OMA/Progress and Beijing’s CCTV Tower


In late November I wrote a review piece for The Beaver, the LSE Student Newspaper where I was the Visual Arts Editor, on a splendid exhibition on now at the Barbican Centre in London.  The exhibition is entitled OMA/Progress and focuses on displaying the projects OMA (the Office for Metropolitan Architecture) has been and is currently carrying out. Amazing and innovative architectural works. The exhibition will be going on till the 19th February and if you are in London, I’d really suggest to go have a look! And if you are in any of the other cities (e.g. BEIJING!) where OMA has developed one of their projects, go visit them, because they sure are amazing works of art.

I would then like to repropose here my review and hope you can get an insight on what OMA really is and how innovative it is. The architecture of the future!

Inside Rem Koolhaas’s architecture: OMA/Progress

OMA/Progress is now in exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery. OMA is one of the most influential architecture practices in the world and has recently been in the spotlight for its daring and unconventional design of Beijing’s China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters.

OMA, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, was co-founded by Rem Koolhaas in 1975. Since its creation, OMA has always been several years ahead of common architectural practices. Originally inspired by conceptual designs of the 1960s avant-garde, it continues to bring forth provocative proposals that put gravitational laws to the test.

The current exhibition at the Barbican is meant to celebrate this avant-garde nature of OMA, as well as making known the works of OMA’s think tank AMO on architectural, engineering and cultural solutions to sustainable architecture. The exhibition is masterfully curated by the Belgium-based collective Rotor and for the first time in the Barbican’s history, the gallery’s West entrance is opened to the public allowing direct access from the adjoining Barbican Estate. The Barbican’s Brutalist architectural style of the 1970s and the avant-garde concept it held at the time does a wonderful job in preparing the visitor to OMA’s exhibition.

OMA/Progress is one of the most entertaining exhibitions in London at the moment. Through photographs, documents, projects, small-scale models, videos and multimedia installations, visitors can not only gain a deeper understanding of OMA’s projects, but also enjoyably interact with the materials in exhibition.

The exhibition starts by asking the question of what exactly an architecture exhibition should expose to the public. Should it show pictures of the beautifully completed projects, perhaps on the inauguration day with flowers and nice lights? Or should it show pictures of the projects under construction, maybe during a foggy, rainy day? But as soon as the visitor enters the exhibition rooms, they will understand that Rotor, as a curator, never found an answer to those questions, but instead, decided to exhibit everything that has been on OMA’s minds in recent years.

The first exhibition room shows two round clay objects on a white shelf. The caption states that OMA does not know whether these two clay objects are actually part of project models or they are just leftovers. As a start, this definitely prepares the visitor for the many amusing that will soon adorn their faces. Continuing on the lower level, there are photographic representations of a few of the OMA’s newest projects, among which there is the famous Beijing CCTV Headquarters. The photographs give a unique perspective of the interior of the building, which has not yet been opened to the public.

The following room is one of the most amusing of the entire exhibition. OMA’s architects, designers and researchers were asked to put on paper what was on their mind at the time and the result is three walls covered with the weirdest ideas you might have ever come up with. One of the notes that captured my attention was a comment from Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa’s presentation, who once proposed the addition of dynamite to a new building’s rooms because he believed that after 30 years that building would inevitably become obsolete and would need to be demolished. Other “thoughts” note that “everything that was not made by God, was made by architects” and “it is a super good feeling to have the super power of an architect.”

Another fun thought was by an architect wondering whether “people” or the architect had better taste, by asking “why the sloped roof, the bow-window and the chimney disappear from architectural language, when most of people desire them for their home? Why do architects always like what the people don’t like?” These thoughts are extremely fun to go through, not only because architects are fun people (as OMA would have probably stated), but because it really shows the passion these people have for what they do and the love they put into their work.

Continuing through the exhibition, before moving to the upper level, there is a video installation featuring all 3,454,204 images that were found on OMA’s servers running at an extremely fast speed. The images are so many that completing the whole cycle takes 48 hours. If you are lucky, you might be able to see photos of your favourite projects, otherwise you should get ready to camp at the Barbican.

Things become relatively more serious on the exhibition’s upper level and through a series of 8 different rooms there are about 450 items illustrating OMA’s history and current practice. While many different projects are shown, much space is given to the outstanding project for Beijing’s CCTV Headquarters.

OMA’s Beijing CCTV Headquarters project is famous and worthy of so much attention due to it pushing the limits of architecture, of gravity and also the artistic connotation it represents. It is OMA’s largest project to date and it proposes a new understanding of what a skyscraper should look like. Instead of competing in the race for height with two-dimensional architecture, the CCTV Headquarters building is a “truly three-dimensional experience,” where two leaning vertical towers are connected by a horizontal angular structure suspended in mid-air.

The day in December 2007 when the two leaning structures were connected by the horizontal axis was an exciting one in Beijing – until that day, the whole building was in a very fragile state as it was exposed to seismic activity and ground movement to a greater degree. OMA/Progress shows various photo-reportage of this important day, as well as different materials documenting the planning, engineering testing and building of the CCTV Headquarters. A few of the panels that were used on the exterior of the building are also in exhibition.

Undoubtedly, the project for the CCTV Headquarters fully grasps the nature of Rem Koolhaas’s style and what OMA means by “progress.” Never before has gravity been challenged so much. Through this project the concept of skyscraper has been pushed to the limit and conceptual space has been created for architectural progress and for new ideas to develop bringing the three-dimensional into today’s architecture.

OMA CCTV Beijing - Photo © Roberta Cucchiaro

OMA CCTV Beijing - Photo © Roberta Cucchiaro

OMA CCTV Beijing - Photo © Roberta Cucchiaro

One of OMA’s biggest “competitors” in Beijing is Foster and Partners, who not only advanced the project for Beijing’s airport, the world’s largest and most advanced airport building, but also oversaw the redevelopment of the British Library of Political and Economic Science (LSE Library!).

OMA/Progress is at the Barbican Art Gallery until 19 February 2012.


4 thoughts on “OMA/Progress and Beijing’s CCTV Tower

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