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21 First Drafts: Rem Koolhaas' Almere Police Station

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Franziska Barczyk

First Drafts is a series exploring the early work of our architectural icons, examining their careers through the lens of their debut projects. Occasionally unexpected but always insightful, these undertakings represent their initial, finished buildings as solo practitioners. While anecdotes accompany the work of all great builders, there's often more to learn about their first acts.

Rem Koolhaas
Almere Police Station in Almere, Netherlands
Date completed: 1985

Getting the Gig:
A Dutch architect almost as renowned for his theories as for his built works, Remmert Koolhaas appears to design buildings not to bring order, but to tell stories. His narrative approach is no surprise considering he was a writer long before sketching a single blueprint. Born in Rotterdam in 1944, Koolhaas tried to become a multi-hyphenate like his father, a writer-critic-screenwriter. He worked for the Haagse Post magazine covering subjects ranging from sports to architecture (he wrote about Le Corbusier and interviewed Fellini) and even developed screenplays. Even after enrolling at the Architecture Association School in London in 1968 (where he would meet teacher and future Office of Metropolitan Architecture co-founder Elia Zenghelis), Koolhaas cultivated a reputation as a theorist, thinker and outsider. During a research fellowship to New York in the '70s, when the metropolis was arguably at its most gritty, he became engrossed with the urban landscape, penning his infamous, influential book Delirious New York in 1978. A polemic about the bright possibilities of the then-bankrupt and decaying urban core, and how it could become a beacon for outsiders and artists, the book's cover, illustrated by his wife, artist Madelon Vriesendorp, showed the Empire State and Chrysler buildings lying in bed together. All that's missing is a suggestive cigarette. Koolhaas and OMA spent the '70s on proposals, plots and paper architecture, such as Exodus, a speculative plan which would disrupt the London landscape with a walled-off city-within-a-city (Koolhaas' pictographic storyboards from the project, now owned by MoMA's, are supposedly the most asked-about item in the museum's architecture and design collection). As critic Paul Goldberger wrote, "Koolhaas's desire as an architect is to design the stage, not to write all of the lines to be spoken on it," a tendency that would inform the early work of his talked-about firm, which began applying for and winning jobs in his home country during the early '80s.

Description and Reception:
OMA's own description of the project—"It is not blessed with a beautiful site"—seems to offer little more than resigned acceptance. After the town's old station burnt down, construction of the new building was rushed during the last six months of 1985, diverting OMA from their Netherlands Dance Theater Project, one they felt was more worthy of champagne and celebration. Still, the 2,600-square-meter (28,000-square-foot) single-story structure with light blue towers, a blue brick front facade and pink terrazzo porch does suggest how the architectural rebel was able to feel comfortable creating a symbol of the state. Confined between a highway, parking lot and set of flats, the cramped location falls within a planned town set on land reclaimed from the sea. The station which cost $700,000 to build, isn't much to look at from the outside. But the interior shows a thoughtful arrangement meant to downplay any air of authoritarianism, boasting an airy central courtyard and Japanese rock garden that illuminate and space that emphasized police-public interaction. Was Koolhaas inserting his own optimistic vision of how a police force should operate in a brand-new city barely a decade old? It sure sounds like a good story.

Impact On His Career:
The Almere police station came during a period when OMA was shifting from just winning competitions to winning commissions; in addition to the Netherlands Dance Theater Project, the firm was also working on the Checkpoint Charlie apartments in Berlin (which wouldn't be completed until after the wall fell) and housing towers on Gronigen. At the time, Almere was a footnote, since the NDT building was heralded as a stunning design completed on a challenging budget, and helped cement Koolhaas's reputation as a formidable architect, not just an architectural theorist (it's scheduled to be demolished soon to make way for a new cultural complex). But the police station wasn't Koolhaas's last time working for Almere. OMA would go on to design a movie theater (2004) and create a master plan (2007) for the expanding city.

Famous Future Works:
Netherlands Dance Theater (Hague: 1987), Maison Bordeaux (Bordeaux: 1998), Dutch Embassy (Berlin: 2003),
Seattle Central Library (Seattle: 2004), Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre (Dallas: 2009), CCTV Headquarters (Beijing: 2012)

Current Status:
The building is still standing and functioning as the police station for the Almere Haven district.

Rem Koolhaas's Long-Awaited Garage Art Museum Opens Today [Curbed]
Rem Koolhaas's Fondazione Prada in Milan Wears a Gold Crown [Curbed]
Peer Inside OMA's CCTV Headquarters in Beijing [Curbed]