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Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Michael Webb

Monday
Apr212014

Book Review: At the Intersection of Old and New

Old Buildings, New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations. Françoise Astorg Bollack. The Monacelli Press, $50.

A New York architect who specializes in the restoration and reinvention of historic buildings has written the best book to date on adaptive re-use. What marks it off from earlier surveys is the critical intelligence of her writing and the freshness of her choices. "An old building is not an obstacle but rather a foundation for continued action," she writes, and every paragraph conveys her passion for enhancing the beauty and utility of found structures, ranging from a ruined pigsty to the noblest monuments. In each, an architect who shares her skill has devised an appropriate strategy for creative intervention. And each building is explored in detail, with an image from Google Earth to show its surroundings, plans and drawings, and close-ups of finishes and details.

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Wednesday
Mar052014

FORM on Design: Iconic Modern Furniture Reissued

Herman Miller has updated some of its classic designs, including Eames Aluminum Group outdoor chairs. Image courtesy Herman Miller.

Living in the apartment where the Eames prototyped their first designs in the 1940s, I've always been fascinated by the subtle changes iconic pieces undergo as they are first put into production and later revived. Herman Miller, which began as a traditional Michigan furniture maker, was introduced to modernism by Gilbert Rhode in the 1930s, and again by George Nelson, who was their director of design, 1945-1972, a tenure no-one is ever likely to match. He designed an entire range of basic furniture himself in a year, and then brought in his friends, Charles and Ray Eames, who have been the company's household gods ever since. Over the years, as Herman Miller put a greater emphasis on the contract market, some of the Eames's designs went out of production. A few were pirated, European rights went to Vitra, but most of the drop-outs have been brought back in sparkling new editions.

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Wednesday
Feb262014

FORM on Design: Drawings in Houston

Menil Drawing Institute at dusk, looking past the west entrance courtyard. courtesy of Johnston Marklee/The Menil Collection.

Johnston Marklee have won plaudits for their houses and they have now triumphed over several larger firms for a coveted commission: the Menil Drawing Institute (MDI) in Houston. The late Dominique de Menil had refined taste and great wealth—a rare combination—and she patiently sought very best in art and architecture. The main museum, which opened in 1987, is still Renzo Piano's best—for its springy grace and luminous interiors. She established a leafy campus around that building, preserved a row of old houses to accommodate visiting artists, and created several satellite galleries, including Piano's understated shrine to Cy Twombly. For its future growth, the board commissioned a master plan from David Chipperfield, which will replace three massive apartment blocks with new housing and the MDI.

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Tuesday
Feb252014

FORM Culture: Architecture for Art

p>Frederick Fisher carved the new Marc Selwyn Fine Art space out of a former auto body shop in Beverly Hills. Image courtesy, Marc Selwyn Fine Art. By Michael Webb

At a time when many architects are using and abusing parametrics to create look-at-me buildings, Frederick Fisher stays true to his principles. For the past 30 years he has been crafting spaces for the creation and display of art and they are often so understated as to go unremarked. Artists and gallerists know that he will make them look good, and his range of accomplishment is unmatched—from PS 1 in New York and the Colby Museum extension in Maine, to the Huntington in Pasadena and an art space for the Otis Institute. He transformed a decrepit tram depot into Bergamot Station, and designed several of its gallery interiors, in addition to a dozen more he has done across LA.

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Monday
Feb242014

Book Review: Masterly Survey of a Master Architect 

Mies. Detlef Mertins. Phaidon, $150.

The late Detlef  Mertins distilled a lifetime of scholarship and research on Mies van der Rohe into this massive and authoritative survey of the master’s work and thought. Seven hundred drawings and photos illustrate the entire arc of a career that took Mies from Peter Behrens’ office in Berlin to a global practice in Chicago as the primary exponent of international modernism. “Less is more” and “God is in the details,” have become part of the everyday language of architecture. To some he was a god-like figure; others dismissed his buildings—even the best of them—as unlivable, dysfunctional, and authoritarian. It’s time for a reappraisal.

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