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MA/Progress at the Barbican

Is progress a quantitative or qualitative measure?

Koolhaus has been laid out bare at the Barbican. Presented here are 29 pages of a fax to Arup about the structure of the CCTV building, 48 floor-plan maquettes for a plinth at the National Art Museum of China, 33 drafts of an unfinished book about Lagos, 20 cultural comments, 7 ideas to change the world, 279 project banners, 3,454,204 images from OMA’s server and an array of similar artefacts seemingly swept up from the studio floor.

"Objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live."

This quote sets the scene. A problematic statement that in some ways represents all that has become disconcerting in the modernist ideal. The exhibition is staged in London and Koolhaas’s first major building is on site – but the tone is of disdain for the City:

"London engages modernity on its own terms: hosting modernity without ever really entering into the obligation to modernize as a city."

The message being that progress is modernity. If this is the subtext of Koolhaas’s impressive portfolio of work, then the exhibition fails to convince us of its worth. Sequence and process is an interesting aside but we need to feel the quality too if we are going to buy the cloth.

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