For Barend Koolhaas, it’s not a family business, but there’s definitely something in the genes. His father’s brother, Teun Koolhaas, was a noted Dutch architect and urban planner. Then, of course, there’s Rem—one of several cousins in the profession.
Barend, however, grew up wanting to design cars. After graduating with an architecture degree from the Delft University of Technology, he had a small commission for a project that was part architecture, part design object. Wildflower, a small, round construction with a floor plan that opens and closes like a flower, was a prototype meant to be sold as an alternative to the unimaginative school annex buildings found throughout the Netherlands.
The project, says Barend, 43, fed a “nagging feeling to do industrial design.” Shortly after Wildflower was completed, he moved to California to work for global design and consulting firm IDEO. Adds Barend, “It was a good experience seeing that type of business, which is very different from architecture.”
Eventually, though, Barend ended up back at the Rotterdam office of Rem’s OMA, where he had begun working as a summer intern in 1994 when he was just 18 years old. There, he took on large-scale urban master-planning projects in the Middle East and Asia, moving to Hong Kong in 2010 to develop plans for the West Kowloon Cultural District. But those projects coincided with the global economic crisis. “None of the work I did for OMA materialized,” says Barend. “Ultimately, I am a builder. And I wanted to build.”
He opened his own studio in 2011, designing a series of shoe shops to look like rooms in the imaginary house of avant-garde Dutch shoe designer Jan Jansen. Within a few months, he had commissions for a couple of private residences—one in Curaçao that wasn’t realized, and a weekend house in Almen, in the Dutch countryside, built in 2014.
He continues to design at a range of scales, from exhibitions to textiles, working in collaboration on two collections for Belgian fashion house Marga Weimans. “It was fun to do,” recalls Barend. “As architects, we use collage a lot. It was nice to apply that technique in a real result on fabric.”
In 2017, he completed his most significant project to date—EENWERK and Irma Boom Office (IBO) combines renovated workspace for famed graphic designer Irma Boom, with whom Barend collaborated at OMA, and new construction for a gallery for Boom’s partner, Julius Vermeulen. “The spaces are intertwined and connected on two levels,” describes Barend. “It’s the architectural equivalent of their relationship.”
Currently, he is working on The New Building. It’s not just his latest, but a new type of flexible building whose parts, and plans, are left open to accommodate an ever-evolving program. For now, that includes a large garage but is dependent on the developing site and neighboring programs. According to Barend, “How we design buildings, cities, and cars is all connected.”
DESIGN STAFF: 3
PRINCIPALS: Barend Koolhaas
EDUCATION: Delft University of Technology, MSc Arch., 1994–2001; Cooper Union, 1998–99
WORK HISTORY: OMA 2006–08, 2010; IDEO 2005
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: EENWERK & IBO, Amsterdam, 2017; Claudy Jongstra exhibition, Fries Museum, 2016; House in Almen, 2014; House in Oudemirdum, 2014; Wildflower, Hoogvliet, 2004 (all in the Netherlands)
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: The New Building, Amersfoort; renovation of a canal house, Amsterdam (all in the Netherlands)