In Delirious New York (1978), his ‘retroactive manifesto’ for Manhattan, Rem Koolhaas published an old tinted postcard of the city skyline in the early 1930s. It presents the Empire State, Chrysler, and other landmark buildings of the time with a visionary twist – a dirigible is set to dock at the spire of the Empire State. It is an image of the 20th-century city as a spectacle of new tourism, to be sure, but also as a utopia of new spaces – people are free to circulate from the street, up through the tower, to the sky, and back down again. (The image is not strictly capitalist: the utopian conjunction of skyscraper and airship appears in Soviet designs of the 1920s as well.) The attack on the World Trade Center – the two jets flown into the two towers – was a dystopian perversion of this Modernist dream of free movement through cosmopolitan space. Much damage was done to this great vision of skyscraper and city – and to New York as the capital of this dream.
In Delirious New York Koolhaas celebrates Manhattan for its ‘culture of congestion’. The skyscraper is the crux of this culture, and he sees it as a mating of two emblematic forms that appeared in various guises from the first New York Fair of 1853 to the World Fair of 1939 – ‘the needle’ and ‘the globe’. The needle-like aspect of the skyscraper is a grab at ‘attention’, while the globe is a promise of ‘receptivity’, and ‘the history of Manhattanism is a dialectic between these two forms.’ Since 11 September the discursive frame of this Manhattanism has shifted somewhat. New fears cling to the skyscraper as a terrorist target, and the values of ‘attention’ and ‘receptivity’ are rendered suspicious. The same holds for the values of public congestion and ‘delirious space’; today talk tends towards public surveillance and ‘defensible space’ instead. In early November, ‘Ground Zero’ remains off limits, routes to Manhattan are restricted, and vehicles can be searched, especially if they carry anyone who looks ‘Middle Eastern’. In short, the ‘urbanistic ego’ and cultural diversity that Koolhaas celebrates in Delirious New York are under enormous pressure. They need advocates like never before because, to paraphrase the Surrealists, New York Beauty will be delirious or will not be.
Luckily, we have the example of Koolhaas, who may be the most gifted architect-polemicist since Le Corbusier; like Corb he possesses panache in both design and writing, and media charisma, too. Born in Holland in 1944, Koolhaas first worked as a journalist and screenwriter in Amsterdam, and his approach to architecture and urbanism has remained investigative and cinematic. After studying at the Architecture Association in London in the early 1970s, he founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) with three associates in 1975, and based it in Rotterdam in 1978. For the first ten years of its existence, texts greatly outnumbered buildings; since then they have run neck and neck, and huge books – such as S, M, L, XL (1995), a mega-volume which transformed design publishing – are needed to encompass both. Based on research directed by Koolhaas at Harvard since 1995, these new publications concerning mutations of the contemporary city are also vast, and more such collective projects are on the way.
It was in Manhattan, while a fellow at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in the mid-1970s, that Koolhaas had his epiphany of the Metropolis. Billed as a retroactive manifesto, Delirious New York was also anticipatory in the usual manner of the genre: ‘it is the arduous task of the final part of this century,’ Koolhaas concludes, ‘to deal with the extravagant and megalomaniac claims, ambitions and possibilities of the Metropolis openly.’ OMA was to lead this ‘second coming of Manhattanism’: if the essence of Manhattanism was ‘to live inside fantasy’, then OMA would be a ‘machine to fabricate fantasy’, and its first proposals were more surreal narratives than practical programmes (for instance, a model for mass housing in the form of a luxury hotel named the Sphinx). Koolhaas has never let go of this Surrealist dimension of the oneiric and the outlandish in his designs.
