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BOOK

REVIEW

Future Systems By Deyan Sudjic.Phaidon, 2006.238pp. £45

At an Architecture Week event a few years ago, Amanda Levete, discussing Future Systems' place in the modern architectural pantheon, said that there were two types of people: 'Those who love our work and those who are stuck in the past.' Ironically, this piece of vanity publishing encourages the view that maybe it is they who are stuck in the past.

This is quite an achievement, because there is clearly an interesting story to be told. As Deyan Sudjic says, Future Systems 'have had the courage to explore startlingly new forms and geometries ahead of the field'. If only the content of Levete and Jan Kaplicky's work could, for once, take precedence over the form.

The book skirts through the practice's back catalogue in product design, commercial projects, bridges, 'landmarks', civic projects and skyscrapers.

Seeing the 1985 Trafalgar Square competition entry reproduced as the Bibliothèque de France competition entry in 1989, and finally as the Selfridges building, is an unintentional object lesson in reuse and recycling.

Unfortunately, editorial haste - combined with a preference for appearances over intellectual rigour - has resulted in the themed essay frequently being out of sync with the images it should accompany.

This is irritating but soon proves to be symbolic: Sudjic's occasionally high-minded words are out of step with the imsy premise of this book.

Levete almost admits as much. 'We don't protect ourselves with theory, ' she says.

'For me, architecture is more about feeling and emotional responses.' Tired of ogging a dead horse, Sudjic gives up his half-hearted analysis halfway through the book and falls back on client-pleasers. Praising its range, he says: 'Future Systems' work is based on a kind of intuitive search for formal perfection.'

Actually, on first impressions, it seems as if Future Systems' work is based on the iconic grainy 1933 photograph of the Loch Ness monster. The bulbous head, the elongated neck, the part-submerged body is replicated time after time in lamp stands, tables, cutlery, concept villas, museums and churches. To vary it a little, there are the protuberances and orifices, beans, blobs and penises for which Future Systems is famed. But what the practice is trying to achieve; why it is trying to achieve it; what its philosophy might be, how it reaches decisions; why it thinks it never builds anything; etc. , are just some of the many questions ignored in this book.

By refusing to engage intellectually with the architectural debate, when the pair do venture an opinion it can seem slightly unworldly (although Kaplicky's blithe insistence that museums should sanctify the artefact is refreshing).

I would love to recommend this book simply for the line 'if a building is an epic novel? a spoon is a haiku'. But all things considered, this book not only tells us nothing new about Future Systems, it actually tells us nothing at all.

Austin Williams is the writer and illustrator of NBS Shortcuts

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