island the most desirable entertainment place for the middle and lower classes of the new urban life.

The driving force behind Coney Island and its amusements was to offer a new and surprising world for the public. Consequently, the many unmet demands resulted into a constantly changing environment in which in order to survive each owner had to cope with the instability and find a strategy to control it and attract visitors’ attention. “To survive as a resort, Coney Island forced to mutate: it must turn itself into total opposite of Nature, it has no choice but to counteract the artificiality of the new metropolis with its own Super – Natural” (Koolhaas, 1997:33). The facilities evolved so much, because of the constant insatiable demands of the public that created instable conditions. Steeplechase,Dreamlandand Luna Park first came with solutions to the problem by inventing organizational methodsandlayoutsfortheirprograms. Steeplechase Park introduced mechanical horses to be ridden on a railway circling around the park.


Fig. 17 Some of the structures, buildings and rides at Coney Island


This was innovation that can be defined as an architectural tactic for shaping new additions and controlling of future modifications of the instable program of the park. The park also adds a wall around the attractions, which became another tactic tool of “bordering”.Luna Park followed the footsteps of Steeplechase by using a “park-enclave model…doubles the isolation of Luna Park by imposing a theme that embraces the entire site in a system of metaphorical meaning: its surface is to be ‘not of this earth’ but part of the moon” (Koolhaas, 1997:38). The whole park was transformed to look as a scene from the moon with a simulation of the topography and available trip to the moon on the airship Luna IV. There was also an artificial “roof” garden covering the park, which can be defined as another architectural tactic of “layering”. “The single roof drastically reduces the opportunities for individual facilities to

display their own character, now that they do not have to develop their own skins, they blur together like many molluscs in one gigantic shell in which the public in lost” (Koolhaas, 1997:43). In Steeplechase the “wall” determined which is in and outside and the rail track organized the inside of the park. While, in Luna Park the introduction of the “moon” theme changed the layout and the “roof” garden was to unite everything beneath it. Both parks aimed to invent a structure to control and shape the area of their parks within the unstable environment of Coney Island. Dreamland had another strategy, instead of adding new attractions; it just rearranged the existing ones. It also had a theme, but as an “underwater” city in which no reality existed. The park was introduced to a calculated circulation, which was the equivalent of the railtrack in Steeplechase.

All walkways were made inclined (to control the speed and direction of movement) or leveled (concentration of movement). Everything was organized around a Lagoon, positioned consecutive along a circular path. “The park being so laid out that there is no possibility of congestion of the crowds. 250,000 people can see everything and move around without fear of congestion” (Koolhaas, 1997:46) Theprimaryaimofeitherofthe parks was to create inner organization of the parks, to add a structure or framework that gives meaning to each park and serve as a border to isolate eachfromtheothersinanunpredictable environment of Coney Island.


Fig.18 The strategy of the amusement parks is used in the skyscrapers


Manhattan and the Culture of Congestion This subsection will focus on how the uncertain program conditions of Coney Island turn into the “Culture of Congestion”andthearchitecturaltactic tools that are used in the amusement parks and later reused in Manhattan; the “Grid” and the “Skyscraper”. The conditions of Coney Island can be seen to reappear in a new form of culture in Manhattan. “…the strategies and mechanism that later shaped Manhattan, are tested in the laboratory of Coney Island before they finally leap toward the longer island” (Koolhaas, 1997:30) The development of Manhattan was influenced by the gained knowledge (the problem of masses, the technological advantages and the ability to answer to the raising cultural demands) from Coney Island in a way that can dealwith the “unknowable urbanism”

(Koolhaas, 1997:87) in Manhattan. Therefore the demands for pleasure that rule over Coney Island transferred to rule over Manhattan as demands of the business. Here comes the role of the “Grid” and the “Skyscraper” as a strategy and instrument to organize the unpredictable conditions of the business, and also when combined together generate their own indeterminate program. The culture of congestion becomes the result when these indeterminacies merge.

