So which came first, the OMA or the Foster?

In a story that could only set back architects further in the mind of the public by equating "starchitects" with "cry babies," bdonline reports that "two of the world’s leading architects, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster, have clashed over claims of a 'remarkable similarity' between two of their most ambitious projects," the former's Rak Gateway in the Emirates and the latter's just-revealed 6sq km "zero-carbon, zero-waste" Masdar Development in Abu Dhabi. Let's see what all the fuss is about.

Here's OMA's plan:

And here's Foster's plan:

Certainly the timing of these two square projects raises some eyebrows, though the similarities -- or at least the imagery that's being looked at -- is only the plan. I'm sure these two project "on the ground" are very different from each other. But a few thinks irk me about the hoopla, as well as the plans themselves:
:: The assertion of authorship at the scale of the city,
:: The desire to be innovative at the same scale, linked with
:: The apparent tabula rasa conditions of each, and
:: The apparent lack of learning from history at various levels.
Perhaps these two architects are learning from history, as square cities are nothing new, though let's hope they're learning from more than just the shape.

The ancient, walled city of El Kab (found here):


  1. I find Rem's to be an innovative reinterpretation of the ancient human condition--a true reflection of our epoch. I find Foster's to be little more than constipated, a mediocre cry for help. Plus Rem's has a Death star--I think Norman Foster and Renzo Piano need to get a room.

  2. I have read the article, and it's ridiculous. I don't think the case is something 'similar', those 'kids' are debating nonsense. Sometime intelligence turned adult into child.

  3. Just out of curiosity... out of all the possible examples of historical square cities, why El Kab?

  4. silly arguments aside, why not take authorship for work, at any scale?

    i am not sure what you are objecting to. the plans or the architects (it seems the latter).

    i don't know very much about rem's project, but foster's at the very least is very positive and hardly based on graphic design...though your comparison IS.


    personally i believe at that scale the plan will be less important than how it is inhabited...spiro kostoff has at least made a very convincing argument for that view in his books, as have others...

  5. Sorry to post off topic, but this weekend brings more raves about Holl's new building.


    Washington Post

  6. eric - I used El Kab as it's about the oldest square town plan I could find or think of.

    will - My argument seems to be based on graphics (though I would argue it's form/morphology) because that's what the original squabble is about. The likeness that Rem is upset about is that each plan is the same shape, though he also mentions in the article the scale, grid (apparently mixed with more open, flowing spaces in each) and the sustainable aspects; each issue could be broken down into general issues of boundary, population, morphology, and environmental attitude, this last piece of the argument being so silly as to dismiss it outright (sharing sustainable principles is a problem?!).

    Basically, I'm not objecting to the plans, as I haven't had the chance to look at them in depth, though just the fact that cries of near plagiarism are being levied for two plans that share appealing qualities and that happened to have congealed into squares is an unnecessary sidestep (this page included, I guess) towards addressing the urban problems of this century. They seem to want to do that, though I would have them reconsider creating new towns and focus on rehabbing what exists.

    And authorship in the case of a town is a bit tricky, as it's obvious that as implemented the plans will change and the many different hands contributing to their physical realization (if at all) will probably alter even some of the grand gestures. I'd love to know how each architect/planner proposes to keep the city square over time, for example? Border patrol? There are so many things beyond what the architect/planner can accomplish that at some point it needs to lose their name, their authorship and become a CITY.

  7. i get you john.

    i agree too. the entire idea that a square is a fundamental design idea for a city is a bit silly, especially if we think for just a moment about all the ideal city plans, vitruvius' designs in good ol USA via the law of the indies, etc...

    not so sure about authorship...i mean no one seems to feel that Paris is any less well designed or liveable simply because Haussmann's name is attached to it...same will surely be the same for these projects given enough time. and if they work the names will be held up in same light as Haussman. And why not? It isn't like they are not actually doing something here and simply attaching their names to default plans...

  8. will - Even if my grounds for authorship are sound (who knows?), it's one of those traits of Modernism that just won't go away. I guess in this celebrity-soaked age it needs to be kept in check, so important decisions aren't made based on the name attached to something...though I know that happens all the time. The Haussmann example is a good one (you hear "Haussmann's Paris" every now and then, like he created a NEW Paris), though in these two cases these two architects are in more God-like positions. I could see images of them hovering over these towns, hands like lighting bolts.

    Philippe - Is this the new address of your blog? If so, I'll update the sidebar link (Architecture, Photographie...)

  9. In both case there is not a lot of context, a city in a desert, is a case of tabula rasa. Building a new city in the desert as a square is really not the most innovative way, I would argue, it is the most common way with linear cities. I think the issue between both architects is to do with the scale and all the various propositions on the program. Koolhaas's big thing is the PROGRAM and less the form...Whereas Foster...he just sold more than half of his company, and Ken Shuttleworth left him 2 years ago. I suppose he is a little bit loosing his magic touch.


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