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Never satisfied


Content Edited by OMA-AMO / Rem Koolhaas. Taschen, 2004. 544pp. £6.99 I must confess to a conflict of interest: Rem Koolhaas once gave me a car.He did it in New York in 1975. It was a characteristic act. The car had seen better days but the gesture was spectacular. Fast forwarding 29 years I now find myself staring at another Koolhaas gesture, a publication called Content which looks like a cross between an IKEA catalogue and a telephone directory.

I know nothing about it, not even whether it is a book or a bundle of magazines. In this I am not quite alone, for at the back of this magazine/book is a double-page spread of what look to be girlie magazine covers, while at the front is another doublepage spread that says just what I am thinking: 'I'm not sure if this is a book or a magazine'. This is followed by a page labelled 'Contents', with the added 's', which looks as though it will explain everything, but lamentably fails to do so, chiefly through the use of white reversal lettering on a black background in paragraphs that first sequentially diminish in print size and then enlarge.

From the carefree way in which this literary sabotage is repeated, it is clear that it was intensely enjoyed by its perpetrator.Wouldbe readers may not like it so much because the articles and features are by no means easy to find without browsing every step of the way - or perhaps this is the general idea.

Anyway, what follows is a compilation that is a natural sequel to S, M, L, XL, though perhaps a little less anarchic. Remember back in 1996 some twits claimed that S, M, L, XL was the most important architectural book of the past 100 years. It is not, but it was one of the biggest. Content, despite its 500-plus pages, is definitely on the extrasmall side: extra-small format, extra-small articles, extra-small print, extra-small pictures. . . and an extra-small price.

Some 200 pages into Content you come upon the leaden sentence: 'Building is a drastic intervention not only in space but in the field of possible behavioural choices.'

Fortunately, this is something of an exception. More typical is a Buckminster Fuller-like spread depicting the world's 'urban cores', which argues that those in East Asia are going to coalesce into a single 'world urban centre' - a single global core emerging out of 10 megacities.

Another chart traces changes in airline traffic after 9/11, while others compare the burgeoning resources of 'right-wing think tanks' with the growing numbers of 'leftwing demonstrators against globalisation'.

Then comes a look at the way Koolhaas' office analysed and advised on the designer vocabulary to be used by Wired magazine.

'Proclaim a revolution every month, ' was their first advice. 'Get a new guest editor every season, 'was their exit strategy for a terrorised world when certainty failed.

Specifics apart, there is an encyclopedic mass of material in this book, which is cheaper than most glossy magazines. Buy it, but keep your magnifying glass handy.

This bemused reviewer leaves you with, not a car, but this extract from from Koolhaas' 'Universal Modernization Patent Application', which begins: 'Adopting the hypothesis that - contrary to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Incas, the Goths, the Italians and the Metabolists - all buildings constructed after 1950 [should] contain an expiration date [so that] the death of architecture equals, potentially, the rebirth of the city.' Like everything else here it is crazy, but it just might work.

The Rem Koolhaas exhibition first seen at the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin (AJ 8.1.04) is at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam, from 27 March until 31 May (www. kunsthal. nl)

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