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Bulk buy

REVIEW - 10x10_2 Phaidon, 2005. 468pp. £45

Published five years ago, the original 10x10 had an attractive decimal logic format which has obviously proved successful. Ten architects/critics made their selection of 10 'emerging' practitioners, with essays from each of the selectors and lists of their chosen cultural references arranged in alphabetical order. The second volume follows exactly the same logic, in what seems destined to become a quinquennial publishing event.

Each practice is given four glossy square pages. In total, this adds up to 1,500 images illustrating 250 projects, bound between the thick, white cardboard covers of the book - which weighs in at a full four kilograms.

But this intimidating physical weight isn't matched by academic weight. The 10 essays are remarkably brief, with several being significantly shorter than this review.

If you like your architectural theses on a single side of A4 and your images numerous and largely unrelated, then this is your kind of coffee-table tome.

Although none of the 250 projects can be properly understood from the fragmentary images and commentary, this is largely irrelevant to the impact of the book. Its strength is in the bewildering compression of five years of architectural innovation and in the sheer randomness provided by the alphabetical format.

'Reading' it, if that is the right verb, is a surprisingly intense experience. Try to do it in one sitting and you find yourself brainwashed by the imagery. I can only use the analogy of Malcolm McDowell in the film A Clockwork Orange, strapped to a chair, with his eyelids pinned open, as a flickering movie screen bombards his consciousness with an unceasing stream of images. Far better an approach is simply to dip into it and play such diverting games as guessing which critic chose which practice. At this point I would like to thank Alberto Campo Baeza for his choices and his essay, the gentle wisdom of which is a wonderful antidote to the excesses of the book.

The ubiquitous lists of '10 things' that bulk out every Sunday newspaper find their architectural equivalent in the final cultural references section. This is undeniably superficial and undeniably compelling.

Readers can either feel well-rounded in their familiarity with the books, films and exhibitions cited, or use them as a checklist for self-improvement. Zaha Hadid's list of 27 websites probably holds fascinating source material for anyone with enough faith to download them after reading her essay on parametric design.

Deyan Sudjic uses part of his essay to appraise the first volume: 'There was something a little discomforting about the apparent randomness of the exercise. It was a book that hurtled us through a series of images with no sense of context or explanation - just a take-it-or-leave-it quality in which architecture was presented like a shoot'em-up video-arcade game.' The same could be said of volume two, but with the caveat that there are some intriguing examples of merit-worthy, largely unknown work. Some of the excesses of the first volume have been avoided by the choice of selectors for the second, with Baeza, for example, adding much needed sobriety.

'I believe that the future is more in original thought than fatuous formal novelty, ' Baeza writes. 'More in conscious freedom than in arbitrary whim. More in profound originality than in today's 'anything goes' fashion. I believe that the future will be grounded in an architecture that is deep rather than shallow, wise rather than witty, logical rather than ingenuous - one based on structures capable of constituting architectural space.' If only it were so, but, judging by this book, the odds are probably one in 10.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath

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