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For the city of Seattle, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has created a public library for the Information Age--a collection of glass-enclosed wedges. Prada, the Milan fashion house, has signed up Koolhaas to design stores in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that, he promises, will look more like conceptual art installations than retail outlets.
Koolhaas has never been so--well, cool. His latest marriage of kitsch and class: Koolhaas' firm is designing an exhibition space for the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, of gondola fame. The space will be shared by New York's Guggenheim Museum and St. Petersburg's Hermitage.
The 57-year-old Koolhaas--tall, lean, and dressed in black--seems to be everywhere. Probably nobody else could broker such a marriage of high art, pure commerce, and low culture. His appreciation for the exuberance of capitalism rivals that of Andy Warhol.
Witness Koolhaas' 1995 book, S, M, L, XL, (authored with graphic-design guru Bruce Mau). Its 1,346 pages of provocative images--which contrast his work with porno-film stills, for example--have become a required coffee-table accessory of the design elite. No activity of modern consumerism is deemed too trivial for his consideration: With Harvard University students, Koolhaas recently completed a study of shopping, which, he says, is reshaping architecture.
Koolhaas wasn't always so ubiquitous. Critics used to say that he was a thinker, not a builder. Among cognoscenti, his books shook up contemporary ideas about urban life and architecture. But for years, Koolhaas didn't produce much in the way of bricks and mortar.
That began to change in the late 1980s, when Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam completed projects ranging from a housing complex in Japan to a villa in Bordeaux for a disabled client--in which an entire room moves from floor to floor.
Today, Koolhaas is Europe's most influential architect and an inspiration to an entire generation of young Dutch working in the profession. It was Koolhaas' role as inspirational figure, not just designer and writer, that last year won him the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field's most prestigious. That puts Koolhaas in a pantheon that includes the likes of I.M. Pei. But has Pei been to Vegas?