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February 4, 2010

We were not alone in our awkward relationship with the ultra perfect. Freud developed the theory of the uncanny in the 1900s, which documents a general discomfort with objects that are familiar and foreign at the same time. In film, the term

is used to describe the repulsion that is felt when observing digital actors whose movement falls just short of natural _ this accounts for the unease you might have experienced when watching the

movie for the first time, or more recently

(though the latter is more successful at tricking our perceptions).

As the follow-up to S, M, L, XL, Rem Koolhaas and his collaborators released the architectural monograph Content, which has generally been regarded as “ugly” in contrast to its well received predecessor. In his inspired essay on the topic—“The Ugly”—the cultural critic Mark Cousins defines ugly entities as those which are out of place. Accordingly, a climate of displacement is the zeitgeist which inspired Content.

At the moment of its publication, the architectural practice was witnessing a distinct shift in agenda, regional focus, and client. This shift is manifested in the physical document in its rigorously repositioned authorship, form, subject matter and target audience. Content displaces the author through its collaborative configuration. It displaces the format of the architectural monograph by adopting a magazine template. It displaces the “where” that Western architects traditionally looked for in their commissions by advocating a move East. Content seeks a generic audience, a desire which is clearly communicated by both its format and the graphic content of the publication. The publication excludes standard architectural drawings in favor of a varied representational approach that makes complex ideas accessible. While its ugliness seems to have deliberately stripped Content of its predecessor’s timeless quality and designated it to a specific moment, there is little doubt that its conceptual brilliance will influence (contaminate) generations to come, within and beyond the architectural discipline.

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