Much of OMA’s work is embryonic in Delirious New York. Koolhaas focuses on emblematic structures of the city, such as Central Park, the ‘colossal leap of faith’ laid out long before the buildings that frame it, and Coney Island, the testing ground of ‘the technology of the fantastic’ for the rest of New York. But his heart belongs to the Manhattan grid, the 12 north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets drawn on open land in 1807. The grid was a piece of real estate speculation (John Jacob Astor made his fortune not by trading furs, as American folklore has it, but by buying up blocks as the city pushed north); nevertheless, Koolhaas calls it, with Corbusierian hyperbole, ‘the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilisation’. For the grid allowed different forms and functions to be juxtaposed at the level of the block, the ‘maximum unit of urbanistic ego’, while the skyscraper (the grid writ small) did the same at the level of the floor. The result is ‘a mosaic of episodes . . . that contest each other’, the oxymoronic city that so many of us love today – ‘ordered and fluid, a metropolis of rigid chaos’. This double schism between regular grid and irregular skyscrapers and single façade and multiple floors is fundamental to Manhattanism, because the dissociation of exteriors and interiors ‘not only resolves for ever the conflict between form and function, but creates a city where permanent monoliths celebrate metropolitan instability’. With this ‘lobotomy’, architecture can pretend to be intact while the city continues to change all around it. Koolhaas echoes Baudelaire on modernity (‘I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable’); this is the glory of Manhattan for Koolhaas, too, and it runs deep in his architectural-urban DNA.
Despite its cult status today, Delirious New York was untimely. ‘How to write a manifesto’, the book begins by asking, ‘in an age disgusted with them’ and indeed with all things Modernist and urbanist? For 1978 was the early heyday of Postmodern architecture, urban schemes were in great disrepute, New York was bankrupt, and other American cities were also having trouble with white (tax) flight. Yet the opposite models of the city being put forward in this period left Koolhaas lots of room for manoeuvre. On one side were the Krier brothers (Leon and Rob), who insisted on a return to the historic quartier as the basis of urban planning in Europe; on the other side were Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, who embraced the commercial strip (‘billboards are almost all right,’ they proclaimed in 1972 in Learning from Las Vegas, a manifesto to which Delirious New York is an indirect riposte). Koolhaas could reject the reactionary historicism of the former and the commercial populism of the latter, and reject as well the pop-historicist compromise between the two that became the common recipe of Postmodern design. That part was easy enough; the gutsier move was not to repudiate Modernism, as so many did at the time, but to relocate its exemplary form in a neglected episode. Long ago Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and other young Europeans had adopted overlooked structures like American grain elevators as emblems of a functionalist Modernism to come. In Delirious New York Koolhaas claimed another sort of American primitive as a prototype for a renewed Modernism – the pragmatic architects of skyscraper Manhattan such as Raymond Hood and Wallace Harrison, the chief designers of the Rockefeller Center among other projects.
While European Modernism à la Corb and Gropius was despised at the time, especially for its utopian aspect, American Modernism à la Hood and Harrison was not stigmatised: ‘at once ambitious and popular’, it was also built. Koolhaas took this pragmatic example home to Europe in the late 1970s, and it allowed him to split the difference between the Krier and Venturi/ Scott Brown positions, and to gear OMA towards ‘polemical demonstrations that aspects of Modernism, both American and European, can be made to co-exist with the historical core, and that only a new urbanism that abandons pretensions of harmony and overall coherence can turn the tensions and contradictions that tear the historical city apart into a new quality’. His timing was right: Europe was about to undergo a ‘second modernisation’. In the US political power had ceded control to economic power, as Reagan moved Wall Street to the White House, and social life was more and more administered by multinational corporations. These corporations required symbolic representation, and Postmodern design suited this corporate logo-architecture well. But in Europe governments still had a stake in grands projets that looked to the future, especially with a ‘New Europe’ to construct after 1989. ‘We identified ourselves with these programmatic adventures,’ Koolhaas recalls in S, M, L, XL. ‘It seemed that the impossible constellation of need, means and naivety that had triggered New York’s “miracles” had returned.’ Although he foresaw that this rediscovery of architecture might devolve into a ‘Faustian gambit’, the allure of the Big Footprint, ‘posed seriously for the first time in Europe’, was impossible to resist.
