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S, M, L, XL

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Book by Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau

1344 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

Rem Koolhaas

157 books258 followers
Remmert Lucas Koolhaas (born 17 November 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and "Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design" at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, USA. Koolhaas studied at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Koolhaas is the principal of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, or OMA, and of its research-oriented counterpart AMO, currently based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In 2005 he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.

In 2000 Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008 Time put him in their top 100 of The World's Most Influential People.

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5 stars
878 (49%)
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538 (30%)
3 stars
259 (14%)
2 stars
59 (3%)
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23 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 50 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew.
15 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2008
I didn't read this until now. I was too cheap to buy it as a student, and there was no way I could check it out from my college library (damned grad students could recall any book). I know that for many people (Ben specifically) it was formative of their view of architecture, which must have been very valuable.

To me, though, I think that it is valuable to come to this late. I am less dismissive to this now than I may have been before (I was dismissive of many things that I didn't understand early in architecture school... dismissal was an easy way of taking a position). I enjoyed trudging through this giant book. It is refreshing to see loose ends and misfires and mistakes. Architects are so often trying to groom their image; and while I think that editing is valuable, over-editing can strip away those things that the reader needs to understand how one has arrived at their conclusion. Perhaps it is good for marketing to heavily edit. Perhaps a potential client will be turned off by loose ends. Perhaps it kills the illusion of genius, but I am not a client, and I probably learned more from this than I would from any other monograph in which the architect was heavily involved. (The other approach, of course, is for the architect to remove himself completely as in Françoise Fromonot's book on Glenn Murcutt).
Profile Image for Leslie.
93 reviews11 followers
March 1, 2021
I understand that to call this book a phenomenal failure is a bold statement but it is one that I am prepared to defend with specific examples, instead of asking you to take my word for it. We will use as a case study one of the most well-known sections in the book, Koolhaas' treatise on the "Generic City."

Have you ever looked at a building that was so ugly that your soul died a little by looking at it and wondered why on earth someone would build something so hideous? The answer lies before you.

Koolhaas tells you to: "Close your eyes and imagine an explosion of beige. At its epicenter splashes the color of vaginal folds (unaroused), metallic-matte aubergine, khaki-tobacco, dusty pumpkin; all cars on their way to bridal whiteness...Built at incredible speed, and conceived at even more incredible pace, there is an average of 27 aborted versions for every realized—but that is not quite the term—structure.” pg 1260

Close your eyes and imagine an explosion of beige! This is an apt poetic description for the vision behind Koolhaas' Generic City. It is homogenous, it has no center. But instead of merely saying in plain language that the city shouldn't have a center because that makes some people feel left out, he says instead:

"The last vibes emanating from the exhausted center preclude the reading of the periphery as a critical mass.” Or this one, “The persistence of the present concentric obsession makes us all bridge-and-tunnel people, second-class citizens in our own civilization, disenfranchised by the dumb coincidence of our collective exile from the center." pg 1249

The reason why such writing irritates me so much is that when an intellectual has an idea that likely will not hold up when scrutinized under the light of day, one way to make the idea sound more plausible is to couch it in erudite and subversive language. He goes on for several pages making the same point that cities should not have a downtown or a center but I won't sport with your intelligence by quoting any more of it.

I, for one, would be more interested in more practical arguments beyond the mere point that some people are going to feel left out if there's a city center. Why can't there be individuals boroughs that each have little downtowns and then one main downtown? But I digress.

Let's talk some more about this Generic City, all in beige, homogenous, and without a center, shall we?

“The Generic City is what is left after large sections of urban life crossed over to cyberspace. It is a place of weak and distended sensations, few and far between emotions, discreet and mysterious like a large space lit by a bed lamp. Compared to the classical city, the Generic City is sedated, usually perceived from a sedentary position. Instead of concentration—simultaneous presence—in the Generic City individual “moments” are spaced far apart to create a trance of almost unnoticeable aesthetic experiences; the color variations in the fluorescent lighting of an office building just before sunset.” pg 1250

Is it just me, or do others also not see many color variations in the fluorescent lighting of office buildings? When you actually analyze the concepts rationally, many of them don't make sense. But one gets the idea when reading it that it's actually not supposed to make complete sense. It's instead supposed to wash over you like a beige nightmare that you can't wake up from.

