The book ‘ S,M,L,XL ‘ is a monograph written by Rem Koolhaas who is a Dutch architect, author, and prominent cult figure, and designer Bruce Mau. Books are often a powerful art form and treated as a cultural object. There are very few books that hold importance even after 20 years when they were published. This book gives a synopsis of the Era when architecture became a non-participant in the explosion of globalization and the market economy.

Book in Focus: S,M,L,XL-Book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas - Sheet1
Bruce Mau ©

Rem Koolhaas wanted architecture to be a chaotic adventure. The book was a by-product of an extremely intimate collaboration between architect Rem Koolhaas and the designer Bruce Mau. Both the individuals strongly believed that collaboration helps to bring out what you think you aren’t capable of. During the book release, it seems to be the biggest thing around. Not just in terms of the size but also its sheer impact, controversy, and popularity. Its influence was felt immediately.

Apart from obvious plans and sections, the book was a graphic overture that weaved free-wheeling essays, diary excerpts, photographs, architectural sketches, cartoons, doodles, and surreal montages of images fables, fairy tales, and a variety of insightful poetic writings and travelogues. The book intended to trigger the next generation architects out of their rudimentary thinking and negate the urban despair.

Book in Focus: S,M,L,XL-Book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas - Sheet2
Bruce Mau ©

The author admires Japan’s metabolic movement glimpses of which are seen in his own innovative firm OMA, the office of metropolitan architecture. Some of the firm’s work is also described in this book. Mau’s description of the book: “A brick that fits into all kinds of walls of ideas”. Once in a while, we come across an accident or an inspiration that deeply affects us and changes our perspective about thoughts. This book is a leviathan filled with shards of information. It traps architecture in over 1200 pages.

Any writer/ author tends to put up the most polished works in front of the world. Carefully segregated pictures of accomplished projects and some high-resolution drawings in a book is a frequent way of the author’s working. However, this book is different. The planning of this book is not a conventional one. 

To any avid reader, this might come forth as a hodgepodge or a random assembly. In this case, the title of the book was based on its framework. The book started small and increased in size as the pages increased. Projects and essays arranged according to the scale where the largest of the city to the smallest of the decor is explained in the book. Small and medium address issues ranging from domestic to public, large and XL focuses on ‘architecture of bigness’ and urban scale projects.

Running throughout the book there is a dictionary of the new koolhaasian language which also includes definitions, quotes, and commentaries from various architectural sources. It is more often termed as a stream of consciousness with loosely connected words that form a dictionary.

To many readers, the book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas seemed a complete mess and they termed it as a user-hostile book. However, finding calm in this glorified chaos was the book’s ultimate aim. Despite being a massive book, any individual page of this book is extremely straightforward. Book is obviously not a travel-friendly edition as it may occupy your space, but it can engage you in an intellectual argument very effectively.

Book in Focus: S,M,L,XL-Book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas - Sheet3
Bruce Mau ©

A new concept is introduced in the book, called ‘world images.’ Here, as we flip the page, the image from any part of the world was rotated at 90°. Metaphorically it allowed the reader to look at the world from a different angle. This was a powerful tool to deliver the content.

The book glorifies the reality of the process. A messy process filled with scribbles; red lines that sometimes even makes it illegible. For instance, there is a drawing that depicts that people were discussing this drawing and left a mark on it. This is proof that architecture lives.

Book in Focus: S,M,L,XL-Book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas - Sheet4
Bruce Mau-©

Here are some captivating characteristic features of the book:

  • It contains random scribbles from the very beginning. The unglamorous sketches which after multiple layers of refinement are ready to be shown to the world.
  • Suddenly comes up a finished drawing in the sea of uncertainty.
  • There are certain parts of the book that are in a different language. For example, a project from Japan is left in Japanese and some parts of the dictionary are in French.
  • Sometimes the pictures span both pages whereas at times they are extremely tiny.
  • The book also contains handwritten calculations of trusses and the moment diagrams.

The book by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas is a monument to and a polemic about labour. It lays out reasons as to why one could try to overthrow the conventional architectural system. The discourse prepared by renowned designers has paved a path for new thoughts and is an eye-opener for coming generations. The book is not easily accessible or understandable but persistence may deliver more than expected.


Priyanshi Hiran is a perfectionist who has a confident and persuasive personality. She is an Architecture student currently in 4th Year of B.Arch. Time Management is the key to her work routine that helps her to achieve a balanced lifestyle.