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 Prada and Koolhaas in Korea

Prada and Koolhaas in Korea

blog_guest_blogger_betsky.jpgAs Rem Koolhaas prepared to unveil his highly anticipated “Prada Transformer” in Seoul on Thursday, Cincinnati Art Museum director Aaron Betsky, architecture’s ultimate insider, got an advance peek of the starchitect’s latest showcase for Prada on the grounds of a 500-year-old palace. Here, Betsky (curator of the most recent Venice architecture biennale) gives W an inside look.  

You can spot the fashionistas in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Seoul, in the lounge, in the elevator, but definitely not at the pool. Once we get going, however, we are strictly segregated:  Italians, Anglo-Americans, French and Chinese all have their own program. I am the only American journalist; three are from the UK, six or so each from Italy and France, and a lot come from China and other parts of Asia.  The Grand Hyatt is your standard businessman’s hotel though Rem and Miuccia are staying at the really fancy hotel, the Shilla. 

blog_koolhaas_garou.jpgWe first head off to the shopping area of Garosu-Gil (above)—galleries, trinkets and fashion all mixed in a collage abstracted in the wood, concrete and glass compositions of the newer buildings.  Tea with birds flying over our heads and cooing sweet nothings at us, except that some of the ladies became a bit frightened by so much uncontrolled color and style.  Lunch of raw crab marinated in soy sauce. Some needed twenty minutes of beauty rest before the actual walk- through of the Transformer, which is the sole reason we are here.

blog_transformers_02.jpgOnce we get to the Transformer, Miuccia and Rem lurk in the background briefly, Rem tall and thin, and dressed in his usual uniform of black, but unusually, with a smile on his face. He says hello, then departs, leaving it to Alexander Reichert, his deputy at OMO to do the tour. The Transformer is essentially a tent, stretched almost beyond recognition.  It sits on the grounds of one of Seoul’s palaces, its forms somewhere between the blocky buildings that make up the city’s urban landscape and the jagged peaks of the mountains to the North.  The amorphous whiteness of it makes it difficult to grab hold of it, or even to figure how to enter.

Behind it, an array of shipping containers on a wood platform provide the backdrop and the services.

blog_transformers_03.jpgWalk in and you are in a space defined by a confusing array of gray steel beams.  Facing you is a rectangle with diagonal beams sticking out along the side.  Here’s the trick:  in three weeks, cranes will perform what Reichert calls an “orchestra”—they will pick up the whole structure and rotate it to the side so that the steel grid you see when you walk in becomes the floor, and those diagonals will support sloping seats.  Then it will become a cinema.  A few weeks later it will rotate again and the cross shape that dominates the wall to the right will become the floor of an art exhibition space.  One more rotation and the giant circle on the wall to the left will become a theater for a “domestic scale” catwalk for Prada’s clothes.  

For now, the floor is a hexagon, covered with black-painted plywood.  It provides the scene for the fifth installment of curator Kayo Ota’s exhibition of Prada’s skirts, “Waist Down.”

The whole Transformer is covered with a membrane that stretches over all these permutations and structures to give it a strange unity.  For all the geometries at work, what you are left with is unformed, deformed, distorted and distended space.  A spatial equivalent of the fashion, perhaps, but more than that, a modernist answer to the pavilions used for tent revivals, circuses or other shows.

Later, I spoke to Rem briefly and asked him to say something quotable. He smirked.  Spent more time talking to his daughter, Charlie, a photographer who lives in China.  At least I found out that Pa approves of her new husband.

See our profile of Aaron Betsky from September 2008.

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