The Visual Parody of Guggenheim Museum and the Countryside-the Future, a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas.

  • The exhibition: Concept, and glimpses
  • The interaction of the exhibition with the architecture of the novel Guggenheim museum.

“Architects are not so much the predictors of the future, but the enablers of the future”, moving forward with this belief and looking at the present creatively, Ar. Rem Koolhaas and Samir Bantal, Director of AMO, the think tank of Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in collaboration with Troy Conrad Therrien of the Guggenheim, have together curated an exhibition called ‘Countryside: The Future’. It is an exhibition that investigates topics such as climate change, migration, preservation, and evolution. Held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York which interestingly, they consider being the perfect place to launch a show which is essentially about things completely opposite of what New York actually stands for. . “It is about the space on the earth, outside the city I.e. the countryside”. He says

Samir Bantal, Director of AMO puts it as “This is a collection of new and old ideas that aims to rediscover the dynamics of the countryside. A place many of us think of as stable and slow-moving is revealed as an incredibly agile and flexible realm, even more than any modern metropolis.” 

The exhibition strives to address the unrealized, questionable direction of urbanism that the world is moving towards, and attempts to bring the spotlight back to the potentials of the countryside. It highlights the fact that the countryside is at the forefront of future development, as it is there that most of the experimentation on new ideas takes place. The exhibition greets the visitors at the entrance of the exhibition, through an essay asking a series of thousand questions by Ar. Rem Koolhaas which takes you through the journey of coming to the most important question, “What world do you want to live in?” 

"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet1
Image by david heald ©solomon r. guggenheim foundation

The aforementioned questions, if spoken about, belong to all spheres of life, and relatable to all kinds of people. Ranging from lifestyle, science, security, development, technology, experimentation, privacy, etc. 

“Don’t come here looking for answers”, they say. The quotes, question, displays, and demonstrations within the form of the museum, along the intertwining ramps and the central atrium, provides just the right visual frame, to wrap the visitor in all those right questions. The careful planning of the exhibition has indeed transformed the iconic rotunda and leveraged the uniqueness of the building. The team of the countryside agreed that the exclusive architecture and the experience of the Guggenheim Museum have made it fairly easy and interesting to put together the exhibition. 

Every ramp has its theme, and every theme has its own unique conclusion or starting point. Along the way, there are automated robots, traveling the ramp with certain exhibits, thus adding charm to the overall dynamic experience. These ramps play a vital role in connecting all the themes to put forward the final wholesome question. 

"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet2
Image by david heald ©solomon r. guggenheim foundation
"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet3
A bird’s-eye view of the rotunda’s floor ©Laurian Ghinitoiu / Courtesy of AMO

What to expect? 

"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet4
Different Levels ©Designboom
"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet5
Different Levels ©Designboom

As mentioned, different levels highlight different aspects of the concerned subject. Each of the six levels contains specific and unique cases of China, Qatar, Germany, Kenya, Russia, Japan, the US, and the Netherlands, visually designed by AMO/Koolhaas and Irma Boom in collaboration with the Guggenheim. An ensemble of imagery, films, archival material, wallpaper graphics, a printed curtain, objects, reproduced artworks and robotic sculptures embrace the unique architecture of the museum, putting forward the crisp messages. 

Level 1 is the “Semiotics Column,” created by journalist Niklas Maak with students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, which illustrates images and posters of fantasies of the rural areas, using the vertical elements of the space. 

Level 2 talks about how history embraced the countryside, and the contrasting unthoughtful abandonment in the present times. 

Level  3 speaks about the political will, and its history in the nineteenth and twentieth century, highlighting the chronology of development or DE. development through relevant case studies 

Level 4 describes the rural areas as the frontier of experimentations and newness, through case studies of evolved social structures in China, Africa, Europe, and the USA. 

Level 5 talks about the ongoing research on nature and preservation amidst the adventure of modernity, highlighting the two broad concepts called ‘Half-Earth’ and ‘Shared Planet’ 

"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet6
Image by david heald ©solomon r. guggenheim foundation

Lenora Ditzler, an agricultural scientist says,” She hopes that this exhibition helps people see that alternative avenues are being examined so that people get a perspective to think about creative ways of imagining the future.” 

Thrilled and filled with a lot of questions, Level 6 ends the exhibition on an optimistic note highlighting the achievements in agriculture around the world, paired with surprising juxtapositions. Large hanging projections and mobile robots, painting a picture of a better future and imparting a potentially appropriate narrative to world development. 

The trail through the exhibits, showcasing the results of all the research, interviews, data gathering, and analysis, along with the questions and conclusions, entails a political message too. As stated by Rem Koolhaas,” To be able to work on all the issues that this exhibition raises, communication is of prime importance” 

Overall, the exhibition is a fantastic parody between the architecture of the Guggenheim Museum and the exhibits and arrangement. In 1978, Rem Koolhaas was the first architect to curate an exhibition in the Guggenheim museum, and now 50 years later, he is re-living the experience. However, this is also a first, as this is the first time when a major art institution will dedicate itself entirely to everything which is not art. 

"Countryside, The Future", On View At The Guggenheim Museum - a non-urbanism exhibition put forward by Rem Koolhaas - Sheet7
Image by laurian ghinitoiu, courtesy of AMO

The Countryside, The Future exhibition is put together with the help of numerous collaborations with numerous institutes, researchers, and scientists, who worked on the field, for interviews, research, data gathering, etc., and a varied design team, to showcase the findings. Among the institutes were, Harvard University, the University of Nairobi, Kenya, the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts, and the University of Holland. 

Although the exhibition was to launch on Feb 20, 2020, It had to be shut in light of the novel pandemic. But the museum is reopening for all on Oct 3, 2020, with all the necessary safety measures and newly formed functioning guidelines. 

Image by laurian ghinitoiu, courtesy of AMO

During the  Countryside, The Future museum’s temporary closure in this time, the greenhouse farm installed in front of the building continued to grow thousands of energy-efficient, local tomatoes each week, which were distributed to city harvest to those in need throughout New-York. This event is sure to add a whole new perspective and sense of belonging to the exhibition, hopefully widening its impact among people. 



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Mubaraka Surury Saifee is a passionate architect and writer with a keen ability to appreciate the humble gestures of architecture. She believes that there always exists more than single way of looking at things. She sees architecture and writing combined as a medium to reach people and produce some food for thought, to bring positive changes in the society.

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