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During one of Professor Ali Madanipour’s Urban Design Seminars

we have discussed two papers called ‘The generic city‘ and

Whatever happened to urbanism?’ by Rem Koolhaas.

Remment Lucas Koolhaas (Rem Koolhaas)

is primarily concerned with producing the modernist sensation of defamiliarization. This is a kind of an avantgarde strategy of making ordinary experience too strange. Rem’s urban research has managed radical kinds of urbanism, grasping their stun esteem and tolerating the distance that they deliver.




To make it easier to compare the Traditional city and the Generic city, I’ve made a table with the most important points, according to the paper:



Holding to identity

Liberated from identity

A dominant, constantly maintained centre

Liberated from the captivity of the centre
Past is too small to inhabit

Present need and present availability



About the “new”

About the “more” and the “modified”

Permanent objects

Irrigating territories with potential, impermanence

City form



Unamenable hybrids

A profession

A way of thinking



Position of power

Relative humility

It was said, that the Generic city is not arranged, it just rises and all of the cities are common. Residents of the generic city do live a common life. [1]

Generic city:

• Multi-racial, multi-cultural
• What doesn’t work simply abandon it
• Politics – Authoritarian
• Urbanism – Primordial and Futuristic
• Infrastructure – Competitive and Local
• History – the sketch had never been developed but stays conservated [1]

‘The Generic City’ and ‘Whatever happened to Urbanism?’ :
  • Call to action for architects & urbanists
  • Provocative & evocative
  • Vague imagery and ideas
Rem Koolhaas discusses the disappointment of the failure of Urbanism.

According to Rem, urbanism cannot create a unique, durable and long-term proposal for a city. After this kind of unsuccessful effort of planning the city, all the specialists retreated from the whole (the city) into the unit (a single structure). In his opinion, this digression to architecture is only a step backwards, and that we must realize that a softer approach to urbanism is needed. Urbanists are frustrated by their inability to change the city. However, imagination, risks, and an open, non-critical approach should not be seen as a solution for urban problems, even if they are crucial to the creative process. Scientists regularly check the improvements engineering and urbanism, but there is a very serious lack of attention to individuals. The best idea is to understand what people are demanding now, and to make reasonable assumptions about what they will demand later.

Finally, Rem Koolhaas expresses one impressive idea as a question:

Consider the possibility that we essentially proclaim that there is no crisis – rethink our relationship with the city not as its creators but rather as its insignificant subjects, as its supporters?
The opening passage of ‘Generic City’ depicts our circumstances more or less; it says that he past will eventually turn out to be too ‘little’ to ever be possessed and shared by those alive. Identity imagined as this type of sharing the past is a losing recommendation.

The author assumes, that

of course, historical cities and districts still do exist, but the way how this “presence of the past” is being dealt with became problematic in itself, because the past is not felt as something powerful and strong or as something to fight with. And it is being cherished instead. Author have noticed, that nowadays urbanists and planners do protect the old, transforming it into an extravagance and a kind of a touristic product to ‘appreciate’ — and to benefit from.
Koolhaas’ argument, though, concerns not Europe but those continents and megacities where a milliard people live with little or no past, in urban communities that until one age prior were little towns, where now numerous bodies are more seasoned than the urban areas they occupy and where there is no past to battle with or to safeguard.

At the end of his travels Koolhaas returns to the uncertainty that he takes as a starting point. After arriving at the air terminals of the generic city, and the intersection with an unlikely parity of the smoothness of its measurements, the mass of its populace, the pointlessness of its urbanism, the vanishing of its arrangements, the unpredictability of its human science, the namelessness of its quarters, the triviality of its design, the incommensurability of its topography, the inconsistencies of its personality, the insensibility of its history, the intensity of its frameworks, and its absence of culture.

The main conclusions of Koolhaas

at the end were that the city does not exist, that it is unconcerned, unsubstantial, and pointless, far from portrayal, that the city is aloof. Koolhaas knows the city, he is not questioning it. He interprets it, but does not create it. He mounts it at the same time as he definitively renounces the idea of driving it.

During the Seminar we had a discussion with the groupmates. And I would like to share our thoughts.

We have tried to project these two terms (Traditional city and Generic city) for reality. We have chosen Kazan city (my homecity) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Newcastle – upon – Tyne



·        The city is informal

·        It is difficult to identify the centre. But in a Generic city you know exactly, what is the order and where everything is situated

·        Has an ancient historical centre (but it is not the exact centre of a city)

·        Has the elements, that are possible to be found elsewhere

·        Sometimes a sense of déjà vu takes place, and it is difficult to realize, what city you are in. For example, the view of the Botanist Pub from the Grey Street is very similar to some views of Italy (for example, Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence)


  1. Koolhaas, Rem and Mau, Bruce ‘The Generic City’ and ‘Whatever Happened to Urbanism?’ from ‘Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large’ (New York: Monacelli Press, 1995).

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509


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