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IN-EX: Extra-Ordinary

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review Birkhauser, 1999. 448pp. £21. (Distributor 0181 542 2465)

Like a film where minutes pass before any title or credits appear, it is only on page 126 of this book that its contents and rationale are explained, writes Andrew Mead. What comes first, reinforcing a sense of cinema, is a sequence of stills taken on a trip across Australia (see right). Their subject is 'makeshift structures': shacks, sheds, customised caravans and the like. 'Oh, it's not a perfect paradise, but it's a little bit of paradise,' says the owner of one of these extemporised buildings that serves as home.

When the belated introduction eventually arrives, in-ex is presented as a yearly journal organised around a specific theme: 'a snapshot display of subjective viewpoints and concerns, proposing links between architecture and other branches of the arts.' Its editors are a group of young French architects called Peripheriques and the focus of their first volume is the 'extra-ordinary'.

That vague theme acquires more precision in an interview with Jacques Herzog. 'We are seeking to to understand how some buildings which appear ordinary on their superficial, first reading can take on an extra-ordinary appearance when studying them a little closer,' says his in-ex questioner. The interview is transcribed in miniscule type along with 16 others, whose subjects include Jean Nouvel and mvrdv. Much of the rest of the book is purely visual: a deglamourising series of shots of recent European buildings (good architecture given the home-video treatment); photographs of Parisian interiors that detail the disarray of daily life; and computer renderings of a few new projects.

This visual material seldom repays more than a moment's glance; apart from the interviews, the book is one to flick through, not contemplate. Which reinforces one's surprise that in-ex is a book at all - it seems better suited to the Internet. In its aesthetic and its stress on subjectivity, it would be completely at home there, and more open to the marginal viewpoints it seeks.

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