Junkspace with Running Room by Rem Koolhaas and Hal Foster Review

Junkspace with Running Room by Rem Koolhaas and Hal Foster Notting Hill Editions; First Edition (September 13, 2016)

Rem Koolhaas was a famous architect before he ever built a building. Much writing about architecture is bad, especially by architects. Koolhaas is different he writes great prose which is both entertaining and interesting, lively and obtuse, always trying hard to be subversive.


Some of Koolhaas’s unbuilt projects, conceptually are his most interesting for example Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture his student project undoubtably the most famous student project of his generation. Then there was the book Delirious New York which made him a star without a practice or building to his name.

A little later running his burgeoning, iconic office OMA in the mid nineties that was was in financial difficulities, Koolhaas published S, M, L, XL with Bruce Mau in 1995 firmly establisning him and OMA as Starchitects a grotesque but apt word.

Junkspace was published in 2001 in The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping as part of a collection of research by Koolhaas students at the University, with Koolhaas a contributor and editor. Junkspace is an essay that sits within the many pages of photos, sketches, research data there.

But the Junkspace I read has a different context now. Junkspace with Running Room is sandwiched by a preface and essay both by Hal Foster. Both of Fosters pieces of writing concern Junkspace itself and do a great job of locating and explaining the original essay. This new context means it sits much more as it’s own thing in the Koolhaas oeuvre.


Just what is Junkspace then?

Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course, or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout. Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of science, universally. Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown … Although Junkspace seems an aberration, but it is the essence, the main thing … the product of an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning, conceived in an incubator of Sheetrock (all three missing from the history books).

So Junkspace is that which you most commonly see in Airport terminals its the architetcure of shopping, linking, rebuilt corridors merging into highend shopping experiences. It’s artificially lit, with no external context, only the movement of esculators, lifts, repurposed fire stairs to bring you and other people together before moving them on. Junkspace is a stuck on continuous sealed surface through which you pass.

Junkspace thrives on design, but design dies in Junkspace. There is no form, only proliferation … Regurgitation is the new creativity; instead of creation, we honor, cherish, and embrace manipulation … Superstrings of graphics, transplanted emblems of franchise and sparkling infrastructures of light, LEDs, and video describe an authorless world beyond anyone’s claim, always unique, utterly unpredictable, yet intensely familiar.

There is no escape from this;

All materialization is provisional: cutting, bending, tearing, coating: construction has acquired a new softness, like tailoring …

The essay goes on to beautifully destroy the idea of culture or meaning living seperate from Junkspace. Not confined to shopping, it extends everywhere.

Museums are sanctimonious Junkspace; there is no sturdier aura than holiness.

Globalization turns language into Junkspace. We are stuck in a speech-doldrums. The ubiquity of English is Pyrrhic: now that we all speak it, nobody remembers its use.

So Junkspace by my reading is a physical manifestation but also a metaphor for a certain kind of social and cultural built form. Something that grows out of control, beyond its original boundaries as all programmes end up covered in it.

It’s a beautifully delicious argument, and is easy to defend. Koolhaas dropped a bomb on his own student programme, his own arhcitectural practice and neo-liberal culture.

and then he kept on building his mega projects anyway……

Running Room

Following the Koolhaas essay comes one by Hal Foster Running Room which I think sets Junkspace in context. The fact that junkspace arises out of certain technological solutions, and certain political background or dark matter’.

Running Rooms structure is to use word-slogans a certain reflection of the rhetorical descriptions in Koolhaas’s essay.

Also Hal Foster I think correctly identifies Koolhaas’s own architectural education as one that’s relevant here. His education at the AA during the time of Archigram in which Warren Chalk, Dennis Crompton, and Ron Herron all taught during Koolhaas’s time there as a student. This XL technofuture in ideology as well as asesthetics is echoed in OMAs work.

In Junkspace Koolhaas a modernist deliriously sees a monster rising from OMAs own programme. The Megaproject suffers from junkspace endemically, irrevocably.

How seriously did he really take it and how much is rhetorical bombast I am not sure and Koolhaas probably likes it that way.

Some Thoughts

Junkspace appears to be the final terrible conclusion to OMAs own going big’ programme. The Megaproject was a Koolhaasian way to change the balance in a project, introduce some grit to grow pearls.

But Junkspace identifies something going wrong. The technologies of esculator, air-conditioning, sheetrock reduce even built space to the same as that of the pure image.

Images have become our true sex objects, the object of our desire…..It is this promiscuity and the ubiquity of images, this viral contamination of things by images which are the fatal characteristics of our Culture. - Jean Baudrillard via Modernity and Culture by James Naremore and Patrick Brantlinger p.135

Junkspace is the built result of the screen, its the dulling of any meaning and of any value found in the Architectural project.

Is there a way out of the trap set in Junkspace? Maybe we should just turn off the air-conditioning, go out into the fresh cold air, and feel the sun on our faces?


Koolhas ideas often strike me as architectural ideas looking for buildings to inhabit. It might be a reason he was a great writer before a great architect. Junkspace is a kind of beautiful vignette a poisoned pen leter, self addressed.

With Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture Koolhaas saw in the Berlin wall a contradiction. People were trying to break into the Berlin wall not out of it. He has made this rhetorical trick many times. Tried to add some grit, bring about a juxtaposition which enriches or exposes or both.

If a Koolhaas building is aways looking to grow a pearl from a grain of sand then we should hardly be surprised when sometimes as a writer he takes out his own pearls and makes sand.

Check Out

There have already been a couple of excellent reviews of Junkspace which are worth reading. Future Cityby Fredric Jameson and a little more recently from William Harris Rem Koolhaas and Hal Foster — Junkspace/Running Room.

September 5, 2021