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The Prada Armada

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THE ARCHITECT
Flying Dutchman
Koolhaas fixes up his major New York project.

Globally peripatetic architect Rem Koolhaas touched down here earlier this month to oversee the restoration of his Soho Prada emporium. So far, it’s the biggest thing he’s built in Manhattan (having lost out on the MoMA and Whitney expansions). Miuccia Prada hired him because she was “bored” with her stores and had heard he was intriguingly “difficult.”

After the fire, what changes did you make to the store?
Well, it’s barely redesigned but hopefully more something where you . . . shop. The ground floor was barely used for shopping, and so we fixed that.

The store’s never really been about maximizing the per-square-foot sale space.
We wanted to be seen to waste space. Which is another form of luxury.

What does doing retail teach you?
We were able to test things that we could apply in buildings for art—the way you address a public, which has to be seductive in the case of a store. So, there is a kind of contamination—in the positive sense.

Speaking of shopping visionaries, you were an adviser at Condé Nast.
After the Internet bubble burst, they asked us to think about Wired and then the larger group [of magazines]. And what we did was create a kind of matrix and looked at where intersections of magazines could spawn new magazines. So, a golf magazine and a fashion magazine, at their intersection you could theoretically have a golf-fashion magazine.

You became famous for your book Delirious New York in 1978. Has this city changed?
Well, that, of course, was never really about New York. It was simply taking New York as the basis for a manifesto. All I can say is in the last 40 years, very few buildings that have the same potential or caliber have been added to the city.

Why is that?
Ummm . . . no idea. It turns out that very dense, complex cities are not really the thing that this part of the twentieth century was particularly good at.

You’re building a lot in China. Why?
One of the most noticeable things in other parts of the world is that decision-makers are considerably younger than the average important trustee in America. Basically you work for people here who see things as risks that are simply symptoms of progress. The people we’re dealing with in China are, on average, 35 to 43. And that makes a huge difference. What has disappeared here is perhaps an interest in experimentation. You know, you can look at the U.N. building as a radical building at the time.

Do you always wear Prada?
I’m not a poster boy for them.


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