Rejected: OMA’s Grand Plan For A Twisting Skyscraper

Rem Koolhaas and Manhattan: a love that will–for now–remain unrequited.

It’s always struck me as fitting that Koolhaas has never built a freestanding building in New York (despite the fact that it was his ideas about Manhattan that launched him to fame in the late 1970s); it’s as though his vision of the city is just a bit too far ahead of schedule for the rest of us.


The 30-year dry streak was reconfirmed this fall, when OMA’s proposal for a 41-story tower at 425 Park Avenue was put aside for a Foster + Partners design. The decision was not altogether unsurprising: Foster has a proven track record as the architect of two of the city’s biggest office towers of the past decade.

But it’s still worth noting OMA’s design, if only for what it says about Koolhaas’s evolving ideas about the city. Luckily, thanks to the developer’s (very rare) decision to videotape and upload footage of the competition pitches, we get it straight from the horse’s mouth: A YouTube video shows Koolhaas hunched over a laptop presenting the design to developer David Levinson.

“I wanted to think about New York as though there had been a plan,” Koolhaas begins. “Europeans write manifestos and never realize them, in New York, things are realized without any kind of plan.” (Indeed, Koolhaas has called his seminal book Delirious New York a “manifesto” for Manhattan.) The grand plan, in this case, is the grid extended from Central Park down to Times Square. The site at 425 Park is torn between the two poles of Central Park (ten blocks north) and Midtown (a few blocks south). Imagining the 650,000-square-foot volume being pulled in either direction, the OMA team gently torqued the structure until the facade began to vortex. It’s an incredibly elementary–and subversive–move: amidst a tightly regulated north/south framework, the building twists and shimmies like a dancer.

The resulting “Brancusi-like” tower looks almost organic–not at all what you might expect from OMA, which might have worked against them. Inside, though, there are more details that deserve mentioning. In particular, the decision to create a thin vertical atrium through the first 15 floors of the building, connecting the lobby to a public atrium above. Small footbridges sprout from all sides of the chasm, creating what you’d imagine to be a cacophonous space of intersecting companies, events, and spaces. It’s what Foucault calls a heterotopia, a space that is neither here nor there, inviting social interactions that are unplanned. Koolhaas called these kinds of spaces “architectural mutations” in Delirious New York–like mushrooms, they pop up in the dark corners and crevices of the city.

This proposal, like so many other OMA plans for Manhattan, has been put aside for Foster’s clean, middle-of-the-road technocratic vision of the future. But the doomed design is still a fascinating look into how Koolhaas conceives of a city that’s changed rapidly since he wrote about it in 1978.

[H/t Design Boom]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.