Office for Metropolitan Architecture

Office for Metropolitan Architecture
Practice information
Key architects Rem Koolhaas
Partners Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu, Iyad Alsaka, David Gianotten, Victor van der Chijs
Principal office Rotterdam
Founded 1975
Buildings Seattle Public Library, Villa Dall'Ava, Casa da Música, Netherlands Dance Theatre, McCormick Tribune Campus Center, China Central TV Headquarters, Guggenheim Museum Las Vegas, Prada New York
Design European Flag Proposal

OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), is a Rotterdam based architecture firm of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The firm was founded in 1975 by Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis with Madelon Vriesendorp and Zoe Zenghelis.



Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis started working together in the early seventies at the Architectural Association, the London-based architecture school where Koolhaas was a student and Zengelis an instructor. Their first major project was the utopian/dystopian project Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture (1972). This project proposed a linear structure, cutting through London like a knife. Other pre-OMA projects include City of the Captive Globe (1974), Hotel Sphinx (1975), New Welfare Island/Welfare Palace Hotel (1975-76), Roosevelt Island Redevelopment (1975), all ‘paper’ projects that were not (intended to be) built, and all located in Manhattan, the subject of Rem Koolhaas’ famous book Delirious New York, A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (1975).

The founding of OMA coincided with the firm's entry in the architectural design competition for a new Dutch parliament building in The Hague (1978, with Zaha Hadid). OMA was one of the first-prize winners (among some 10 others), and the project was widely discussed and published. The commission, however, was given to an architect who did not participate in the competition. The entry for the Dutch parliament competition was the first of a series of controversial and successful international competition entries by OMA in the 1980s that were not built by OMA.

OMA in the 1980s

OMA's first major commissions were The Netherlands Dance Theatre (1981) in The Hague and IJ-Plein Urban planning (1981–1988) in Amsterdam. Due to change of location a second design for the Dance Theater was made in 1984. Once completed in 1987, the building received international attention. Although full of ‘first mistakes’, the Dance Theater is the first realized design in which the ideas of Rem Koolhaas were made apparent. IJ-plein is located at the IJ river, opposite the city center. The masterplan consists of 1300 dwellings and several facilities. OMA designed the school, the community center and two blocks of housing. Although IJ-plein was a success, Koolhaas hardly ever mentions the design any more.

Apart from these two noteworthy projects few designs were realized in the 80s: a police station in Almere (1982–1985), a bus station in Rotterdam (1985-1987, demolished in 2005), Byzantium apartment block in Amsterdam (1985–1991) and Checkpoint Charlie Housing in Berlin (1984–1990). None of these designs however could match two houses built in this period, one in Rotterdam, one in Paris. The first house was a duo of "Miesian" patio villas (1985–1988) inserted in a dike in Rotterdam. The second – and arguably the best, most full-grown design of OMA until that date – is Villa Dall’Ava in Paris (1984–1991). The client – according to Koolhaas - asked for a "masterpiece". He wanted a glass house. She wanted a swimming pool on the roof. They got both, and the masterpiece in the bargain. So many delays plagued the house that it "became a record of our own (OMA’s) growing up" (Koolhaas in S,M,L,XL).

Several studies were made during the late 70s and 80s: Study for the renovation of a panopticon prison in Arnhem in 1979, Boompjes tower slab in Rotterdam (1979), Housing for Berlin IBA (1980, not realised, and the reason OMA would not design anything in Berlin anymore in the 20th century, the Dutch Embassy Building being the come-back), masterplan for a world exhibition in Paris (1983). Much more important however were the competition entries OMA designed in this period. They gained the office international fame (but not one design was actually built).

OMA in the 1990s

In the 1990s OMA gained renown through a series of groundbreaking entries in major competitions: e.g Tres Grande Bibliotheque and Two Libraries for Jussieu University, Paris, France (1993). During these formative years OMA also realized ambitious projects, ranging from private residences to large scale urban plans: Villa dall’Ava, Paris, France (1991), Nexus Housing, Fukuoka, Japan (1991), the Kunsthal, Rotterdam (1992).

