Spotlight on OMA/AMO and Prada Collaboration

The Prada SS12 show by OMA/AMO

This autumn the Barbican Art Gallery is presenting OMA Progress an epic exhibition chronicling the work and processes of Rem Koolhaas’ Office of Metropolitan Architecture and its thinktank AMO. I set out to see this exhibition with an architect friend, hoping he might help me decipher the complexities of this architectural juggernaut, and expecting to see a long succession of models of spectacular buildings. Honestly, I thought the exhibition might be a bit dry, or rather outside my sphere of interest – but nothing could have been farther from the truth. I also thought it would be an opportunity to turn my fashion brain to a low setting and appreciate spatial design exclusively. This expectation was also shattered by both the innovative and engaging curation by design collective ROTOR, and my discovery that OMA and AMO have been instrumental collaborators in the design and concepts behind Prada’s stores, catwalk presentations and brand image. Thus, the exhibition was a highly informative, inspirational and fashion-satisfying experience that afforded me the opportunity to explore a magnificent collaboration by two giants of contemporary cultural and aesthetic production.

OMA's museum display system

OMA was founded in 1975 by Koolhaas, Madelon Vriesendorp, Elia and Zoe Zenghalis at the Architectural Association in London. According to the exhibition brochure, they were ‘heavily influenced by the conceptual design of the 1960s, and their early projects challenged notions of the city.’ Since their incpetion, OMA have combined material and conceptual thinking to develop ‘an historically and culturally infused practice of design, expressed through image-making, idea generatio and rigorous investigation of form.’

Exhibition view: Can you spot the real gallery visitor?

The exhibition curation and design underline these aspects of the firms approach and philosophies by presenting material in unique ways focused more on the process than the outcomes of their work. Thus, the exhibition plays out into a series of zones that focus on aspects of architectural design such as movement, sightlines, surface decoration and abstraction. Each area curated by ROTOR was then commented upon by Rem Koolhaas, so the exhibit reads like a dialogue in process among curator and designer.

The hanging portfolio display

The exhibit features among other surprising choices and entire room papered with A4 printouts salvaged from the office’s rubbish bins, and an enormous projection screen that plays a rapid slideshow of every image on OMA’s databases – a loop that would take 48 hours to watch in its entirety!

In the exhibit’s introductory section (which is free of charge, and situated before the ticket desk) visitors learn about OMA’s beginnings and it satellite thinktank AMO, founded to apply architectural thinking to other projects. It was here that I learned it was AMO who designed some of Prada’s flagships, including the one in New York City, and devised their website and recent catwalk presentations.

This area of the exhibition is populated by the clever inclusion of life sized 2 dimensional cut-outs of museum visitors, that are eerily lifelike and from a distance difficult to distinguish from real people. Just before entering the exhibition, visitors are invited to peruse a display of hanging placards that serve as a comprehensive portfolio of OMA’s work and serve to give an idea of just how prolific and far-reaching their vision has become.

Vivienne Westwood cycling: one of the images I added to my notebook

Already aware that this was not a typical architecture exhibit, I was even more enamoured by the show after entering a gallery hung with small pads of paper form which visitors could select their own collection of images and imformation to take away. The content was presented as things the members of the firm are thinking about right now, and it really felt like being invited into an eclectic creative brainstorm. Among the tearsheets I greedily added to my notebook were an image of Vivienne Westwoond riding a bicycle, a photo from 1911 of Russian peasants in traditional dress and short manifestos for “the creative class.”  In the center of the room were a series of blue foam cubes, the very same that were used as seating for Prada’s 2011 catwalk show.

The seating arrangement for the Prada SS12 show

The material relating to Prada’s collaborations with OMA were scattered thorughout the show, and referenced in relation to concepts such as movement, adaptation instead of quitting and alternate ways of seeing.

Street level display at the Prada Epicentre Los Angeles

For example, the Los Angeles Prada Epicentre (2004) met the challenge of a store with little window display space by embedding show mannequins below street level, visible to pedestrians before entering the shop. The model of the store on display also proposed an enormous lens in the shopfront that would have made it possible for people to have close up views of store product while passing by int heir cars. Unfortunately, a small note on the model reading lente non realizzabile, indicated that this lens was impossible to fabricate. Fortunately, the concept is legible in the model photograph!

OMA model for the Prada Epicentre, Los Angeles

Another significant presentation of the Prada/OMA collaboration was a rotating device for displaying skirts, that was devised for the Prada Waist Down exhibition in 2009.

The Prada Waist Down Exhibition as presented in Tokyo

The simple mechanism, displayed overhead displays a pleated length of silk, printed with the trompe l’oeil image of pleated fabric creating the illusion of infinite volume in motion.

The Prada SS12 show in Milan, featuring the aforemetioned blue foam cube seats, was a groundbreaking and clever device for usurping the usual hierarchy of fashion shows, putting the viewers in a grid allowing 360 degree views of the models, ensuring that every seat in the house was “front row.”

Getting a taste of the joint projects of Prada and OMA gave me a thirst to know more about how the two entities share a vision and are pushing the boundaries of how we experience and consume both fashion and architecture in the 21st century. The reading room at the conclusion of the exhibit offered up copies of a few publications entirely devoted to the projects of OMA and Fondazione Prada, which are pricey, but now added to my Amazon wishlist!

Erstwhile, I have composed a shortlist of web-based articles that announce and describe some of the projects and are a great start t0 a deeper familiarisation with both parties and their unique partnership

Wallpaper Magazine: Prada OMA Salon del Mobile, 2008

Prada Flagship Store in New York City, 2001

Youtube clip of the Prada NYC store

The Prada Transformer Site featuring projects, blog and events

The Prada OMA Los Angeles Epicentre

Excellent blog post from Critical Cities on the Prada/OMA collaboration

I left the exhibit with my fashion brain on overload, and my architectural apprehension being given a run for the door. This is one to check out, sure to inspire you to consider yourself a thinktank or even better to form your own collective for the exploration of new ways of thinking about design, living and yes, even fashion.

This is the leaflet I have pinned up on my wall as a daily reminder to think diferently!


Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.