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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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« Books: Reshaping British Architecture | Main | Exhibitions: The Art of Light »
Tuesday
Jul092013

Books: Two Southern California Modernists

Edward A. Killingsworth: an Architect’s Life. Jennifer M. Volland and Cara Mullio. Hennessy + Ingalls, $60.

A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living. Edited by Brooke Hodge. Hammer Museum and Del Monico Books/Prestel, $60.

By Michael Webb

For an architect to win fame, it helps to be dead. Louis Kahn commanded attention from only an enlightened few during his painful struggle to win commissions; today, he is acclaimed as one of the giants of modernism. Still more is that true in southern California, where R.M.Schindler and John Lautner were ignored or dismissed during their lifetimes but are now seen as seminal figures. A host of lesser talents await their due

Edward Killingsworth (1917-2004) was a quiet modernist who made his mark in Long Beach, a community that languishes in the shadow of LA. Jennifer Volland and Cara Mullio explored its little-known legacy in their 2004 guide, Long Beach Architecture: the Unexpected Metropolis, and their research led them to Killingsworth. Just before his death, they interviewed him and organized his archive, which is now at UCSB. Thir research and the exhibition they curated in 2008 laid the foundation for this exemplary monograph. Text and pictures provide a detailed portrait of the man and his 50-year practice, from his early success in progressive residential design to a scatter of hotels and commercial buildings around the world.

Killingworth expressed the optimism of the post-war era and maintained his commitment to rational modern design up to his retirement in 2001. His cool, open structures, with their lightweight frames, high ceilings and expansive glazing are tailored to the region and its benign climate.  He had devoted admirers and a host of clients. John Entenza published 30 of his early projects in Arts + Architecture and invited his firm to make four contributions to the Case Study House program. But his home-town loyalties (including his master plan for Cal State Long Beach) and his focus on building types for which the architect is rarely credited, obscured the range of his achievement. This tribute should bring him belated recognition.



A. Quincy Jones (1913-79) was a contemporary of Killingsworth and the two architects had much in common. Both were pragmatic modernists, favoring comfort and livability over formal innovation. Jones was the more prolific, realizing more than 5000 projects—mostly residential—in a mere 35 years. His impact was huge and enduring and, by working with Eichler and other enlightened developers, he popularized modernism on a scale no other architect has approached. And yet, like Killingsworth, his name was little known beyond a small circle of admirers and clients. 

This book serves as a catalogue to a splendid little exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. Curated by Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher and beautifully installed by Chu + Gooding Architects, it’s a model of how to make architecture sing within the confines of a gallery. Wall-sized photos and furnished rooms give visitors a sense of walking into one of the many Jones houses in Crestwood Hills and other LA communities. Frederick Fisher is the happy owner of Jones and Emmons 1950s office in Santa Monica, which feels as fresh and inviting as when it was new. Too many of Killingsworth’s designs went unrealized or have been demolished; Jones’s buildings remain a lively presence all over southern California. 

In her introductory essay, Fletcher describes Jones as “the ultimate insider” socializing with the elite while wooing a mass public. “Perhaps that is why his reputation is less celebrated than that of his cohorts,” she suggests. In this re-evaluation of his work, photographer Jason Schmidt played a key role, traveling around with Hammer curator Brooke Hodge to capture the spirit of the work in new images. They include houses that have been lovingly preserved or newly restored by such enthusiasts as Cory Buckner and Escher GuneWardena. From these one can see than the aesthetic of Jones and his collaborators is of its time and timeless, and understand why it exercised such strong appeal across the socio-economic spectrum, from the Annenbergs in Rancho Mirage to a newly married couple in their first Eichler home. 

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