With/WithoutWith/Without by Markus Miessen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With/Without deals primarily with the sectarian codification of space in the Middle East. And like any set of treatises on the Middle East’s urbanity, its architectural growth, it is obsessed with Dubai, that startling jewel in late Capitalism’s crown (and its voyeuristic facets).

The book is composed of a series of essays, most illustrated with photographs and/or computer generated imaginings of future projects. Some are much better than others, but I’ll leave it to other readers to decide the strength of each as my designs may not be theirs.

The interview with architecture’s great ambassador, Rem Koolhaus, is exciting and stultifying. Interviewer Markus Miessen is every bit as lucid as Koolhaus and reading their dance is exhilarating. Unfortunately they do seem to talk at cross purposes at times such as when, in discussing the mediation of space in Dubai, Miessen questions if any space has been left for ‘conflict’. Koolhaus seems to not understand the question and moves on to say that they are no longer building cities, but resorts. Or perhaps that is the answer.

Rarely does the question of the condition of migrant workers in their closed-off island world come in to play. That’s sad as it’s one of the more important questions that needs to be addressed in the issue of Dubai’s phenomenal growth.


Dubai At Night

Later, in the section ‘Symbolic Boundaries’, Miessen talks with Philipp Misselwitz about the fastest growing cities in the word, refugee camps. This chat is loaded with ideas on the resistance to normalization by camp dwellers. It would make a fascinating TED Talk or an entire book of their conversations.

Fawwaz Traboulsi provides a fascinating piece on the struggle to create a new flag for Iraq in the appendix. Kurds flying the pre-Saddam flag. The commission of a flag that bears a startling resemblance to Israel’s that gets thrown out. Short, but exciting.

Perhaps my favorite piece was the interview with Iraq’s director-general of the Iraqi National Library and Archive, Dr. Saad Bashir Eskander. Here we learn how they manage to keep the project going in spite of document theft and intentional destruction, only 5 hours of electricity per day in Baghdad, and the murder of several employees.


There are many great essays in this book and my only lament is that they are all teasers. Many of them could have been expanded to book length or would make excellent documentaries. The image reproduction leaves much to be desired as the paper they’re printed on appears to be reclaimed and the inks are perhaps soy-based. It leaves them appearing washed out and muddy.

I borrowed this via inter-library loan, but I believe I’m going to have to purchase it. This is the type of small tome that needs to be loaned out to anyone who thinks of the Middle East as a drab collection of religious fanatics who beat their heavily cloaked women and only aspire to the role of suicide bomber. The intellectual and artistic achievement of this region would put any of those ridiculous notions to the grave.

View all my reviews

Book Review: ‘With/Without’ | 2011 | Book Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,