Rem Koolhaas is an architect whose books are as habitable as his buildings. In his classic Delirious New York, the Dutch designer/theorist charted a "retroactive manifesto" that made sense of the city's fitful affair with destruction and invention. In his mammoth chapbook S,M,L,XL, Koolhaas surrounded the ethereal whole of architecture with a sort of printed arcade of images, building plans, poetic marginalia, comics, and novelistic asides that mimicked a mind sifting through more than mere blueprints.
Taking a cue from the latter, Content is an eccentric meditation on what architecture can and can't be to those inside and outside its walls. Giddily disjointed and printed on magazine paper stock, the book gathers essays and pictures from the offices of Koolhaas' interlocking firms OMA and AMO, which oversee architectural projects both real and imagined. Essays on militaristic "urbicide" bear out the violence inherent to architectural thinking, while also giving heft to ideas that are often approached as simple strategies for cozy living. Similar staredowns between theory and reality embody OMA-AMO's "almost existential pursuit of discomfort, its commitment to engaging the world by inviting itself to places where it has no authority." As the bulk of Content would have it, those places are almost anywhere in a 21st century marked by instability and erratic power swings. Following the mantra "Go East," the book studies swelling tide-shifts away from the U.S. and toward the European Union, the Middle East, and Chinaphenomena recorded in graphically wowing maps of population growth and globalistic expansion.
Less literal are riffs on theory that spring fancifully to life: an essay on the importance of "shape" as opposed to "form," couplings of screen-grabs from TV's Big Brother and paintings by Johannes Vermeer, aphoristic fragments about how "when we think about space, we have only looked at its containers." Koolhaas' recently completed buildings show up alongside samples of their ideological rationales, which show how celebrated structures like the Seattle Public Library and the McCormick Tribune Campus Center in Chicago were designed to breathe and grow through use.
Searching and restless in its own collective mind, Content is also a lot of fun. Spinning out a rash of graphs and pictorial non sequiturs, the book exists less to be "read" than played around in, brooded over, and laughed at. It's a gleaming funhouse that gives shelter to architecture as it relates to the organization of ideas more moving than concrete.