has to develop own organization within the limitations of its size. Therefore the identity of each block is guaranteed by the strategy of the Grid, as well as the interactionandcompetitionbetweenthe blocks in the overall structure of the city. “…all Manhattan’s blocks are identical and emphatically equivalent in the unstated philosophy of the Grid, a mutationinasingleoneaffectsallothers asalatentpossibility”(Koolhaas,1997:97) Therefore, another distinctive part of the grid is that the city is no longer covered in different textures, but becomes like The Grid a mosaic of identical fragments or The grid framework consists each block is like an island, on its own. of 2,028 identical blocks, and on each As a result the grid in Manhattan is block the developers have to “develop like islands (parks) within the island. a new system of formal values, invent strategies for the distinction of one block The Skyscraper from another” and to deal with the raising The Skyscraper is like lifted demands of the business (Koolhaas, 1997). replicas of each block in the grid, Each block of the grid can be compared creating unlimited number of levels that to the parks in Coney Island, it similar generate their own scenarios in order to the amusement parks each block to answer to the constant demands



of the business. The envelope of the skyscraper unites its unprogrammed layers, that they can easily be modified without affecting the overall look. “As a vehicle of Urbanism, the indeterminacy of the Skyscraper suggests that – in the Metropolis – no single specific function can be matched with a single place. Through this destabilization it is possible to absorb the ‘change that is life’ by continuously rearranging functions on the individual platforms in an incessant process of adaptation that does not affect the framework of the building itself” (Koolhaas, 1999:324). “the skyscraper structures… embody the programmatic indeterminacy or instability of the modern metropolis but at the same time permit the stability of the building’s outer skin and contain the architectural determination of each specific function” (Cortes, 2007:11). The outer façade of the skyscraper

is managed by the strategy of the grid, because each one is a skyward multiplication of its plot. Moreover, the envelope itself is formed by the grid. If the attractions of the amusement parks transform into individual layers of the skyscraper, the conceptual tools and strategies of Coney Island will become an envelope of the skyscraper. The railway track, the calculated circulation or the roof that control the parks in Coney Island are equivalenttothecoreoftheelevatorthat vertically controls the skyscraper and the flexibility of its levels. Consequently, the three amusement parks and the mechanism of the skyscraper are working in similar way, transforming the skyscraper into a replica of the park in Coney Island. Therefore, Manhattan becomes an aggregation of parks within the framework of the grid.

Starting with the social condenser, the connection to the Berlin Wall to Exodus, the parks in Coney Island, the tactic tools and the instable culture in Manhattan this chapter explored tools that interact between program and operated actions.


CHAPTER 3 Analysis of Parc de la Villette

Parc de la Villette project can be seen as “research into the possibilities of ‘Culture of Congestion’ in Europe and the viability of creating a ‘Social Condenser’ on an empty lot” (Cortes, 2007:35). Koolhaas developed a method to create an envelope “that combines architectural specifity with programmatic indeterminacy” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1998:921). Koolhaas represented the scheme for the project with a superimposition of seven layers of diagrams. Initial Hypothesis is the first layer related to the redefinition of the program as a social condenser, the second layer – The Strips shows how to materialize the program of social condenser. Point Grids (Confetti) consists of the mathematical formulation that locates the facilities. Access and circulation in a flow diagram and in the fifth layer – The Final Layer, the major elements are positioned. The sixth and seventh

layers contain the relationship of the park to the periphery and the green areas. Following this order the project will be analyzed below. Similar to Coney Island’s problem of pleasure and Manhattan’s Culture of Congestion, a condensed urban park full of dynamically coexisting activities can also produce instable conditions or horizontal congestion in which “the programcanundergoconstantchange and adjustment” (Koolhaas, 2004:73). He “elaborate a structure grounded in thefrequenciesofthedifferentactivities and their interrelationships” (Cohen, 1991:13), in order to reevaluate the program as a social condenser. Both Koolhaas and Leonidov approaches share in common the mechanism of social condenser, which establishes multiple links between the activities, communicates with the outside, builds the whole, generates unpredicted events, and while

maintaining the overall unity “allows any shift, modification, replacement, or substitution… without damaging the initial hypothesis” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:921). The combination of flexible and organic process with users free to improvise, redefines the program of La Villette as a social condenser. Strategy of Strip The strategy of strips defines the spatial organization of La Villette project and Koolhaas gained this organizational model from the combination of the “void” of the Berlin Wall, the “script” of Exodus, the “border” of Coney Island’s amusement parks, the “grid” of Manhattan and the “elevator” of the skyscraper. By operating the social condenser the strategy of strips “creates the maximum length of ‘borders’ between the maximum number of programmatic components, and will thereby



