Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau, S, M, L, XL, New York: The Monacelli Press, 1995, 1344 pp., ill. b. & w. & col.
S, M, L, XL is an anthology of the polemical work of Rem Koolhaas and his Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture that marks a significant departure from the traditional monograph, conveying architectural ideas through an experimental montage of image and type.
Co-authored by Koolhaas and Toronto-based book designer Bruce Mau, the book documents projects and writings from Koolhaas’ prolific twenty-year career to date. The content is thematically ordered according to size in a scale ranging from “S” to “XL”, from a video bus stop in Groningen to an urban plan for Europe’s new high-speed train hub in Lille, France. Manifestoes, diary and travelogue excerpts, news clippings, reproductions of artworks and images of cities and everyday life accompany the projects while a dictionary of often humourous quotations runs throughout the book’s left margin. Koolhaas’ writings, which alternate freely with the projects, include astute socioanalytical readings of Atlanta and Singapore, as well as more polemical and provocational essays such as “The Berlin Wall as Architecture,” “Bigness” and “The Generic City.” Here, Koolhaas challenges institutionalized assumptions such as form as the conveyor of architectural meaning, contextualism, and architecture as a means of constructing identity.
The ordering of the projects in the book by size ends up implying, somewhat over-simplistically, that “bigger” architecture is “better.” However, what is extremely refreshing is the degree to which this often obfuscated profession is shown to be a highly collaborative and contingent endeavour. In this regard, S, M, L, XL reads as a potent critique of contemporary architectural practice. R. G.-M.