Edem Dzodzomenyo / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

In a question and answer session, Tomas Koolhaas described his documentary about his father, Rem Koolhaas, who co-designed Milstein Hall.

March 20, 2018

Story of Milstein Hall Co-Architect Chronicled in Documentary Made By His Son

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Director Tomas Koolhaas traveled around the world and followed his father to the buildings he designed to film his documentary Rem.

The production follows Prof. Rem Koolhaas, architecture, Harvard University, a renowned architect and co-designer of Milstein Hall, as he visits his buildings. Rem Koolhaas spent time as a student at Cornell from 1972 to 1973, and returned to the University as a guest lecturer in 2005, according to The New York Times. The Cornell Institute for European Studies showed Tomas Koolhaas’ documentary Rem last Tuesday, followed by a brief question and answer session over video chat with Tomas Koolhaas.

Tomas Koolhaas said in the question and answer session that he designed the film to focus on his father’s architectural philosophy, rather than describing the buildings, which he said most architecture documentaries do. He considers that to be “extremely boring.” Tomas Koolhaas said he has found that most of these films cater to architects, but he wanted to make a documentary that “basically anyone could enjoy.”

Rem also focuses on the people behind the architecture, the ones who create it and the ones who occupy it after the project is completed. Rem Koolhaas knows the importance of the people who inhabit the buildings, Tomas Koolhaas said, so he made sure to capture this in his documentary.

“[Rem Koolhaas’ career] is a combination of being extremely serious about getting to know the context, getting to know a culture, but also getting to know people who are the users of the building and getting to know their needs,” Tomas Koolhaas said.

He believes this is another factor that sets his documentary apart from existing architecture documentaries, which focus on the buildings themselves. He hoped that, “by focusing on the more human aspects and the more universal aspects of the architecture and of Rem himself,” he would reach a more general audience.

The crowdfunding website Kickstarter funded Tomas Koolhaas’ film, which he said made a crucial difference in his ability to pursue this project, especially in an industry where “ten people at different TV stations decide who gets money for documentaries.” Tomas Koolhaas explained that it is difficult to stay true to his original concept when he’s concerned about getting funding, especially when he has a radical idea for a documentary, as he did for Rem.

“I couldn’t have made this film any other way,” he said. “It was literally a choice of should I bow down to the kind of standard way of making films and get money from the usual avenues or should I find a way to do this my way and to do it the way I want to do it.”

Tomas Koolhaas said he hoped to give the audience the feeling of being inside his father’s head in order to “give the film a much more immersive and more immediate feel” rather than just an informative one.

He said that he intentionally created the film without the typical interview style, in order to be ambiguous and prevent viewers from feeling as if he was trying to “lead the audience to a specific kind of interpretation or conclusion.”

“That’s how you get a more immersive experience where you’re kind of free to interpret what you want rather than just someone talking at you for an hour and a half and explaining why you should think a certain way about Rem’s work,” Tomas Koolhaas said.