Rem Koolhaas and Campo Marzio

Giovanni Battista Piranesi



"The plan is simply an emblem, a code, a tool,"  

This is a quote from The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas - perhaps one of the most important architects of the last hundred years. 

He was talking about his use of Piranesi’s Campo Marzio plan as an inspiration and tool for him and OMA - the Office for Metropolitan Architecture – an establishment he and his colleagues set up in the mid-70s. 

What makes it so attractive, he continues,  

"is that it is chaotic and organized at the same time, or, rather, that it is a composition of organized pieces in a chaotic whole."  

(Slight pause) 

Throughout his work, Koolhaas questions what architecture is, and in various ways, challenges the assumptions for a building and its relationship to its surroundings… 

…and his use of Piranesi's plan as inspirational tool, or code, has changed over time. For example…. 

(Slight pause) 

Over the past 30 years, the Campo Marzio plan has become an increasingly important factor.  

Where it was earlier used as a decorative element such as in the proposal for a new library in Paris from 1992, it has now become a more deeply integrated element in Koolhaas' and OMA projects. 

(Slight pause) 

Hyperbuilding in Bangkok and Togok Towers in Seoul, both from 1996, are almost fantasy projects.  

Hyperbuilding stacks an entire city aloft with a bunch of towers that rise one kilometer overground, covers five million square meters, and houses 120,000 people. 

(Slight pause) 

OMA and Koolhaas' projects in the 2000s have integrated Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan to an increasing degree. For example… 

In the giant center for the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in Beijing, the plan is not just a mediator between the building and the city, but it is decisive for the design itself.  

Koolhaas transcoded Piranesi's graphic lines into digital pixels, which in turn, were then transformed into park elements, manhole covers, pavement patterns, etc. So, the city in which these buildings are planted, is not really modern Beijing but instead, ancient Rome. 

(Slight pause) 

It is not always easy to spot the use of the plan in these projects other than as a reference in some preliminary study. But, as Koolhaas himself said about Piranesi's plan in connection with the National Library in Doha in 2019 –  

“it is constantly there; it is difficult to erase"