OMA participated in several state competitions and won a few. As was the case for Europe as a whole, 1989 was its annus mirabilis, its ‘first dose of Bigness’. For a terminal at Zeebrugge, OMA proposed an innovative structure that crossed a sphere with a cone (Koolhaas likened it to an inverted Tower of Babel), with ferry traffic below, a bus station in the middle, parking above and a panoramic hall on top. His project for the Very Big Library in Paris (well named at 250,000 square metres) was a luminous block out of which spaces could be carved as needed, and his Centre for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe stacked studios and laboratories, a theatre, a library, a lecture hall and two museums behind a façade on which cinematic images could be screened. For different reasons all three projects fell through, but OMA received the biggest prize of all, the commission to draw up the master plan for ‘Euralille’ (1990-94), a new centre for the New Europe in Lille, a city returned to prominence by its position on Eurostar and TGV routes. OMA sited a TGV station, two centres for commerce and trade, and an urban park, all produced by other architects, but saved ‘Congrexpo’ for itself – a contemporary Grand Palais in the shape of a deformed scallop, with a large concert hall, three auditoria (the ‘congress’ part) and an exhibition space (the ‘expo’ part).
As OMA developed the practice of Bigness, Koolhaas developed his theory. ‘In spite of its dumb name, Bigness is a theoretical domain at this fin de siècle,’ he wrote in 1994. ‘In a landscape of disarray, disassembly, dissociation, disclamation, the attraction of Bigness is its potential to reconstruct the Whole, resurrect the Real, reinvent the collective, reclaim maximum possibility.’ With this grand rhetoric, ‘coexistence with the historical core’ was no longer a priority: Koolhaas pitched Bigness as ‘the one architecture that could survive, even exploit, the now-global condition of the tabula rasa’. In effect it was Manhattanism without Manhattan: like the skyscraper-block returned in a single building, these new mega-structures would permit a great variety of programmes, and they would not be constrained by any grid. ‘Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue’; rather, like Euralille, it could serve as its own mini-city. ‘This architecture’ – skyscrapers – ‘relates to the forces of the Groszstadt like a surfer to the waves,’ Koolhaas remarked of Manhattan in Delirious New York. By the early 1990s the same could be said of his own designs, and it might not sound like praise. Indeed, in his new books Manhattanism and Bigness have come back to haunt him in other guises.
In 1995, a year after the Lille plan was finished, S, M, L, XL was published – a lavish compendium of ‘essays, manifestos, diaries, fairytales, travelogues, a cycle of meditations on the contemporary city, with work produced by OMA over the past twenty years’, all arranged according to scale. It is a long way from OMA’s paper architecture: S, M, L, XL opens with daunting graphs of income and expenditure, airline miles and hotel nights. In Koolhaas’s ‘retroactive manifestos’ for his own work, texts and buildings often reflect on one another in a way that clarifies a method common to both. In Delirious New York he evoked the ‘paranoid-critical method’ of Salvador Dalí – a Surrealist way of reading in which a single motif is seen in multiple ways in a ‘delirium of interpretation’. Such a method ‘promises that, through conceptual recycling, the worn, consumed contents of the world can be recharged or enriched like uranium’. In effect, Koolhaas adapted this typological reprogramming as the formula for his own work, too: in a ‘systematic overestimation of what exists’, he often extrapolates one architectural element as the basis of his designs, or, in his writings, extrapolates an urban structure such as the skyscraper or the grid into a social agent or a historical subject. This is done not in order to affirm the commercial given, as Venturi et al do in Learning from Las Vegas, nor to redeem the historical past, as Aldo Rossi advocated in his influential Architecture of the City (1966); yet, ideally, it has some of the communicative potential of the former and some of the mnemonic resonance of the latter. In any case, Koolhaas has pursued this typological ‘overestimation’ from a 1971 study of the Berlin Wall, through a 1987 appreciation of the massive atriums of the hotel designer-developer John Portman, to these new books on contemporary structures of shopping in the West and on urban development in the Pearl River Delta in China.
Over this time, however, a shift in context has provoked a shift in thinking. By the late 1980s Koolhaas was speaking less of congestion, as in Delirious New York, and more of ‘voids’ and ‘nothingness’. His Paris library was conceived expressly as a ‘void’, and the Lille plan looked back to urban models (such as the Broadacre City concept of Frank Lloyd Wright) that also ‘imagined nothingness’. Perhaps Koolhaas sensed that the new economy of media and communications might not abet a further dissolution of the city, its final death, as architectural futurists such as Paul Virilio had forecast, but rather its greater congestion, its metastatic life, as political economists such as Saskia Sassen would soon insist. On this score his new publications are full of statistical alarms: ‘In 1950, only New York and London had over eight million inhabitants. Today there are 22 megalopolises. Of the 33 megalopolises predicted in 2015, 27 will be located in the least developed countries, including 19 in Asia.’ As in a fairytale, Koolhaas was granted only a parody of his wish, and in the context of globalisation both architectural and urban principles had to be rethought. ‘Do any of us,’ he asked in 1991, ‘have the terms of reference to really judge their success or failure?’
