This drawing, part of a series of eighteen drawings, watercolors, and collages, pictures a walled city within the city of London. In this series, tall barriers cut through the urban fabric, an intervention designed to create a new urban culture invigorated by architectural innovation and political subversion. The dense pictographic storyboard, reflecting Koolhaas’s earlier stints as journalist and screenwriter, is intended to be read as a factual and fictional scenario for the contemporary metropolis. The title of the project alludes to West Berlin’s situation during the Cold War as a restricted enclave within East Germany, encircled by a forbidding wall—in effect, a prison on the scale of a metropolis, in which people sought refuge voluntarily. Koolhaas and his collaborators used collage to create vivid scenes of life within the dystopian urban confines. The project was the catalyst for the founding of the collective architectural practice O.M.A. (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) in 1975.
Gallery label from 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, September 12, 2012–March 25, 2013.
Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, is a series of eighteen drawings, watercolors, and collages produced by Rem Koolhaas, Madelon Vreisendorp, Elia Zenghelis, and Zoe Zenghelis. Animated by a text that reads as a simultaneously factual and fictional scenario for the contemporary metropolis, this dense pictographic storyboard reflects Koolhaas’s earlier stints as a journalist and screenwriter. The project was ultimately the catalyst for Koolhaas’s and his collaborators’ formation of their collective architectural practice, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (O.M.A.), in 1975.
The title “Exodus” alludes to Cold War West Berlin, a restricted enclave encircled by a forbidding wall—in effect, a prison on the scale of a metropolis, and one in which people sought refuge voluntarily. This image becomes the stage for a new urban culture invigorated by invention and subversion. In The Strip, a pencil–drawn aerial view of the walled city, with its approach corridors extending through the surrounding urban fabric, is superimposed on a photograph of London. Exhausted Fugitives Led to Reception depicts the verbal narrative’s opening scene: a dark wall, tank traps, and trenches mark the threshold of the captive city, with its somewhat ominous thermograms of skyscrapers rising above the wall, while the “exodus” of “voluntary prisoners” marches toward a checkpoint into what Koolhaas describes as “a continuous state of ornamental frenzy and decorative delirium, an overdose of symbols.”
The complex intertwining of images in The Allotments gives meaning to Koolhaas’s phrase “an overdose of symbols.” The peasant figures bent in prayer come from Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus (1857-59), but are excised from their context and collaged onto a gridded plinth that runs past a bunker of Tinian marble—the rich material often used by the heroic modern architect Mies van der Rohe. In the background, a surveillance tower rises above the barbed-wire-topped wall. Adding to the complexity, Millet’s figures appear as the reconstituted source of their hallucinogenic rendition by Salvador Dali, in his 1933-35 painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus. Indeed, Dali’s surreal projections and his so-called “critical-paranoid method” are running subtexts in the Exodus narrative.
While O.M.A.’s subsequent work has developed its own trajectory, the graphite and watercolor _Park of Aggression—_showing a place to act out fantasies of hostility—reveals contemporary influences on the young architects: the orderly composition on a foursquare grid with a diagonal axis recalls contemporaneous work not only by Italian rationalist architects of the 1970s, such as Aldo Rossi, but by the British architect James Stirling.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Terence Riley, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 166.