Here's yet another quaint passage for you about the Generic City: "The city used to be the great [sexual] hunting ground. The Generic City is like a dating agency; it efficiently matches supply and demand. Orgasm instead of agony; there is progress. The most obscene possibilities are announced in the cleanest typography; Helvetica has become pornographic." (pg 1264)

Here's the translation for the everyday person like myself who likes things expressed a little more plainly. In the olden days, you had to go to the "Red Light District," to certain sections of towns to find the prostitutes, the strip clubs, and other obscene things. But in the Generic City, that kind of stuff is everywhere. THIS IS PROGRESS, Koolhaas tells us.

People, this is a special species of swamp garbage that is being taught in architecture programs all over the country. Do you want to live in a city that has the feel of an airport such that every section looks exactly like every other section? There's no history, no character, just the flatness of the Nihilistic dream? The head of my local university's architectural department is teaching this Nihilisic garbage to an upcoming class of students who will then go out and spread such horrors throughout the earth.

And when I say Nihilistic, I do not say that lightly. The head of the architecture department announced on day 1 of class that Nietzsche is his hero. If everything is heading towards meaninglessness and destruction, the blandness and mediocrity of the Generic City is supposed to ease our transition into nothingness. What one believes about where history is heading is incarnated by the way one builds cities and buildings. The entire idea behind the Generic City is fundamentally opposed to truth, beauty, and goodness, and every beige, bland, nondescript corner of this hellish nightmare is telling the story of meaninglessness.

So if that's your cup of tea, Nihilism mixed in with a good dose of existentialism, incarnated through hideous urban sprawl without a center, without beauty, without history, without character, then knock yourself out reading this textbook.

In the introduction to this section on pg 1248 he says: "What are the advantages of blankness? What if this seemingly accidental—and usually regretted—homogenization were an intentional process, a conscious movement away from difference towards similarity? What if we are witnessing a global liberation movement: “down with character!” What is left after identity is stripped? The Generic?”

However, there do still exist in this world, a few people who relish beauty, charm, character, creativity, loveliness, quaintness. In fact, this may come as a shock to university professors everywhere, but 75% of people actually prefer traditional architecture to modern architecture. However, in the entire U. S. of A. there is only 1 University with a program in traditional architecture (Notre Dame) and all the rest are devoted to modern theories. So there you have it. We plebians are so backward that we don't know what's good for us. The elite in academia have to mediate their fever dream of disillusionment to us through hideous buildings and cities that no one wants to live in but that everyone must.

There is one thing that I did learn from this book. All my life I have been perplexed by the hideousness of modern architecture and I have been scratching my head thinking, "Who designed this and why? Why did someone sit down and sketch out that ugly building? And someone built it? Why?" Now it all makes sense. There is a worldview behind modern architecture. I finally understand where it came from.

In conclusion, I'd like to share with you one last thought from Koolhaas. I just said that his Generic City lacks beauty. But to be fair to Koolhaas, he would disagree. For he tells us that:

"The architecture of the Generic City is by definition beautiful."

P.S. Additional quotes for those still reading:

page 1262: “The style of choice is postmodern, and will always remain so. Postmodernism is the only movement that has succeeded in connecting the practice of architecture with the practice of panic. Postmodernism is not a doctrine based on a highly civilized reading of architectural history but a method, a mutation in professional architecture that produces results fast enough to keep pace with the Generic City’s development…All resistance to postmodernism is anti-democratic.”

