In 2012, the United Nations Statistics Division released a statistic that had far-reaching consequences. It proclaimed that mankind was now equally divided between urban and rural populations, and it suggested that this process of urbanization would only accelerate. The 50/50 moment became the pretext for a massive focus on the city in terms of research, exhibitions, discourse – the triumphalist term ‘smart city’ was coined at the same time – and an equally pervasive neglect of the countryside.
As we now can see, this neglect had devastating effects, of which perhaps the emergence of a worldwide populism and the current waning of globalism are only the most identifiable.
Paradoxically, my own interests had been moving in the opposite direction: through regular visits to a single Swiss village – it was the sudden disappearance of cows that alerted me – I had begun to realize that, through an accumulation of discrete individual changes, the countryside was actually transforming more drastically than the city.
This awakening became, at first, a private, then a public preoccupation that, in February 2020, will lead to the opening of an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The show can be described as an inclusive investigation into what happened to those left behind, marooned in the countryside. It is conceived as a collection of zooms on specific and unique situations – in the US, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Russia, China, Japan and Australia – that together describe aspects of the ‘new’ countryside and its new actors. Through these specific presentations, general issues are addressed. Since cities only occupy two percent of the earth’s surface, the show also raises pertinent questions around disparities in food production, energy use and digital effects.
Rem Koolhaas is an architect, theorist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard University, USA. He founded the architecture practice OMA and its research-orientated counterpart AMO. Koolhaas’s book Project Japan: Metabolism Talks, co-edited with Hans Ulrich Obrist, was published by Taschen last year. He is based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
First published in Issue 207