Almanac of Contemporary Aesthetics
24 The Avery Jason O Rear 2

SEARCH TERM

Published by Rizzoli New York, Shohei Shigematsu and Jason Long’s OMA NY: Search Term is a new volume showcasing a variety of radical architectural projects by the New York branch of Rem Koolhaas’ OMA.

Words by Tibor Bielicky

There are books about OMA, and there are books by OMA. Over the last 46 years, publications released by the Koolhaas­ OMA-AMO trinity have impacted the architecture scene and beyond with works such as Delirious New York (1978), S,M,L,XL (1995), CONTENT (2004), and more recently Countryside, which was released in tandem with the eponymous 2020 Guggenheim exhibition. OMA NY: Search Term, is the first publication dedicated solely to the work of OMA New York over the last 10+ years. Coming in the form of a monograph, the book is a deep dive into the mindset of the New York­based office, leaving little room for speculations and giving much space to the ideas that occupy this architecture factory.

Founded in 2006 as an outpost of the Rotterdam­-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture—which itself was found­ ed in 1975 by Koolhaas, Elia and Zoe Zenghelis, and Madelon Vriesendorp—OMA New York has grown from a five­-person venture into a full­-fledged 60­-people, independent practice with a wide range of projects moving between fashion exhi­bitions (Manus x Machina), artist studios (Cai Studio), uni­versity buildings (Milstein Hall), museum extensions (New Museum), and office towers (Toranomon Hills Station Tower), spread all over the US, Canada, and Japan. In recent years OMA New York has gained further independence from Rot­terdam, a strategy that OMA has also applied to its other of­fices in Hong Kong, Doha, and Australia.

Search Term underlines the office ́s autonomy—e.g. Koolhaas is named only twice in the whole book—shifting the focus almost entirely to the New York partners and au­thors of Search Term Shohei (Sho) Shigematsu and Jason Long, as well as their numerous interview partners such as Christopher Hawthorne, Lisa Phillips & Massimiliano Gioni, Taryn Simon, Iris van Herpen, Virgil Abloh, and David Byrne.

Search Term is different from its predecessors, like S,M,L,XL, which focused equally on projects, research, man­ifests, pamphlets, and other curiosities, whereas Search Term centers mostly around the representation of conceptual and realized projects. It is however still very much OMA. Limited to only 300 copies, it’s a catalogue raisonné of 676 pages, 23 projects, and 5500 images, that unfolds as an analog equivalent to the digital media overload of today. It’s not a dry, retrospective mega­ monograph looking back in time nostalgically. It’s in fact rather de­tached from any emotion, though it is sprinkled with absurdities that make use of OMA’s typically Dutch sense of humor, like a Hand-Job pho­to series—pictures of people inter­acting while holding models—or 13 aphoristic attitudes stating wisdom like, “Not every project needs a canti­lever” or “Sometimes the client has good ideas.”

"It’s not a dry, retrospective mega­ monograph looking back in time nostalgically. It’s in fact rather de­tached from any emotion, though it is sprinkled with absurdities that make use of OMA’s typically Dutch sense of humor."

A pedantic and clear structure is present throughout the book, contrasting the OMA­-typical multi­-media overload of snapshot­-photos, dia­grams, so­-called model armies, explanatory–first­-person–narrative texts, publication photographs, Power­-Point slides, and CAD drawings. The book is an index made up of raw metadata, a subjective, cool­headed, and exclusive insight into OMA New York as a practice. The rational design ap­proach of graphic designers Studio Lin, who often collabo­rates with architects, corresponds well with the narrative tone, and the structure of the book which is disrupted every so often by interviews. It’s a system that fits within the idea of what New York is, as depicted by Koolhaas in his “retroac­tive manifesto” Delirious New York: the hyperdensity of the grid, the rigid structure pierced by the chaotic proliferation, freedom from structure and noise from order.

In the documentary film Rem Koolhaas—A kind of ar­chitect, curator Chris Dercon recalls the early 2000s as a very unpleasant time for OMA and describes Koolhaas’ frus­tration over the US market. He nearly gave up on creating a base there after losing a number of promising projects like the Whitney Museum extension, the LACMA extension, or the Astor Palace Hotel, resulting in a shifting of his attention to­ wards Asia, and China in particular (see CCTV Tower). Little did he know how important the US would become for the of­ fice amidst such incisive events like the financial crisis of 2007/08, the unpredictable atmosphere of the Trump era, and the recent global COVID-19 pandemic. Architecture is always too slow to follow recent trends, but OMA NY: Search Term acts as a seismogram, recorded over more than a de­cade, proving that a 46­-year­old practice is still capable of being in the now.

Image courtesy of OMA and Rizzoli New York. Photo credit: Jason O’Rear.

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