In 1995 Koolhaas began to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he initiated ‘the Project on the City’, a research programme conducted by thesis students ‘to document and understand the mutations of urban culture . . . that can no longer be described within the traditional categories of architecture, landscape and urban planning’. Each project is to culminate in another mega-book of lavish images, statistics and texts. Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping is the first to appear, and has been followed closely by Great Leap Forward, which concerns the intensive urbanisation of the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong to Macao. Upcoming is a case-study of West African urbanisation centred on Lagos and an account of the ‘operating system’ of the Roman city (basilica, forum, temple etc) as a prototype for subsequent empire-building – including, in the idiom of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, our own Empire of supranational sovereignty and global capitalism.
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping is a compendium of 45 essays by 15 participants with the usual killer images and stats (for example, yearly sales at Wal-Mart exceed the GNP of three-quarters of countries in the world; the total area devoted to retail in the world, a third of it in the US, is equal to 33 Manhattans). At once technological and economic, social and cultural, the analysis tracks post-industrial consumption as it transforms the city almost as much as industrial production did. (Many cities are hybrids of these two orders, with the fixed structures of the latter often retro-fitted to the fluid demands of the former.) Shopping is especially good on the postwar ‘malling’ of suburban and urban space, from the first godfather of the mall, Victor Gruen, to the current one, Jon Jerde. The key inventions here are air-conditioning, which opened up vast interiors to buying and selling, and the escalator, which allowed shoppers to traverse these new expanses with distracted ease. Together they have made for a new smoothness of space that ‘denies the relevance of both compartments and floors’; the mall could not have emerged in the mid-1950s without them. An earlier nexus of the elevator and the car had abetted the arrangement of offices and stores concentrated in downtown buildings, with homes and schools dispersed in suburban peripheries; the nexus of the escalator and air-conditioning helped to fill in the suburbs with shopping, as it were, and to render them semi-autonomous. In recent decades, however, the suburban mall has returned to the city, home of its antecedents, the arcade and the department store. As a result, Shopping argues, ‘the city has twice been humiliated by the suburbs: once upon the loss of its constituency to the suburbs and again upon that constituency’s return. These prodigal citizens brought back with them their mutated suburban values of predictability and control.’
Shopping is a parasite so successful it has become the host. It is
the last remaining form of public activity. Through a battery of increasingly predatory forms, shopping has been able to colonise – even replace – almost every aspect of urban life. Historical town centres, suburbs, streets, and now train stations, museums, hospitals, schools, the Internet, and even the military, are increasingly shaped by the mechanisms and spaces of shopping. Churches are mimicking shopping malls to attract followers. Airports have become wildly profitable by converting travellers into consumers. Museums are turning to shopping to survive. The traditional European city once tried to resist shopping, but is now a vehicle for American-style consumerism. ‘High’ architects disdain the world of retailing yet use shopping configurations to design museums and universities. Ailing cities are revitalised by being planned more like malls.
In this analysis, as mega-stores increasingly govern movement through cities, architecture and urbanism are more and more exposed as the mere co-ordination of flow. Yet the very victory of the mega-store may spell its eventual defeat, for like its products it is ‘always almost obsolete’, and by 2010 more than half of all retail is projected to be either mail-order or online: if the shopper won’t come to the store, the store must go to the shopper. Some of the best essays in Shopping treat the remapping of city and suburb alike as statistical ‘control space’ where citizen-consumers are tracked, with ‘bit structures’ and other electronic traces, according to ‘economic performance’. Already on the horizon is ‘segment-one selling’ – that is, niche-marketing directed at one person at a time.
