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


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.



Book Review: Art and Nature

As an architectural curator, Raymund Ryan has few rivals and he’s presented a succession of inventive exhibitions at the Heinz Architectural Center in Pittsbugh. "White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes" accompanies the current show, which focuses on six projects from four continents. The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Insel Hombroich in Germany, and the Benesse Art Site on the Japanese island of Naoshima have been widely covered.Less familiar is the Jardin Botanico de Culiacan in Mexico, the Instituto Inhotim in Brazil and the Grand Traino Art Complex in the Lazio province of Italy, which the LA firm of Johnston Marklee is building. Essays by Ryan, Brian O’Doherty, and Marc Treib explore the idea of taking the museum out of doors and weaving art into a natural or constructed landscape. Images by Iwan Baan are a big plus, but the book is compromised by the erratic captioning and the illegibility of text printed on saturated color. 



Book Review: Residential Delights

"The Iconic Interior: Private Spaces of Leading Artists, Architects, and Designers" is a gorgeous indulgence for the holidays and a source of inspiration for architects and designers, for it includes nearly all the luminaries of the past century, from Adolph Loos and Jean-Michel Frank to John Pawson and David Mlinaric. That quarter indicates the range of the selection, which veers from minimalism to decorative excess and includes many that are one-of-a-kind, notably Michael Boyd’s fusion of art and design in the house that Oscar Niemeyer designed in Santa Monica. Author Dominic Bradbury has made a thoughtful choice and his descriptions are a pleasure to read. Richard Powers’ images capture the spirit and detail of these varied interiors, as he did for architecture in "The Iconic House", a previous collaboration. Each house and apartment is well documented, and a gazetteer provides contact details for the 18 properties that are open to the public. All credit to Thames & Hudson for commissioning this book and its predecessor, which Abrams are distributing in the U.S.. One could wish American publishers showed as much imagination in this field. The only problem is the title. One can call architectural masterworks iconic, but interiors are far more ephemeral and shaped by passing fashion or an owner’s whims.


Book Review: The Best of Ando

 and its house author have been constantly updating their monograph on Tadao Ando, and the latest edition, "Ando: Complete Works 1975-2012", is four times as long as the one that appeared in 1999. It features 42 buildings plus 16 projects that were not realized or are now under construction, mostly in the Middle East and East Asia. The title is misleading: this is a selection of Ando’s best designs—even the checklist at the end is far from complete—but it represents the body of work for which the architect wants to be known. One could wish that other prolific practitioners were equally self-critical.  Page for page, it’s a terrific bargain. Philip Jodidio provides a helpful introduction, keyed to specific buildings, along with a biographical note and a selective bibliography, though one wishes the type had been set at a readable size. Like most contemporary monographs, it’s designed not for reading, but browsing; flipping the pages from one beguiling photo spread to the next. The plans, expressive sketches and details draw one into Ando’s structures. A self-taught master of concrete and wood, of mass and void, and, above all, of light, this architect—who once built only in Japan—is now at home in every part of the world and in every type of building.  


BOOK REVIEW: 20th Century World Architecture: The Phaidon Atlas 

Phaidon, a London-based publisher of sumptuous books on architecture and art, was recently sold and one can only hope that the new owner will preserve its integrity at a time when other publishers are dumbing down. Phaidon’s latest atlas of 20th Century World Architecture ($200) — a blockbuster in the same format as two previous surveys of contemporary work—chronicles 750 exemplary modern buildings of the 20th century. Classics are juxtaposed with unfamiliar projects, and the committees that produced this mammoth tome have striven for a geographical balance. Each project gets a full page of images, drawings and a succinct factual description, which facilitates comparisons. It’s a great work of reference, but you may prefer to wait a couple of years to buy the compact and inexpensive travel edition. Meanwhile, you can browse the entries, country by country, and plan future voyages of discovery. And, as further stimulus, the travel edition of The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture has just appeared.