There are more than a few good reasons why a review of S,M,L,XL cannot be written. John Shnier in conversation with Bruce Mau for Canadian Architect 11 (1995), 18–21
The copy in our college library had some of its pages pulled out. Why anyone should mutilate books is beyond me but there are those who need to do that. Now S, M, L, XL is that specimen of the book to bring a kind of violence on itself. There were only two other books to physically stand up to its scale at that time, i.e. Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture and Christopher Alexander, Pattern Language. Most big books are monotonous. It has a consistent pace. Everyone flipped through evenly when looking for references or “inspirations” for design. This one has pace. You went faster in some places while in others you slowed down. Early 2000 was a different time too, in the architectural library as the internet was not so much fun then. Books were necessary, especially just before the design studio began. Monographs and magazines only described the buildings and laid out some plans. If you knew what you wanted, then you went directly to the standards. Theory was for those who got English diatribes. Workflows were straightforward. The repertoire of architects to access was also limited. Rem’s tome seemed like a clear tell-all peek into operations of a type of architectural production on the other side of the world. They didn’t seem to want to hide anything. For the time, they introduced the concept of “research” as a new thing in architecture. Postmodernism was reaching its waning end and OMA was the latest. There was a bit of confusion if research was a style because research for design was something architects did anyway. What Rem and his lot conveyed, were positions that went into the making of architectural projects while clarifying the role it played or for that matter how research could solve an architectural question. The fact that most architects have a copy of the book in their home/ studios and based on found forms of several reviews, it is evident that no one or a very few have read the book. Even those who review it end up describing it. This is was one of the books to describe rather than to review. It is difficult to critique. A thing to hold rather than read. All have accepted the mess and the drama laid out. There are those who got confused on the number of pages too which starts at 1 on foreplay and ends at 1344. There’s 1376 (if you do not count the cover backs). Because it was a different looking monograph or understood as a mutated theory reader, then it was looked upon as an architectural reference manual. Today one would classify it more as a study on urbanism or reading to build architecture in the city. Bigness, Singapore Songlines, Atlanta, and the Generic City are all positions on the urban landscape. In the age of star architects, there was optimism. Like you could also become a star, there was an agency for it. We had big books to get you there. Today in the time of micro-influencers and collaborative practices a monograph of this scale may get frowns. Then were low-res scanners and xerox machines, therefore books reacted too for that secondary aesthetic. Hyper gloss and post-digital graphics operate in other ways today. For the first edition Rem’s name was in yellow, or in lights. In 1998, this one, it’s in purple. The next, on sale at the moment, is an aqua. There was also an orange somewhere. It's necessary for architects to know how to age too. It is a very delightful volume to go through, like a movie that you can watch on repeat. But should you, is a question you need to ask. The concept for this construct is found on page 1208, an interview of Jean-Paul Baietto. According to him, there are three things that you need for something to be successful in the late 20th century, firstly is, limits, people should get the edges or what is it you are selling. Second, you need some kind of intense demand for the product type. Finally, you deliver a dynamique d’enfer, i.e. a dynamic from hell, something so complex all aspirations of the producer and owner seem to come together in its manifestation. With that, you get the ultimate ¥€$ architectural design monograph of the early ‘90s. What the practice achieved for its time was to package material and make available for sale things that would otherwise be discarded after a project closed or was considered complete. This act, invention, has since reconfigured how any architectural practice look at projects they discuss and the role research plays in its culture of making.
- Filler, M. (1996). The Master Builder
- Beigel, F. (1996). S, M, L, XL (Small, Medium, Large, ExtraLarge) by Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, and Monacelli Press, Inc., New York, 1995, 1345 pp, 525 colour and 825 mono illus. ISBN 90 6450 210 2 Price £64. Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 1(3)
- Scalbert, I. (1996). A second review by Irénée Scalbert. Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 1(3)
- Irving, M. (1999). Design? It’s as easy as S,M,L,XL
- Sigler, J., & Tillmans, W. (2000). Rem Koolhaas. Index Magazine
- AA School of Architecture. (2000). Rem Koolhaas — S, M, L, XL
- McGuirk, J. (2010). Tomes, sweet tomes: how Rem Koolhaas re-engineered the architecture book
- Lange, A. (2019). Rem Koolhaas is the real diva
- Gerrewey, C. Van (Ed.). (2019). S,M,L,XL & “Generic City” (1994–1998): No End to Revision. In OMA Rem Koolhaas, A Critical Reader. Basel: Birkhauser.