Fig. 21 The layers of Parc de la Villette

guarantee the maximum number of programmatic mutations” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:923). Koolhaas refers to the terms “layering and “bordering” to isolate the parks in Coney Island, but here the border is used to generate a variety of concerted facilities. In la Villette each line of the strip creates itsown border and each strip becomes individual unit in the whole composition with its own inner structure and definition. From his observations of the Berlin Wall Koolhaas makes a comparison to the strips of la Villette that are placed parallel to each other and create maximum interaction in a maximum length, like the two sides of the wall. He also uses the capability of the void to absorb a program, like in Exodus where he provides the void with a program to test its capacity. Therefore, the strip able to transform the urban fabric was created from the combination of the continuous urban

void of nothingness and the intense program. This union between the void and program became the script of Exodus project, which later evolved into the strip of La Villette. Each strip of La Villette is actually a void with a program and that means that each strip is equivalent to the (script) or Exodus. The third principle of the strips (maximum flexibility in a single structure)isregardedtotheskyscraper. Koolhaas associates the organization of the strips in La Villette to the section of the skyscraper: “the layering is not unlike the experience of a high-rise building, with its superimposed floors all capable of supporting different programmatic events” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:923). The typical section of a skyscraper or for Koolhaas the Downtown Athletic Club is a “stacking of metropolitan life in ever-changing configurations” and also structure which “interiors accommodate compositionofprogramandactivitythat

change constantly and independently of each other without affecting…the envelope” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:937). The skyscraper becomes the perfect example of how to arrange the strips in order to organize La Villette as a social condenser. The Berlin Wall and Exodus define the programmatic capacity of each strip and the skyscraper helps to understand the multiplication process of the strips. Moreover, Koolhaas determinestheDowntownAthleticClub “as a Constructivist Social Condenser: a machine to generate and intensify desirable forms of human intercourse” (Koolhaas, 1997:152). The strips can undergothesamechangesasthefloors of a skyscraper; they can be united or subdivided flexibly and still be united and answer to the programmatic needs. Tactic of Strip The tools that activate the strategy are the tactics. They materialize the strategy.


Tactic of Dimension “The strips are based on a certain standard dimensions – a basic width of 50 meters divisible into increments of 5, 10, 25, or 40 – to facilitate change and replacement without disruption and to create fixed points for the infrastructure” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:923). This was one of the tactical methods used to determinethedimensionsofthestrips.


Fig. 22 The similarity of La Villtte layers with these of the Downtown Athletic Club

Tactic of Direction By integrating existing elementsintheparktothecomposition of strips, Koolhaas determines the direction of the strips to the already existing structures. “ The direction of the bands is chosen so that the dominant elements already on the site – the Science Museum and the Grande Hall – are incorporated into the system: the museum as an extra wide band ( that could itself be divided in analogous thematic bands), running

through it” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:923). Tactic of Distribution Koolhaas added six distinct grids on the strips in order to accommodate smaller elements into the overall framework (such as sale kiosks, picnic areas, playgrounds or refreshment bars). This is the tactic of distribution, which also defined the dimensions of each grid mathematically. “The frequency calculation is relative to the available area, the total area per service asked for in the program, an assessment for the optimum number of points required across the site, and the need for distribution across either part of the site or the whole. The formula for determining the dimensions of each point grid then becomes: Where A is the available area; a is the area of the facilities required; and x is the number of points to be distributed”(Koolhaas,Mau,1995:925).

Tactic of Access and Circulation This tactic “consists of two major elements: the Boulevard and the Promenade” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:927). The first works as an elevator of a scraper that stops at different levels of the strips, and the Promenade is equivalent to the calculated circulation in Dreamland that calculates the speed, direction or concentration of movement between the strips of La Villette. “The Boulevard, running north-south, systematically intersects all the bands at right angles and connects the major architectural components of the park directly- the Science Museum and the Baths in north, the Music city and the Grande Hall in the south. Of its total width of 25 meters, five are sheltered. The Promenade, complementary to the Boulevard, is generated through the identification and subsequent demarcation –in the form of plazascertain significant cross sections through the bands whose marking


offers an opportunity to capitalize nodes of heightened programmatic interest as they are created fortuitously through the interaction of bands” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:927). Tactic of the Major Elements This tactic serves the purpose of adding the major elements to the system of strips. These elements “are unique or too large to be located according to mathematical rules or to a system” (Koolhaas, Mau, 1995:929). It is the organization of the ground by the strips and the use of the other tactics that highlight these elements. This tactic shows that the strips are able to welcome new, different elements of the program as well as respecting their identity.


