A quarter century later, this intellectual rogue is still pursuing larger-than-life city projects across the world. Except this time, they're very much for real. Within the past year, his Office of Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam and New York has finished the Dutch embassy in Berlin and an avant-garde Prada department store in Manhattan, with a concert hall in Oporto in Portugal due for completion soon.
And now his office is dramatically cranking up the scale and shifting its focus eastwards with a trio of stupendously massive cultural buildings in Beijing. They are the 405,000 m2 headquarters for Central Chinese Television, which will cost £400m, rise to the dizzying height of 230 m and become one of the first European skyscrapers in China. Alongside it will stand the 116,000 m2 Television Cultural Centre. Meanwhile, a 100,000 m2 Beijing Books Building is being planned for another site in the Chinese capital.
All three projects won architectural competitions, are being designed with British engineer Arup and are due for completion before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Koolhaas revels in playing surrealist games with architectural conventions that bear comparison with the works of Dada art movement of the 1920s. Rather than being an orderly collection of rectilinear spaces, his buildings feature crazy assortments of large ramps and intermediate levels. He also likes imposing cheap DIY materials, such as translucent corrugated fibreglass sheeting or padded plastic wall linings, on high-minded cultural institutions.
This irrepressibly cheeky approach to architecture continues undiminished in the three Beijing buildings. In the television centre, for instance, two leaning towers support an 18-storey head that cantilevers alarmingly to form a right-angled prow high in the sky. This arrangement frames a giant open window in the middle and has a continuous trapezoidal geometry reminiscent of MC Escher's etchings of perpetually rising staircases. Its outlandish form, like a hollow cube, was designed as a colossal frame for a whole city block, and includes a large park at its base. On its facades, irregular criss-crossing grids are intended as, he says, "an expression of the forces travelling through its structure".
The neighbouring Television Cultural Centre also has an grotesquely irregular shape, although without a void at its heart. Its facade resembles a wall of giant bricks, nearly all of which have become dislodged and project outwards at odd angles.
The two Chinese towers may exhibit none of the surreal eroticism of the New York skyscrapers stretched out together in bed. Yet they are undeniably mad – even delirious. And now that their creator has been awarded the Royal Gold Medal, they come with an official stamp of high culture.