[I encouraged my daughter to attend an architecture program because I wrongly imagined that on so attending, she would be schooled in some “doctrines based on highly civilized readings of architectural history.” Silly me! In my profound naiveté, of which I am now embarrassed, I never dreamed that she would instead be encouraged to embrace a method, a mutation in professional architecture with the end goal being the development of the Generic City.]

Pg 1251: “The Generic City is fractal, an endless repetition of the same simple structural module; it is possible to reconstruct it from its smallest entity, a desktop computer, maybe even a diskette.”

Pg 1253: “Its immoral lushness compensates for the Generic City’s other poverties. Supremely inorganic, the organic is the Generic City’s strongest myth…All Generic Cities issue from the tabula rasa; if there was nothing, now they are there; if there was something, they have replaced it. They must, otherwise they would be historic.”

Pg 1255: “The Generic City presents the final death of planning…But its most dangerous and most exhilarating discovery is that planning makes no difference whatsoever…The Generic City is loosening every structure that made anything coalesce in the past.”
Profile Image for Kate.
1,188 reviews
March 20, 2017
"Monuments are embarrassing to Dutch culture: it is not that there is nothing to remember, but Protestant ethics suspect icons that embody, then supposedly trigger, reminiscence. A monument compromises any memory's authenticity."
5 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2007
Rem Koolhaas has established himself as one of the major thinkers of this architectural era beginning with his seminal Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. A decade after it is written, the ideas in S,M,L,XL still serve as thought-provokers in the never-ending debate on post-modernity. And not forgetting of course that this is the architectural tome whose format spawned a million copy-cats and wanna-bes.

Read it because you have to; it is the post-modern era's Towards a New Architecture.
Profile Image for Kevin.
173 reviews16 followers
April 9, 2009
it's the real novel. nothing gaddis vollman bolano wallace makes come close to this thing, and the fact is, it's not always fact, it's perception about a communal but led struggle to absorb MANY ideas and then transform them with physical-material things. brain projections. the emortions of many instead of one. the reverse of the Randian nightmare. and the struggle is in public as much as possible. with a glossary straight out of flaubert.
Profile Image for Antonia.
249 reviews65 followers
June 8, 2015
I realized that architecture is the ultimate form of art when I saw the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. Admittedly, until then I haven't expressed any interest about architecture, but seeing this impressive building I was fascinated. Ever since I got obsessed with buildings and spaces.
Rem Koolhaus is the pioneer of post-modern architecture and this tremendous volume is a must-read and inspiration to anyone who is interested in this form of art.
Profile Image for Lee Barry.
Author 21 books13 followers
February 23, 2019
I ordered a copy of the book after watching the (excellent) documentary on Koolhaas, and was particularly interested in his “Bigness” essay.

What I’d like to see is a smaller version with mostly text and a few photographs.