Tactic of connection and elaboration This tactic controls the connections between the park and the periphery, as

wellastheconnectionswithinthepark. At the North and the South edges of the Boulevard are located the two main entrances to the park. Another main interaction point is the entrance square of the Science Museum. The other two main connections are the Butte railway and the Astronomical Garden. The main purpose of these interaction points is to immediately attract the people to the most condensed facilities of the park by means of program and also to “extend the presence of the park” towards the Parisian streets (Cohen, 1991:88). The Astronomical Garden Strip is organized in sequence of squares that creates a “Newtonian skyline”. These squares (40 by 40m) are used for exhibition spaces and contain “an ocean basin with bathyscaphe, the Ariane launching pad, permanent sheltered exhibition space, the Hemispherical Hall, radio telescope, observations, and the Antenna Forest” (Cohen, 1991:88).

Tactic of Organizing the Landscape Koolhaas composes three types of nature in the park. He uses “regions in which the program itself is nature” to recreate the image of open fields (thematic gardens). In order to determine the border of the strips Koolhaas positions“the screens of trees parallel to the bands” and in that way from the north-south direction “these screens interweave and suggest the presence of a mass covering the site” and from the east-west they “frame open zones, like fields”. Finally he composes the Linear Forest alongside the Canale de l’Ourcq to act as a buffer and filter for the Science Museum and the Circular Forest “is raised on a threemeter socle” and “represent the forest asprogram”(Koolhaas,Mau,1995:930).



The design process should be mechanized strategically in order to adapt itself to the chaotic conditions of urban context. The design strategy has to be able to accept the constant changes and instability of urban life, and to incorporate the programmatic indeterminacy with architectural specifity in order to create an adaptable mechanism (it is used in La Villette project, by means of the strategy of strip). Koolhaas’ studies on the metropolis, the Berlin Wall and the works of Russian Constructivist Ivan Leonidov and his interest in the post industrial cities shaped his urban agenda. He gains experience on urban context from these studies in order to define rules for combining programmatic indeterminacy and architectural specifity. The forces that create instability could be of new way of living (as in post-revolutionary Russia) or sociopolitical divisions (as in Berlin) orendlesspublicdemands(asinConey

Island) or inevitable impact of economy (as in Manhattan) or coexistence of multiple events (as in La Villette). The main aim of the program of La Villette project is to design a process itself in order to create an envelope capable of absorbing constant state on revision originated from congestion of coexisting activities. The main problem is the possibilities of mutations in the production of a metropolitan park for the 21st century. The culture of the metropolis change, so fast that becomes unforeseeable and its actions become indeterminate. The program cannot be determined without a primary force on the design such as the indeterminate culture. In La Villette project, the problem of coexisting activities with maximum mutations can be considered with the horizontal congestion.Theproblemofleisureisthe main driving force of social condenser design, which is manipulated

by the forces of new social and cultural life in prerevolutionary era of Russia. Also, the problem of the urban void is created by socio- economic and political conflict between the two parts of Berlin. The problem of pleasure in Coney Island and the problem of business in the culture of congestion of Manhattan are examples of the relationship between the program and the forces of cultural context. In Koolhaas’ design strategy the program is an engine controlled by the evolving culture, it is a process with the capability to shelter specific programmatic elements, to stimulate the interaction between them and to be able to adapt to people’s desires. In Parc de la Villette project the strategy of strip and its tactical tools operate to create a social condenser. The framework of the strips acts as a blank field on which different elements can Ibe inserted, connected, moved etc. The strategy has an operational role, and the tactics has the active one in 45