The Euralille (1994), a 70-hectare business and civic center in Lille, northern France comprising the European hub for high-speed trains, transformed a once dormant center of more than 50 million inhabitants into a site offering connectivity, and a range of contemporary activities.

In 1999 OMA completed the Maison a Bordeaux, a villa for a client in the hills outside Bordeaux, France.[1] The villa is of utter complexity and the most striking feature is a platform in the very center of the house that moves freely between the three floors and allowed the client to move with his wheelchair on all three levels of the villa. The design was conceived in collaboration with engineer Cecil Balmond.

OMA in the 21st century

OMA's recently completed projects include the Viktor & Rolf Store in London (2011), the Edouard Malingue Gallery, displaying Modernism and Impressionism art, in Hong Kong (2010), Prada Transformer, a rotating multi-use pavilion in Seoul (2009)[2], the Zeche Zollverein Historical Museum and master plan in Essen (2006), the Seoul National University Museum of Art (2005), the much acclaimed Casa da Música in Porto (2005)[3], the Prada Epicenter in Los Angeles (2004), the Seattle Central Library (2004)[4], the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art (2004), the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin (2003)[5] and the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago (2003).

OMA was awarded the contract for the Seattle Central Library, completed in 2005, despite not having been on the list of firms originally invited to submit designs. Former Seattle resident Joshua Prince-Ramus, a partner, heard from his mother about the meeting for interested firms at the last minute and flew in from the Netherlands. This 11-story glass and steel building is a striking addition to the Seattle cityscape.

In Asia OMA recently completed the massive Central China Television Headquarters building in Beijing, and the new building for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange is currently under construction. In January 2009 OMA won the competition to build a performing arts centre in Taipei and in June 2009 the office won the competition to design 'Crystal Island', a transport and cultural hub in the centre of Shenzhen.

In October 2011, the Barbican Art Gallery launched their exhibition 'OMA/Progress', the first major presentation of OMA's work in the UK, curated by Belgium-based creative collective Rotor.



OMA's leadership is organized as a collaborative partnership. OMA's current partners are Rem Koolhaas, Ellen van Loon, Reinier de Graaf, Shohei Shigematsu, Iyad Alsaka, David Gianotten and managing partner Victor van der Chijs.


OMA maintains offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong.

OMA Rotterdam is working on construction of the new headquarters for Rothschild Bank in London and De Rotterdam, the largest building in the Netherlands; on design development of Stadskantoor, a new city hall building in Rotterdam; the Bibliothèque Municipales à Vocation Régionale in Caen; Maggie's Centre for cancer care in Glasgow; and the Cordoba Congress Center in Spain. The office is also working on several projects in the Middle East including three buildings for Education City in Qatar.
OMA New York, is working on Milstein Hall, a new building for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University, now under construction, and a new building for the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.
OMA Beijing is working on the office's largest project to date, the 575,000 m2 China Central Television Headquarters (CCTV) and Television Cultural Center (TVCC), in Beijing. Other projects in development include a residential tower and residential master plan in Singapore.
OMA Hong Kong is working on the new Chu Hai College campus in Hong Kong, construction of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, and design development of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre.


In 1998, Koolhaas founded AMO, a think tank within OMA dedicated to producing non-architectural work including exhibitions, branding campaigns, publishing, and energy planning.[6] AMO has produced exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (on the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg) and Venice Architecture Biennale (on the development of the Gulf, and, in 2010, on preservation)[7], and guest-edited issues of the magazines Wired and Domus. AMO has produced work for Universal Studios, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Harvard University, Condé Nast, Heineken, and Ikea.

AMO projects also include the development of in-store technology for Prada, a strategy for the future of Volkswagen, a strategy for TMRW, new organic fast food chain, work for Platform 21, new design institute in Amsterdam, a curatorial masterplan for the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe.[8] In 2008, AMO curated the exhibition 'Dubai Next' at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, and was one of the editors on the book Al Manakh, which details the rapid transformation of the Gulf region. In 2010, in collaboration with Archis and Think Tank, AMO made the follow-up, Al Manakh 2.

