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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
Oct132014

Exhibitions: Florentine Sketchbook

Floretine architect Andrea Ponsi's sketches are featured at an exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. Image courtesy Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles.

For centuries, architects sketched their work and recorded their impressions of the places they visited, and the Beaux Arts curriculum was based on a mastery of drawing. Software and digital cameras have eroded that tradition, but a few architects (Frank Gehry and Steven Holl are notable examples) still prefer pen and brush as tools to express their ideas. Andrea Ponsi is a Florentine architect whose watercolors of his native city are on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood through October 31. The exhibition, Andrea Ponsi: Florence, A Map of Perceptions, was organized by IIC Director Michela Magri, and it provides an insider's perspective on the cradle of Renaissance architecture.

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Monday
Aug182014

Book Review: America's Architectural Hub

AIA Guide to Chicago, Third Edition. Edited by Alice Sinkevitch and Laurie McGovern Petersen. University of Illinois Press, $34.95.

No American city has a greater concentration of architectural masterpieces or a stronger urban identity than Chicago, and this guide is a match for its subject. The historical span is short; little survives from before the fire of 1871. Virtually everything was created in the past 140 years: from the first steel-framed high rises to Studio Gang's Aqua, which soars on the cover. In the late 19th century and again in the postwar years, the city nurtured the great luminaries, including Sullivan, Burnham, Wright, Mies, and many more top talents, who excelled individually even as they enhanced the urban fabric.

Most of the entries in this fat volume were compiled by a team of volunteers and they lack the wit and authority of those in the oft-revised AIA Guide to New York City, which began as a collaboration of two exceptional individuals (much like the Gebhard-Winter guide to Los Angeles) But the key entries are longer and signed; the maps and layout are exemplary. More than a thousand buildings, from the Loop to Oak Park and Pullman are featured, many with illustrations. It's as much an encyclopedia as a guide; no visitor will have time to see more than a tiny fraction of these buildings, but it provides the perfect incentive to hop on a plane in the fall and explore the best of the new, as well as old favorites and treasures you missed on previous visits. See you there in late September.

Monday
Aug112014

Book Review: Artists' Adventure

The Journey to Tunisia, 1914: Paul Klee, August Macke, Louis Moilliet. Hatje Cantz, € 29.80.

A companion book to an exhibition presented at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne to mark the centenary of a legendary journey. In April 2014, three artists whose friendship spanned national boundaries on the peaceful eve of the First World War, made a productive two-week trip to Tunisia. That brief immersion in an exotic culture, and the brilliance of the light and colors, transformed their art. Macke had only a few months to live; he was cut down in one of the early battles. The other two lived on, Klee until 1940, Moilliet until 1962, creating work that recalled their shared experience in North Africa.

The watercolors and sketches in the exhibition are all well illustrated, and these are supplemented by work the artists created before and after. Klee kept a journal and polished his entries years later to provide a vivid account of how they were received by a Swiss emigré "who seemed more of a stranger to me than the first Arab beggar I met" and how they began sketching the morning after their arrival. The country was a revelation, much as the French Riviera had been for an earlier generation of north-European artists. "“One swims in blue air; it is frightening," as Monet wrote from Antibes in 1884. Anyone who loves the formative era of modernism and is curious how it came about, will treasure this account.

Monday
Jul212014

Book Review: Tropical Restraint

New Brazilian House. Dominic Bradbury. Photographs by Richard Powers. Thames & Hudson. $40.

Richard Powers is an exemplary photographer of residential interiors and Dominic Bradbury is a fluent writer. They've collaborated before, to great advantage, on The Iconic House and The Iconic Interior, but they are unable to strike a spark with this new collection. Layout, graphics, and landscapes are undeniably beautiful, but too much of the architecture seems to be no more than a standard-issue retreat from a frenzied city or a foil to nature. And the interiors feel inert, as though they were expensive showrooms, never to be inhabited by real people.

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Monday
Jul142014

Book Review: Case Study Debut

Arts & Architecture 1945-49. Taschen. $69.99.

Esther McCoy summarized the importance of Arts & Architecture:  "A magazine as flat as a tortilla and sleek as a Bugatti...became the greatest force in the dissemination of information, architectural and cultural, about California." East Coast publications largely ignored the best of the West. Arts & Architecture gave generous coverage to regional modernists, but also featured houses by Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler, and Oscar Niemeyer. Editor John Entenza had his blind spots, scanting the originality of Schindler and Lautner in favor of orthogonal orthodoxy. But he was far ahead of public taste and most of the profession, and his genius was to win converts to modernism, and plant a seed that would keep blooming. The Case Study house is still a viable model.

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