For developers, fancy architecture is, typically, one enormous expense: You pay the architect a huge fee, and in return, you get a fairly loosey-goosey promise of marquee attraction.
REX–which was formerly known as the New York office of Rem Koolhaas’s firm, OMA–takes a different approach. They’ve produced a series of buildings which, through saavy design
choices, promise to bring cash. The most recent example comes from their design for a cultural center in Kortrijk, Belgium, which just won out in a closed competition.
Originally, the city wanted to build a “library of the future,” comprising a library and an education center. But REX quickly realized the problems that presents: The planned site was on the wrong end of the existing Music Center, so it would be cut off from the street life of the public square beyond. So instead, they proposed a building that would wrap around the Music Center. And that accomplishes two brilliant things: First, it integrates the new building into the existing public square; and second, it frees the site next door for private development, which will offset the $42 million cost of the new building. (See the diagrams below.)
Clever, right? This isn’t the first time that REX, which is led by Joshua Prince-Ramus, has preformed a bit of archiectural sleight-of-hand to improve the developer’s bottom line. REX/OMA’s Wyly Theater in Dallas, for example,
created a performance space that could easily be configured into an
enormous convention hall, so that it can be rented out for parties when
not in use. Their Museum Plaza design, in Louisville, has all of the
expensive, hard-to-design public areas lofted into mid-air–meaning
that construction could begin in the midst of all the design work, thus
shortening how long the building would take to build (and lowering the
interest racked up in the process).
Which isn’t to say that the actual architecture of the new building is an afterthought. It’s organized around a continuous spiral, so that the learning center, library, and music center all become one cross-pollinating whole. That approach is similar to REX/OMA’s previous design for the Seattle Public Library, which has been lauded for its ingenious functionality.