Notable works

Seattle Central Library

In 1999, OMA won a competition to design a new central library for the city of Seattle.[9] The Seattle Central Library was completed and opened to the public on May 23, 2004[9] In 2005, the library earned a national American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture.[10] The building has also been described as, "the most important new library to be built in a generation, and the most exhilarating" by New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger.[11]

Casa da Musica, Porto

Completed in 2005, the new home of the National Orchestra of Porto stands on a new public square in the historic Rotunda da Boavista. With a distinct faceted form, New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it "a building whose intellectual ardor is matched by its sensual beauty."[12] Inside, the elevated 1,300-seat (shoe box-shaped) Grand Auditorium has corrugated glass facades at either end that open the hall to the city and offer Porto itself as a dramatic backdrop for performances. As well as the Grand Auditorium, conceived as a simple mass hollowed out end-to-end from the solid form of the building, the Casa da Musica also contains a smaller, more flexible performance space with no fixed seating.

Netherlands Embassy, Berlin

Winner of the 2005 Mies van der Rohe Award (the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture), OMA's Netherlands Embassy in Berlin is an isolated cube surrounded on two sides by a perimeter wall. The cube is punctured by a cantilevered meeting room and the visibility of the zig-zagging, interior path through the building.

Waterfront City, Dubai

In 2007, OMA was commissioned by Nakheel Properties to design a master plan for Waterfront City located on an artificial island off the Persian Gulf in Dubai.[13][14] The design for Waterfront City will accommodate as many as 1.5 million people and cover an area of 34,435 acres (139.35 km2). OMA's urban plan for the city includes designs for five large buildings, including one 590-foot (180 m) spherical building that will be designed by OMA and contain a convention center, residences, hotel rooms, and retail stores.[13]

European Flag Proposal

Following the signing of Treaties of Nice in May 2001, which made Brussels the official capital of Europe, the then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt invited Koolhaas to discuss the necessities and requirements of a European capital.

During these talks and as an impetus for further discussion, Koolhaas and OMA suggested the development of a visual language. This idea inspired a series of drawings and drafts, including the "Barcode". The Barcode unites the flags of the EU countries into a single colorful symbol.

In the current European flag, there is a fixed number of stars. In the Barcode however, new Member States of the EU can be added without space constraints. Originally, the Barcode displayed 15 EU countries. In 2004, the symbol was adapted to include the ten new Member States.

Since the time of the first drafts of the Barcode it has never been officially used by commercial or political institutions. During the Austrian EU Presidency 2006 it is officially used for the first time. The logo has already been used for the EU information campaign which will also be continued during the Austrian EU Presidency. There was initially some uproar caused, as the stripes of the flag of Estonia were displayed incorrectly.

Current projects[15]


  • Viktor & Rolf, London, UK
  • Maggie’s Center, Gartnavel, Scotland, UK
  • ABN AMRO building Coolsingel, Rotterdam, NL
  • De Rotterdam multi-use tower, Rotterdam, NL
  • Stadskantoor, Rotterdam, NL
  • Cordoba Congress Centre, Spain
  • Bibliothèque Municipales à Vocation Régionale, Caen, FR
  • Il Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venice, IT
  • Rothschild Bank HQ London, UK
  • White City London masterplan, UK
  • Maggie's Center Glasgow, UK
  • Commonwealth Institute, UK
  • Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow, RU[16]
  • Project Japan: A Portrait of the Metabolist Movement (Taschen, December 2010)
  • Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe
  • Prada catwalk shows, Milan and Paris


  • Central Library, Qatar Education City, Qatar
  • Strategic Studies Centre for the RAND Qatar Policy Institute, Qatar Education City, Qatar
  • Qatar Foundation Headquarters, Qatar Education City, Qatar

North America

  • Milstein Hall Cornell University, United States
  • Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Canada

Asia Pacific


External links

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