Rem Koolhaas – S, M, L, XL

Lecture date: 1995-11-29

Rem Koolhaas presents his innovative and influential publication S,M,L,XL. Designed in collaboration with Bruce Mau, written as a kamikaze critique of the work of the OMA office, Koolhaas describes the book as an architectural novel which aims at modesty at a megalomaniac scale. Rem Koolhaas is a former student and tutor at the AA and founder of OMA. He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2000.

Literal Transcription:

REM KOOLHAAS: In a way, it is very cruel that after publishing a book of 1400 pages I am asked to give a presentation, because the book is in itself the presentation; everything I have to say now is completely redundant: is in the book. Every project is both defined in the terms of positive ambitions, but also in terms of issues to avoid. In our work, and also in this book, the catalogue of things to avoid has been at least as important as the things to include. We wanted to do a book about architecture which both undermined and reinforced architecture; a book which spoke openly about the meaning of many of our architecture, but at the same time, which did so at a modest scale, so maybe the main definition of the book is modesty in a megalomaniac scale. At this point, the most interesting presentation I can give is about the book and its intentions, although in some way I feel that I am also spoiling your fun, because it will make explicit some things that are deeply buried in depth of the book. I am exposing connections now that I would rather have prefered to remain hidden, for you to discover or to ignore.

The book is a series of fragments, it has the pretension of a novel, people have waited for it a long time, and I think have written it very quickly. I started in 1992, and, for those of you who know ‘Delirious New York,’ I named myself its ghostwriter (the ghostwriter that describes New York’s theory). The role of a ghostwriter is still the role I prefer the most, but there were two issues, first of all, my age, and second, the huge amount of work that we have undeniably produced, which imposed the issue of publishing this kind of work.

I would still have prefered to be the ghostwriter, and to me the book is still a ghost-written book, but I felt it was also inevitable to make your own personal disclosures. One of them is that my father was a writer, and therefore, I am probably biologically programmed to be interested in writing. He died one week before I started the book, and maybe there is a connection between his death and a certain mission of this words. We wanted a book that changed of character every ten pages or something like that, a book that did not have a single appearance, a book that changed nature, character, identity and aesthetics at every possible moment.

I felt that was very important to make a book that provoked other people to think about architecture, and about the conditions under which architecture is produced today. Therefore, the book contains a series of informations about the economy of our office: (showing a graph) to the left the beginning of the office in 1981, and the moment that we started the book is when the line started to decline acutely. In that sense, you could say that writing the book is also a critique of the office and also probably an act of aggression against the office, to some extent kamikaze. The conditions under which architecture has to be produced today are, strictly speaking, insane.

These graphs give the corresponding frequency of travels, of nights spent in hotels, of the accumulated effort, so therefore there is a very blatant paradox that the more an architect is popular, the the less that he has to spend on architecture. We are all living with the consequences of that paradox, and it is not a beautiful sight in most cases. The more the work of an architecture office is disseminated in different areas, (by the way, 70% or 80% of our work is not in the country where we have our office), the more it becomes a logistical nightmare. Here (shows graph) you can see the up and down fluctuations of income, so running an office now is to try to even out a series of completely irrational mountain ranges, and therefore it is an almost impossible task.

It is important to make those revelations, because the book is to some extent a critique of the office. It was written at a time of incredible financial difficulty, the difficulties are simply given here, I can say that our office almost died this summer, but at the same time there is an interesting twist of scenario. We started negotiations with a major engineering firm in The Netherlands, and we are now autonomous but completely enravelled in association with an enormous office of 700 people, who built roads, bridges and tunnels, and who expect from the association to cover the entire field from architecture to infrastructure.

This is our new office (photograph)

source