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


Books: Abstract Thinking at MoMA

Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art. Leah Dickerman. (MoMA/distributed by Art Publishers/DAP, $75).

Reviewed by Michael Webb

In this sumptuous catalog to a landmark exhibition, MoMA curator Leah Dickerman likens the shift to abstraction that began a century ago to the rewriting of the rules of art in the Renaissance. She quotes the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire: “Young painters of the extreme schools want to make pure painting, an entirely new art form,” he wrote in 1912. “It is only at its beginning, and not yet as abstract as it wants to be.” The shift occurred at dizzying speed. Within a few years, Picasso, Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Leger and many other artists had pushed abstraction to its limits and begun to chart its vast potential. Modernists challenged the establishment in Moscow and St Petersburg, Paris and Munich, Vienna and Zurich, even in such philistine cities as New York and London.

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Designed a Good Restaurant Lately?


Bestor Architects' design for the Beachwood Cafe was a 2012 winner. Entries for this year's competition are being accepted now. Photo via AIA | Los Angeles.If so, you should submit it to AIA|LA for their 9th annual Restaurant Design Awards. From funky bars and edgy clubs to high-end eateries, here in LA or around the world, every project will be considered, as long as you send your entry by April 1st. This year’s jury includes editor Margot Dougherty, restaurateur Warner Ebbink, and architect George Kelly. Bestor Architects’ Beachwood Café (see above) was one of the 2012 winners, and the organizers are counting on an even better turnout this year. For more information, go to




Ethereal Music in Downtown LA

Downtown LA's historic Bradbury Building plays host to the Tallis Scholars this week. Photo via Da Camera.The atrium of the Bradbury Building is one of LA’s greatest interior spaces. In Blade Runner it was a sinister backdrop for the memorable confrontation of Harrison Ford and the replicants he was hunting; this Friday, March 22nd, at 9 PM, it can be seen in a very different light. The Tallis Scholars, Britain’s leading early music group, will present a program of choral music spanning five centuries. This is the latest in an ongoing series, Chamber Music in Historic Sites, which has been matching music and architecture for more than 20 years. It’s a series that every music-loving architect should support, for the range of programming and settings is extraordinary. Friday’s concert is selling fast, so don’t delay. The Bradbury is at South Broadway and Third Street, and tours and a reception are included in the price of admission. Tickets and information at Da


Double Dutch in Los Angeles

Winy Maas presents the George H. Scanlon Foundation Lecture REDUX at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Image, Winy Maas Peruri 88, Jakarta, Indonesia, architecture and image by MVRDV, in collaboration with The Jerde Partnership and ARUP.Daring architects flourish like tulips in Holland, and two of the top talents are lecturing back-to-back in LA this month. On Wednesday, February 20th, Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV, will review 15 years of invention in the annual Otis College/Scanlon Foundation lecture.  The event will be held at 7:30 PM in MOCA’s Ahmanson Theater at 250 South Grand Avenue. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so go early. On Thursday, February 21, at 6:30 PM, Cal Poly sponsors a lecture by Ben van Berkel, co-founder of UN Studio, at the A+D Museum, 6032 Wilshire Blvd, across the street from LACMA. 

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Book Review: A New Look at a 20th-Century Titan of Design

Norman Bel Geddes Designs America. Edited by Donald Albrecht (Abrams, $65)

Most Americans lost their faith in the future in the 1960s and are unlikely to regain it any time soon. That makes this handsome survey of work by a great American designer a time capsule of a vanished era, for it chronicles the decades, from the 1920s through the 1950s, when the US was a beacon of hope and progress for the rest of the world. This is the companion book for an exhibition that will soon be on view at the Museum of the City of New York.Image courtesy of Abrams Books

Geddes (1893-1958) shaped the future, and the context of contemporary living. Albrecht describes him as a visionary and a pragmatist; a self-taught polymath of unfettered imagination, “who was equally comfortable in the realms of fact and fantasy.” All of his concerns—for architecture and urban planning, automobiles and new technologies—came together in his Futurama exhibit for the General Motors Pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. Drawing on his experience of designing immersive theater productions, Geddes put spectators into moving sound cars that glided through a vast model of America and its cities as he imagined they might be in 1960. His vision has been realized in part; sadly it doesn’t provide the effortless mobility he anticipated.

Other expert essays and a plethora of imagery explore his designs for stage and screen, homes and offices, transportation and advertising. Like his contemporaries, Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss, Geddes was a giant who deserves to be remembered, for his achievements and his dreams.