Speaking of bigness, this tome is 1350 pages, so big the spine collapsed.
2 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2021
A powerful manifesto on "mega scale architecture" that emphasizes its usefulness on many levels. A short, but definitely worthy, reading. I wish I had read it during my Masters thesis, it would have helped clearing up my argument.
Profile Image for  Aggrey Odera.
225 reviews43 followers
August 28, 2021
A compendium (beginning to dislike that word) of Koolhaas' best critical work, from Junkspace and Bigness to meditations on Dutchness, with remarkable pictures interspersed everywhere. It's a worthy 1300 or so pages, and not a slog to get through since it thankfully has no narrative arc at all. The only other book i've come across that is as useful AND interesting is the Harvard Graduate School of Design Guide to Shopping, also largely compiled under Koolhaas' supervision.
July 4, 2022
Powerful, sarcastic, witty, and brilliant. Read this book and have a personal lecture from the man that has transform the practice of architecture around the world.
You may not be a fan of his style, or you may not agree that a concept could be bigger than the building itself, but his contribution to the practice is undeniable, and a "History of Architecture of the XX Century" would be incomplete without this book.
Profile Image for Kaden Beilman.
18 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2019
practically the bible of contemporary architectural thought. koolhaas's "fictional" approach allows him to piss people off without being affected by criticism, because it's psuedo fictional. did the same thing with delerious ny. a genius
Profile Image for Brian.
7 reviews1 follower
August 28, 2019
Read cover to cover (perhaps not as intended). Of all the impressions from the book the strongest was Koolhaas' mastery of reference, irony, and observation.
Profile Image for Mark.
67 reviews
May 5, 2020
Rem’s ‘Lookbook’ momentarily entertaining
378 reviews6 followers
March 6, 2022
A very dense book of a peculiar view on architecture
Not easy to understand but can learn a lot if you do
Profile Image for Devansh Shah.
21 reviews
July 31, 2022
would have loved this book if I read it in small bits in magazines, but as a whole, it's just too many conflicting ideas. If you can buy and read at your own time, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Sandro.
30 reviews
October 24, 2020
I've finally read this book properly from cover to cover for the first time after having encountered it for I don't know how many times since my early bachelor years over a decade ago. As many have known, the essays are really brilliant and I keep thinking about them all the time ever since I finished reading the book. However, the sidenotes were a bit distracting for me. Well, some are witty and funny, some are splendid and somewhat complementary, but there are some that I read quickly just to get over with it.
7 reviews3 followers
April 25, 2011
Important book on the ever changing and complex world of architecture. This book opened a lot of new perspectives on architecture for me as a young student in architecture school. For one thing this quasi-monograph takes an unorthodox and interesting way of representing the work of Koolhaas and the Office of Metropolitan Architecture. Some projects are represented with only images and some notes and others are dense essays on the state of cities/economics. As the title reads, the subject matter is organized by size of the projects from smallest to largest. An interesting dictionary of 'personal definitions' offers a more personal look into the personality of Koolhaas.

Recommended reading for anyone. It offers insights and a unique look at architecture and urbanism that I think anyone can enjoy. And a definite recommendation for anyone interested in architecture.
Profile Image for Mike Bularz.
44 reviews4 followers
November 3, 2009
An exhaustive collection of years of design work by OMA, Rem, etc. arranged into groups by project size. From an interactive bus stop (S) to massive planning projects and proposed concepts (XL), finishing this opened my mind up and helped me think about urbanism, architecture, and design from different perspectives, and will be a good launching point for finding less mundane material related to planning and architecture.
Profile Image for Aditya.
Author 5 books83 followers
November 15, 2012
Im not even into architecture. But i absolutely loved this book. Its a NOVEL as such. and so MAD in its telling. its all the projects done by OMA in the field of architecture ranging from their small to XL projects. As random as someone calling them ot a vacant plot of land in Paris and saying i want this odd shaped house and from a particular height on a particular part of the land you can see the eiffel tower so here i want a swimming pool. And they've built this crazy home and it rocks!
Profile Image for Brandon.
64 reviews5 followers
July 14, 2007
i'm not down on rem, i just think he's full of himself.
that's not even a discussion point. i think it's pretty much accepted that he's full of himself, but he has had an interesting effect on architecture.

don't read the definitions. or, read the definitions on clouds. those are my favorite, though i have to admit i stopped reading them in depth.
Profile Image for Helman Taofani.
Author 1 book3 followers
August 1, 2007
Bulk book...

Tebelnya bisa ngegencet lalat sampe gepeng, tapi dalemnya ngga mulu teks. Bruce Mau mengkombinasikan visualisasi abstrak modern melalui sentuhan grafisnya untuk menjabarkan ideologi Rem Koolhaas dalam mengurai arsitektur.
Profile Image for Isa Braunstein.
11 reviews1 follower
April 20, 2014
An explosion of creativity. I remember reading this in college and couldn't help but be inspired to go out and create something, something different. It's a book chocked full of raw creativity. I dare you to 'observe' 10 pages of this book and not start planning a project of some kind.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 50 reviews

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