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Made for marketing

10x10 Phaidon, 2000. 468pp. £35

In Waterstone's and Blackwell's, 10x10 is the book with the full-window display. Despite the threat that it poses to baggage allowances, it is even there in Books Etc at Heathrow, as desirable as the latest Nikes or a Nokia hands-free.

Many books, occasionally even architectural ones, have been taken to signal taste to those in the know. Most recently these would be historical reviews for the Wallpaper generation: monographs of Craig Ellwood or John Lautner, perhaps.

Blockbusters like S, M, L, XL, and now 10x10 confound that tradition, emerging in the shops as quasi-useful objects which can be marketed outside the enclaves of technical comprehension or elitist association - Alessi kettles for the new century.

For a popularising book, 10x10 purports to take a broad view of the field of practice, stretching the architecture brand beyond its familiar bounds, but the work included (being largely built rather than drawn), and the format of stylistic reference and acknowledgement of influence, is thoroughly traditional. Ten prominent figures from around the world have each chosen 10 practitioners; the work of the 100 selected is then displayed, with each allotted four very large pages.

The 10 critics have also contributed one short essay each, an explanation of the choices, and 10 references - essays, artworks, films, manufactured objects - which they consider significant. One bibliographical reference from each list of 10 is then printed more fully. The written content, despite the use of fashionable backgrounds (stinging insect colours, to warn off readers? ), is clearly of secondary importance, possibly only included to flatter the vanity of the 'critics'.

Of the 10 selectors, Mohsen Mostafavi and Neil Spiller will be the names most familiar to a British readership. The other eight, from all inhabited continents, have less of an academic bent and, indeed, have little in common with each other.

This leads to unevenness in the book as a whole and to lack of clarity as to its intention.

It is predictable that Spiller's selection consists of academic colleagues and his own former students, just as it is predictable that two Melbourne magazine editors should choose Denton Corker Marshall's freeway sculpture and other examples of vacuous Australian formalism; but what are they doing in the same book? Is this the publisher's cack-handed attempt to find critics of equivalent stature on each continent, or is the book based on what might sell best in each of Phaidon's major territories?

The majority of the projects included are individually stimulating, and the photography, layout and captioning are adequate but not outstanding.

All of these assets only make it more obvious that, actually, this is not an interesting idea for a book.

There appears to be more fertility in each fourpage section than in the volume as a whole.

In conceiving 10 x 10, Phaidon may not originally have envisaged shuffling 10 issues of a guest-edited magazine, but the format certainly plays upon the way consumers buy and read such books. Feel the cover, skim a few pages, change subject before becoming involved.

Gerry McLean is an architect in London

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