Cool Hand Koolhaas

FOR A LOT OF YOUNG ARCHITECTS, urbanophiles and art students, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, 50, is one hot deconstructivist dude. The tall, articulate former journalist and scriptwriter hops between Rotterdam, London and Cambridge, Mass., and drives a Maserati. His buildings are a cleaner, more lyrical version of the playful, tilty juxtapositions of volumes that have made Frank Gehry an international fave. Koolhaas throws in the occasional techno-wrinkle (a huge exterior metal wall becomes an electronic billboard at a multimedia center in Karlsruhe, Germany). And he has a taste for bigness. His firm, Office of Metropolitan Architecture (O.M.A.), is doing the master plan for the billion-dollar Euralille center in France, at the hub of the Chunnel and the TGV, the fast train. Koolhaas has designed the center's biggest building, the 200,000 square-foot Congrexpo convention hall. But more than his buildings (none have been built in America), it's Koolhaas's ideas about cities and culture that have made him the R.E.M. of architecture. Nowhere is that clearer than in the cult status accorded his 1978 book, Delirious New York, just reissued (Monacelli Press. 317 pages. $35) and selling like crazy.

"Delirious" is a chunky paperback ode to the raucous, sexy collage of congestion that's the island of Manhattan. Koolhaas's celebration of New York's geewhiz gigantism and ego-driven skyscrapers was ahead of its time: in the '7Os people still thought that modern rationalism could bring order to the essential messiness of cities. Now "Delirious" pushes all the right buttons. The text has a quirky immediacy; it's full of fun facts (the 350-foot-tall, wooden Latting Observatory, built in 1853, was perhaps the world's first skyscraper) and sweeping truisms "The Metropolis is an addictive machine, from which there is no escape, unless it offers that, too."

"Delirious" is also intensely personal, because for Koolhaas the city offers infinite potential. It's not just about steel and concrete but is a metaphor for the incredible variety of human behavior. "Manhattan," he writes, "is the 20th century's Rosetta Stone ... occupied by architectural mutations (Central Park, the Skyscraper), utopian fragments (Rockefeller Center, the U.N. Building) and irrational phenomena (Radio City Music Hall)." The book's visuals include witty watercolors by Madelon Vriesendorp (Koolhaas's wife) showing two of Manhattan's greatest symbols-the Chrysler and Empire State buildings-in bed together.

The book's first printing was small-7,500 copies in the United States-andit's been rushed back for a second printing. The Museum of Modern Art, which is exhibiting Koolhaas's work through Jan. 31 (the show travels to Montreal and to Columbus, Ohio), originally ordered 150 books but has sold 1,500 copies in nine weeks. "Delifious" has been rapidly disappearing from other bookstores, too. The original, hard-bound "Delirious" also flew off the shelves - Monacelli had to pay $400 at a rare-books store for a copy from which to construct the new edition.

In a funny way, Koolhaas's own architecture has caught up with the ideas in "Delirious New York." He's come to think of his buildings more as cities, A ramp snaking up through the floors of a library proposed for the University of Paris is, he says, like a boulevard zigzagging through the urban terrain. And, as Koolhaas's buildings get bigger, so do his books. Due next summer is a volume the size of a cinder block entitled "S, M, L, XL" (1,376 pages, 1,250 illustrations). Called an " architectural novel" by the architect, it brings together-in manifestoes, diaries and travelogues-everything his office has done. or thought over the last 20 years. If Koolhaas's fans plan to snatch this one up, they'll have to come to the bookstore with $65 and a hand truck. Delirium, size XL, has its price.

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