The previous reviewer was disappointed with this volume after reading Koolhaus' books. While the 3 volumes of the Project of the City are under his (loose?) direction, these are actually all anthologies of writings by individuals connected to the Harvard Design School, each book on a separate theme: metropolis (Mutations) shopping (Guide to Shopping) and the Pearl River Valley, this volume. I knew nothing about this region of the world until reading an article in Mutations about it.
Did you know that just one of the cities in this region went from a population of 30,000 to 3.9 million in 15 years? And this growth was accomplished basically without any city planning department? Or that architectural plans for a 40 floor high rise take less than 2 months to complete?
All of the Project on the City books have many similarities, which you can consider a strength (my opinion) or a weakness (previous review). Take a huge subject (PRV, shopping...) provide millions of factoids about it, present those fact in a cacophony of words, graphs, photos (and with Mutations, there is even a CD of avant electronic music). I liked that about S,M.L.XL and I like it in this series. A treatise on architecture and urban planning in the PRV I never would have read. Just too obscure and potentially boring a subject. But after reading and carefully studying all the photos in this book, I'm left with a large, jumbled set of distinct impressions about the PRV, which raise all sorts of questions about the role of architects and planners in developing countries (or in the US, for that matter).
To me the revolutionary things about S.M.L,XL was its insistence that architecture is not best discussed in articles. Even articles with accompanying photos. That is way too static, too two-dimensional a method of transmitting information, and not well suited to how we absorb information in the 21st century. Rem's recent books gives us a cacophony on information simply jumping off the page. The Project on the City books continue those ideas, and I think do a good job of it.
I subtracted a star because of Rem's highly annoying joke of "copyrighting" words that contain key concepts in his writings. This is particularly annoying since some of the writers in this anthology are clearly puzzled by this requirement and lack even the minimal style and humor with which Rem unfurls this trick in his own writing.