Guggenheim Museum to Collaborate With Rem Koolhaas on ‘Nonurban Areas’ Initiative

Koppert Cress, The Netherlands, 2011, to be part of “Countryside: Future of the World.”


The Guggenheim Museum is embarking on a new initiative with the architect Rem Koolhaas to research what an announcement describes as “nonurban areas of the Earth.” The initiative will continue work already begun in a collaboration between AMO, the think-tank division of Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 2019 the initiative’s findings will figure in an exhibition in the Guggenheim’s rotunda under the working title “Countryside: Future of the World.”

Areas of research for the initiative include the impact of digital technology on nonurban spaces, changing relationships between humans and ecosystems, and the role money plays in different environs. According to Koolhaas, the show aims to rectify the world’s single-minded focus on urbanity and cities. In a statement, the architect said, “The fact that more than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities has become an excuse to ignore the countryside. I have long been fascinated by the transformation of the city, but since looking at the countryside more closely in recent years, I have been surprised by the intensity of change taking place there.”

At a press conference at the Guggenheim today, Koolhaas spoke about the inspiration for the initiative, which he said came from spending time at a relative’s home in a village in rural Switzerland, where the historically local population has been giving way to newcomers from other parts of the world. The new initiative, he said, will examine the ways in which the countryside has been idealized throughout history as a place of happiness and serenity, and will look at ideologies that have been associated with it, such as in the Nazi slogan “Blut und Boden” (“blood and soil”).

Several geographical areas will be studied in depth, including a strip of land that runs north to south in the United States along Route 281, roughly bisecting the country. The initiative will look at that area in terms of the increasing presence of farming by computerized and robotic means. There is also a political aspect to such a focus, Koolhaas said—as that same area voted heavily for Donald Trump in the last presidential election.

“The countryside is the most radical place of change at the moment,” Koolhaas said. He added that the future exhibition, which will take up the Guggenheim’s entire rotunda, will not be “too wordy or analytical”—but will instead be “an immersive environment” focused on sound installations and new technology.

Working in collaboration with academic and journalist (at Germany’s Allgemeine Zeitung) Niklas Maak, the show will look at the ways in which immigrants and refugees can revitalize parts of Germany, and the ways in which gorillas have adapted to the tourism industry in central Africa.

The Guggenheim and Koolhaas have worked together previously, on an exhibition related to one of the architect’s books in 1979 and, more recently, on a collaboration between the Hermitage Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation known as the Hermitage Guggenheim. For that, Koolhaas designed a museum next to a Las Vegas hotel.

Sarah Douglas contributed reporting.

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