The Hague City Hall Competition, OMA 1986
Nominated for the Geert Bekaert Prize for Architectural Critique. Published in OASE. Journal for Architecture, no. 94,OMA The First Decade. Christophe Van Gerrewey and Véronique Patteeuw (eds.). Rotterdam:NAi-010 Publishers, 2015
The Hague City Hall was a project about emptiness. Its flatness and deliberate incompleteness worked as a tableau for the fleeing dynamism of capitalist accumulation. Already during his early researches along the Berlin-wall, while studying at the Architectural Association in London, Koolhaas sought to translate in architectural terms the paradoxical effort of imaging nothingness, fascinated by the capacity of absence to trigger unforeseeable fantasies, monsters and violence, to generate energies in a much more intriguing form than any other object posed in the same place.
The competition itself was about saturating an absence, aiming at revitalising the historical hearth of The Hague whose main cultural, administrative, commercial and public facilities were disconnected as an archipelago of incidental episodes. The Stadhuis was essentially a real-estate venture initiated in 1985 by the alderman of the Council Commission for Planning and Urban Renewal Adri Duivesteijn who, after 80 years of conjectures and aborted projects, proposed to converge the administrative offices and the central library within a unique building in Spui.
Converging huge financial resources on a single symbolical intervention, in 1986 Duivesteijn managed to launch a competition for five Dutch developers associated with international renown architects – Richard Meier, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Van den Broek & Bakema, Helmut Jahn, Cabinet Saubot et Julien – to submit a proposal. In December, the jury led by Aldo van Eyck, awarded the OMA plan. Nevertheless, despite a large debate on local newspapers, the council ultimately commissioned Richard Meier the construction of a grandiose public atrium, which better fit the social democratic representative ambitions of the municipality.
On the contrary, given the ‘amateurish and unstable’ character of the program, OMA proposed an austere three-dimensional frame to be filled with program, people and activities: a sort of city within the city. The intention was to create an architecture sufficiently indeterminate to accommodate endless variation, a building able to program instability and organise flexibility by means of architectonic eloquence.