The Story of CCTV and Rem Koolhaas, as Told by His Son
May 29, 2012
Following the examples of Nathanial Kahn, son of the great modernist architect Louis Kahn, and James Venturi, the sole offspring of theorists and practitioners Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Tomas Koolhaas is hard at work on a documentary about his father, Rem Koolhaas. Kahn’s film, the touching and well-received My Architect, set the architect bio-pic bar in terms of quality of photography and filmmaking and biographical insight, against which all subsequent works, including Venturi’s forthcoming Learning from Bob and Denise and Koolhaas’s own project, have and will be measured.
The next in the line of Koolhaas takes as his work’s focus his father’s involvement in the construction and recent completion of the CCTV tower, OMA’s first major building in China. Koolhaas’ film investigates the underlying forces and struggles–I’ll say it, humanity–lurking behind the building’s seemingly impenetrable steel-and-glass cladding and obstinately dull iconic gaze. The cinematography attempts to grasp the tower’s sheer scale and engage its fundamental materiality, capturing the colossal building at several angles and at as many heights to reveal a more intimate portrait far away from OMA’s clinical diagrams and ascetic renderings.
The footage of the architecture is, of course, informed by the filmmaker’s relationship with his architect-father, who is seen toward the trailer’s end wandering down guarded corridors and scaling the rooftop, where looking out onto the perennially inchoate urban landscape of Beijing, he is confronted by the ostentatious grandeur and pitiful constraints of his own work. Turning from the smog-laden city, he turns to look at the camera, dazed, arriving at an existential impasse not unlike Antoine Doinel’s ambiguous gaze at the conclusion of The 400 Blows. Beyond, a sea of possibility, framed by a foreground of bodily limitation. What to do now?
Rem on the roof of the CCTV tower
CCTV tower, Bejing; Photo via Tomas Koolhaas’ Facebook