Ibe inserted, connected, moved etc. The strategy has an operational role, and the tactics has the active one in the design process and can be seen in the urban projects of OMA. Firstly in Leonidov’s social condenser design projects: the Club for a New Social Type, which is developed as a strategy, and then this design model evolves under the strategy of strip and transforms into the Palace of Culture. Finally in the city of Magnitogorsk these two projects are combined by “the strategy of the grid of the strips” and derive a flexible mixture of programs. Moreover the Exodus’ strategy of scrip gains its tactical tools (such as division, destruction, isolation, etc.) from the Berlin Wall. Therefore Coney Island withitsUnderwater/Moonthemesand the wall, is an example of the strategy and tactics working together, where the first creates the border of the parks, and the second inserts tactical tools (such as the calculated circulation

the roof and the track). In Manhattan is the strategy of the grid that allows the tactic of the skyscraper. From the written above can be concluded that the strategy and the tactics work and operate together as part of the strategic design mechanism. Thestrategydictateshow the system should be operated and the tactics are the actions that activate the system effectively. The strategy and the tactics are interdependent, the strategy operates the tactics and the tactics activate the strategy. Despite that this interlink between the strategy and tactics forms the design mechanism, it can be argued that the strategy comes before the tactical elements. It is because the strategy creates field of expression for the tactics to work. However, without strategy the tactics cannot operate and without tactics the strategy cannot be executed. Therefore both are able to change or dismiss the other. Each

strategy is depending on the responses of the tactics and can be changed; consequently each new strategy produces its own tactical methods. In conclusion the main aim of Koolhaas’ design strategy or the strategic mechanism of design is to unite architectural specifity with programmatic indeterminacy. It assumes maximum improvisation of the users in a cooperative organic process and achieves maximum program in a minimum architecture. It represents an envelope under which many tactical variations can be inserted and activated and adapt to the programmatic instability. It allows a process connected to the external and internal forces of architecture. It is a desire to create an adjustable and foreseeable structure that is fortified by the unexpected urban conditions, by the people’s improvisations and by its working principles. 47



1. Aureli, Pier, V. (2011), The possibility of an absolute architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The MIT Press. 2. Borden, Ian; Ray, Katerina R. (2006), The dissertation an architecture student’s handbook, Elsevier, Architectural Press- an imprint of Elsevier 3. Cooke, Catherine, (1995), Russian Avant- Garde: Theories of Art, Architecture and The City, Academy Editions, London 4. Cohen, Jean-Louis, (1991), The Rational Rebel, or The Urban Agenda of OMA, OMA-Rem Koolhaas, edited by Jacques Lacan, Princeton Architectural Press, NY 5. Colquhoun, Alan (1982), Essays in Architectural criticism: Modern Architecture and Historical change, The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 6. Cortes, Juan A., (2007), ed. El Croquis, 131/132: AMO/OMA Rem Koolhaas I 7. Ducatez, Vincent, (2005), El Jardin Del Placer De OMA, Revista Bitácora Urbano Territorial, vol.1 8. Gozak, Andrei, (1988), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London 9. Hays, Michael, K. (2010), Architecture’s desire: reading the late avant-garde, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The MIT Press. 10. Jameson, F.; Speaks, M. (1992), “Enveloped and Enclaves: The Space of Post-Civil Society (An Architectural Discussion)”, Assemblage, No. 17. Apr., pp30-37. 11. Khan-Magomedov, Selim O., (1987), Pioneers of Soviet Architecture: The Search for New Solutions in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Catherine Cooke edits, Thames and Hudson, London 12. Koolhaas, Rem, (2004), Content, Taschen 49

13. Koolhaas, Rem, (1997) Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan,The Monacelli Press 14. Koolhaas, Rem; Mau, Bruce (1998) “Congestion without Matter”, S,M,L,XL Jennifer Sigler, ed. New York: The Monacelli Press, , p. 921. 15. Koolhaas, Rem; Mau, Bruce, (1995), S, M, L, XL, Rotterdam/New York: 010 Publishers/The Monacelli Press 16. Koolhaas, Rem OMA; McGetrick, Brendan, (2003), “Goodbye to Hollywood”, Content. Taschen, p118. 17. Koolhaas, Rem, Whiting, Sarah (1999), Spot Check: A Conversation between Rem Koolhaas and Sarah Whiting, Assemblage. No: 40, December, pp 36-55. 18. Koolhaas, Rem (1999), “’Life in the Metropolis’ or ‘The Culture of Congestion’”, Opposition Reader, K. Michael Hayes ed., MIT Press 19. Kopp, Anatole, (1985), Constructivist Architecture in the USSR, Academy Editions, London 20. Kopp, Anatole, (1970), Town and Revolution, Soviet Architecture and City Planning 1917-1935, Thames and Hudson, London 21. Lucan, Jacques (1991), OMA – Rem Koolhaas, Architecture 1970-1990, Princeton Architectural Press 22. Moneo, Rafael (2004), Theoretical anxiety and design strategies in the work of eight contemporary architects, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England 23. Niemeyer, Fritz, (1990), OMA’s Berlin: The Polemic Island in the City, Assemblage, No.11 24. Orlandini, Alain, (2004), La Villette 1971- 1995: A History in Projects, Somogy Editions D’ART 25. Özkan, Özay, (2008), Strategic way of design in Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette project, Middle East Technical University 26. Rendell, Jane (2006), Art and Architecture: a place between, I.B.Taurus & Co Ltd. 27. Wall, A., (1983), La Villette Competition: The programme for a new type of urban park. UIA International Architect, Issue. 1, p. 26-37


