Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession by Reinier de Graaf - review by Jonathan Meades

Jonathan Meades

Construction Deconstructed

Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession


Harvard University Press 513pp £27.95 order from our bookshop

Rem Koolhaas’s provocative Delirious New York, published in 1978, begins with a paean to Luna Park on Coney Island, ‘a new technology of the fantastic’ which, he speculates, was the model for modern Manhattan. Thirty-nine years on, Reinier de Graaf neatly ends his equally provocative Four Walls and a Roof with a chapter about the ever-changing architectural fate of the Rockaway peninsula, a mile or so southeast of Coney Island across an inlet of Lower New York Bay. Part of it was once a plotlands development known as the Irish Riviera. It has been subjected to social housing experiments, gated ‘communities’ and the attentions of hipster surfers. This edgeland of beached whales has been a sort of testing ground for fashionable theories metamorphosed into political machinations. The book abounds in similar cases.

Koolhaas is now among the most celebrated architects in the world and de Graaf, in his early teens when Delirious New York appeared, is one of the partners in his architectural firm, OMA. Most architectural practices, even those with offices across the globe, have no one in their ranks who

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