Schooled in apocalyptic criticism, the young authors of Shopping overemphasise the novelty of many of these developments, but it is true that shopping has reached a new level of saturation. For instance, what Chuihua Judy Chung calls ‘Disney Space’ – the copyrighting of familiar things and public places as commercial icons and private zones – is now pervasive: ‘Starbucks’ refers to high-octane coffee, not the good officer of the Pequod. And Shopping underscores several ruses of urban history that can no longer be ignored. In S, M, L, XL Koolhaas argued that ‘the historic façades’ of the European city ‘often mask the pervasive reality of the un-city’; Shopping extends this insight to the US, and traces a perverse line from Jane Jacobs to ‘Disney Space’, giving examples of the preservation of city centres producing a non-urban void, later given over to malling. A dialectical twist of this sort has also jumped up and bitten Koolhaas, and Shopping can be read as a tacit repudiation of Bigness. He contributes only one essay to the book, a brilliant diatribe called ‘Junkspace’, which reviles the vapid non-architected spaces that have come to fill so many mega-structures today – schemes he once appeared to advocate.
By the same token Great Leap Forward is not only a play on Mao and his old economic initiative; it is also a rethinking of Manhattanism and its culture of congestion:
Asia has been in the grip of a relentless process of building, on a scale that has probably never existed before. A maelstrom of modernisation is destroying, everywhere, existing Asian conditions and creating completely new urban substance. The absence, on the one hand, of plausible, universal doctrines, and the presence, on the other, of an unprecedented intensity of new production, create a unique wrenching condition: the urban condition seems to be least understood at the moment of its very apotheosis.
An area only a little larger than the Dutch Randstad, the Pearl River Delta is projected to reach a population of 34 million by 2020. Along with Hong Kong and Macao, it includes the special economic zones of Shenzhen and Zhuhai, which Koolhaas calls ‘vitrines for the policy of openness’, as well as Guangzhou (Canton) and Dongguan. According to Great Leap Forward, these cities are defined almost diacritically in a field of attraction and repulsion. The most important of the 71 terms copyrighted in the book is ‘Coed©’: ‘The City of Exacerbated Difference is based on the greatest possible difference between its parts – complementary or competitive. In a climate of permanent strategic panic, what counts in this city is not the methodical creation of the ideal, but the opportunistic exploitation of flukes, accidents and imperfections.’ Thus Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, is a cheaper version of its famous neighbour, and it has consequently experienced the most intensive urbanisation – some nine hundred new towers in a seven-year span. Across the delta from Hong Kong, Zhuhai is defined as its opposite, a would-be garden city set on a tabula rasa that Great Leap Forward terms ‘Scape©’, without the distinctive features of city or country. This urbanisation has occurred under ‘unprecedented pressures of time, speed and quantity’ (in China there are ten times fewer architects than in the US, with five times the project volume), and it points to a general crisis in architecture, landscape design and urbanism alike. ‘The field is abandoned to “events” that are considered indescribable,’ Koolhaas writes, ‘or the creation of a synthetic idyll in memory of the city. There is nothing between Chaos and Celebration.’
The Pearl River Delta is an extraordinary mix of command and market economies, which the New York Times describes as ‘Market Leninism’. Koolhaas characteristically seeks a typological icon that expresses this strange combination of fixity and flux, and it comes in the unexpected form of a 75-mile highway, privately owned by a Hong Kong developer named Gordon Wu, that connects some of the urban centres. Suspicious of the Chinese Government, Wu had the entire turnpike built as a viaduct; it touches down only at intersections where he has ordained future urbanisation to occur. On the model of the Communist utopias of Socialist Realism, Koolhaas terms this sort of project ‘Market Realism©’: ‘a brilliant formula for desire simultaneously deferred and consummated’ based on ‘the present interval between market promise and market delivery’. Many high-rises in Shenzhen have sprung out of this same gap: this is real estate designed less for occupation (the tenancy is extremely low) than for investment (there is a stock market dedicated to these buildings).
