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Sze Tsung Leong
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You might have never considered the impact of food courts, Baby Gaps, and Sunglass Huts on the development of the urban realm, but don’t worry—Rem Koolhaas and the editors of the Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping have done it for you. Indeed, they’ve done it in a way that borders on the obsessive, filling 800 pages with observations on shopping centers, air conditioning, escalators, Euro Disney, and those fake palm trees that dot the interior landscape of malls from here to Bakersfield. (Best tidbit in the book: Some mall operators pipe in extra oxygen through air-conditioning vents to boost the energy of tiring shoppers.) The book’s thesis, if perhaps a little oversimplified, is certainly provocative, suggesting that shopping is not only “arguably the last remaining form of public activity” but also “a prerequisite to urbanity.” Koolhaas, the Dutch architect who’s probably the trendiest designer and architectural theorist on the planet, teaches a seminar for grad students at Harvard on the contemporary city; the book has grown out of that class and includes essays by Koolhaas, his students, and a few practicing architects. Though some of the pieces are weighed down by leaden prose, the strength of the images collected for the project and the important challenge of its argument should make for a lively discussion when two of the Guide to Shopping’s editors and contributors, New York-based architects Chuihua Judy Chung (pictured) and Sze Tsung Leong, appear at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $17. For reservations call (202) 272-2448. (Christopher Hawthorne)