List of figures Fig. 1 [Model of Parc de la Villette competition project by Rem Koolhaas][image online] Available at: http://lebbeuswoods. [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.2 [Patent for "Social Condenser"] Koolhaas, Rem, McGetrick, Bredan, (2003:75) "Patent Office", Content,Taschen, Fig.3 [Club of New Social Type model and plan VARIANT A] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:61), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig.4[Club of New Social Type plan and elevation VARIANT B] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:65), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig.5[Palace of Culture, elevation and plan] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:73), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig.6 [Plan of the settlement at Magnitogorsk] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:89), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig.7 [Diagram for future development] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:88), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig.8 [Perspective view of the settlement at Magnitogorsk] Gozak, Andrei, (1988:93), Ivan Leonidov: The Complete Works, edited by Catherine Cooke, Academy Editions, London Fig. 9 [Diagram showing similarities and programmatic relationships between Leonidov's social condenser projects] Özkan, Özay, (2008), Strategic way of design in Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette project, Middle East Technical University Fig.10 [Project Exodus] Neumeyer, Fritz , (Apr., 1990:38)"OMA's Berlin: The Polemic Island in the City", Assamblage, No. 11 Fig.11 [Leonidov’s ribbon city illustration] Neumeyer, Fritz , (Apr., 1990:38)"OMA's Berlin: The Polemic Island in the City", Assamblage, No. 11 51

Fig. 12 [OMA's Exodus project] Neumeyer, Fritz , (Apr., 1990:38)"OMA's Berlin: The Polemic Island in the

City", Assamblage, No. 11 Fig.13 [Exodus combines the strip of void and social condenser] Özkan, Özay, (2008), Strategic way of design in Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette project, Middle East Technical University Fig. 14 [Steeplechase's mechanical track] [image online] Available at: moma/166/id20.htm [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.15 [Dreamland's calculated circulation] [image online] Available at: moma/166/id21.htm [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.16 [Luna park's moon theme entrance] [image online] Available at: moma/166/id19.htm [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.17 [Some of the structures, buildings and rides at Coney Island] [image online] Available at: http:// [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.18 [The strategy of the amusement parks is used in the skyscrapers] Özkan, Özay, (2008), Strategic way of design in Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette project, Middle East Technical University Fig.19 Koolhaas, Rem, (1997) Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan,The Monacelli Press Fig.20 [image online] Available at: [Accessed 12.01.2014] Fig. 21 [The layers of Parc de la Villette] [image online] Available at: http://lebbeuswoods.wordpress. com/2009/10/24/another-rem/ [Accessed 12.01.2014] Fig. 22 [The similarity of La Villtte layers with these of the Downtown Athletic Club] [image online] Available at: [Accessed 12.01.2014] Fig.23 [Development of the strategy of strip to design a social condenser] Özkan, Özay, (2008), Strategic way of design in Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette project, Middle East Technical University


Fig. 24 [Rem Koolhaas portrait] The Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Projects., [image online] Available at: http://www. [Accessed 11.01.2014] Fig.25 [Model of Parc de la Villette competition project by Rem Koolhaas][image online] Available at: http://lebbeuswoods. [Accessed 11.01.2014]


Profile for Tsvetelina Todorova

Design strategies in Parc de la Villette by Rem Koolhaas  

Undergraduate Dissertation

Design strategies in Parc de la Villette by Rem Koolhaas  

Undergraduate Dissertation