However unique, the PRD is for Koolhaas typical of modernisation today, just as New York was in the 1920s and 1930s and the New Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. Manhattan is emblematic of an object world of monumental architectures born of a Fordist economy that was relatively fixed (great factories, warehouses, skyscrapers, bridges and roadways). As the economy becomes post-Fordist, capital flows ever more rapidly in search of cheap labour, manufacturing innovation, deregulated financing and new markets, and the life expectancy of most buildings falls dramatically. Paradoxically this condition seems to be heightened in the PRD, and it is not pretty. As Great Leap Forward tells it, many structures are reworked continuously, and some are taken down almost before they are put up. In such fluidity the Baudelairean conjunction of the eternal and the ephemeral no longer applies; as Koolhaas wrote of the architect in 1994, ‘his task is truly impossible: to express increasing turbulence in a stable medium.’ Today, any architect empowered enough to surf ‘the forces of the Groszstadt’ seems destined to crash on the beach. One hopes that future Projects on the City will consider what alternatives might exist.
As it is, the Project has its own incipient ‘Coed’ logic. It sketches out the different aspects of contemporary modernisation: the advanced-capitalist malling of affluent cities in Shopping, the command-market hybrid of the PRD in Great Leap Forward, the informal economies that shape Lagos in the book to come. Where are we to locate Koolhaas in this Empire? Walter Benjamin once feared that if he emigrated to the US he would be carted around with a sign that read ‘The Last European’, and despite his work on other continents Koolhaas might exemplify the European Modernist today. In Delirious New York he counterposed Le Corbusier and Dalí as enemy twins, and his unspoken ambition was to reconcile the two – Corb the master architect-urbanist and Dalí the ‘paranoid-critical’ artist-analyst. ‘To encompass both Breton and Le Corbusier,’ Benjamin once remarked, ‘would mean drawing the spirit of contemporary France like a bow, with which knowledge shoots the moment in the heart.’ This insight extends beyond interwar Paris, because to encompass figures such as Corb and Dalí (or Breton) is to mediate not only opposed avant-gardes, rationalist and irrationalist, but also different projects within modernity – projects, associated with Marx and Freud, of social transformation and subjective liberation. Such mediation was also the mission of several avant-gardes after the war, Situationism prominent among them: to ride the dialectic of modernisation in a way that might keep these projects alive for the future.
Koolhaas surfs this dialectic better than anyone else around, but his very skill has made for some ambiguous moves. It has led him to criticise the contemporary apotheosis of shopping, yet also to serve as house architect for Prada (which has published his designs for three new ‘epicentres’ in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in another mega-book). It has led him to found an innovative complement to OMA called AMO, which is prepared to intervene critically in the expanded field of design, yet also to sign on as consultant to Condé Nast in its bid to refashion its magazine empire. It has led him to oppose spectacle-architecture of the sort promoted by institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum, yet also to design a Guggenheim gallery in Las Vegas (albeit a non-spectacular one). This isn’t a simple story of co-option: architecture must attend to the Groszstadt, if not surf it, and it is difficult to imagine a politics today that does not negotiate the market somehow. If a Situationist détournement is improbable in present circumstances, at least Koolhaas and company remain adept at critical insights and provocative schemes, though his method of ‘systematic overestimation’ and rhetorical reversal can lapse into glib conflation. (If museums now tend towards the store, Koolhaas asks in the Prada book, why not stores that serve, at least in part, as a museum? Yeah, right.) Finally, to what ends are these insights and schemes put? Is OMA/ AMO an avant-garde without a project beyond innovative design?
The Project on the City sometimes calls to mind an impossible crossing of Situationist flâneur and Baron Haussmann. Living with such contradictions aligns Koolhaas once again with Baudelaire, who captured the political ambivalence of the dandy in a passage that Koolhaas has also cited: ‘I understand how one can desert a cause in order to experience the sensation of serving another. It would perhaps be pleasant to be alternately victim and executioner.’ Behind this bravado there is desperation: great poetry can come of this ambivalence, but that may be all. Koolhaas has replied to his critics on this score:
I have never thought of our activity as ‘affecting change’. I’m involved with how ‘everything’ changes in ways that are often radically at odds with the core values of architecture. In spite of its apparent success, I see ‘architecture’ as an endangered brand, and I’m trying to reposition it. To me, it is ironic that the (I would almost use the word ‘innocent’) core of our activity – to reinvent a plausible relationship between the formal and the social – is so invisible behind the assumption of my cynicism, my alleged lack of criticality, our apparently never-ending surrender.
On 11 September ‘everything’ changed once again, and more than ever we need designers able to reinvent the ‘relationship between the formal and the social’ in delirious – or at least non-defensive – ways.