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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

Friday
Aug052011

When will Beverly Hills start protecting its heritage? 

© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Thanks to the LA Conservancy and an outpouring of public concern, the threatened demolition of a major Richard Neutra house has been postponed until after October 10 and—if a buyer can be found—averted. The 1955 Kronish house, located at 9439 Sunset Boulevard, is the last survivor of the three this modern master designed in Beverly Hills. Soda Partners, a greedy speculator that wants to clear the 2-acre site of its “encumbrance,” bought the 7500-square-foot house in a foreclosure auction for $5.8 million, tried to sell it as a tear-down, and now wants to flip an empty plot for $14 million. In a more civilized neighborhood than this, a major work by a 20th-century giant would add value to the property and command immediate respect. Here, as in Rancho Mirage where Neutra’s Maslon house was flattened before anyone could protest, the threat was off the radar until two weeks ago.

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Thursday
Jul282011

Celebrating John Lautner

Infinite Space: the Architecture of John Lautner is an award-winning documentary by Murray Grigor, a Scottish filmmaker acclaimed for earlier studies of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Whether or not you caught the recent screening at the Egyptian—a highlight of the Lautner Foundation’s centennial celebration of the master’s birth—you should treat yourself to the DVD.

Grigor is one of the few moviemakers who understands—as Lautner did—that architecture is about space and light, not static facades. He and his cinematographer capture the dynamic experience of walking up to, around, and through 14 of Lautner’s greatest houses, from the Hollywood Hills to Aspen and Acapulco. He chronicles the evolution of an artist for whom each site and client was a fresh challenge. Few had the imagination or the budget to exploit his full potential, but Marbrisa, the Elrod, and Turner houses show the reach of his daring. But he was equally concerned to perfect a mountain cabin.  A succession of proud owners—some original, some who brought endangered houses back to life—explain how living in a Lautner has immeasurably enriched their lives. They too, deserve praise, and it’s a great loss to architecture and to LA that Lautner found so few of them in his fifty-year career.

 

Contact the John Lautner Foundation
for information on fall events,
including a tour of the Desert Hot Springs Motel
and a preservation symposium on October 9.

 

 

Thursday
Jul142011

Cuba's Other Revolution

As in Brazil and Venezuela, the pre-revolutionary middle classes of Cuba embraced modernity as an expression of their cosmopolitanism, and Havana still boasts a fast decaying legacy of progressive architecture. When I was there, ten years ago, I was lucky to have Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, a crusader for these treasures, show me around and share his indispensable Havana Guide.  Most of these houses and public buildings are off the radar, few Americans have had the opportunity to explore them first hand, and there may soon be little left to see. As in the Soviet Union, there was a brief flourish of innovation in the early, idealistic phase of the revolution before it was snuffed out by the ideologues. The ruined Arts Schools of the early 1960s are a sad memorial to a vision betrayed.

To discover what is being lost, you should sign up for a lecture, “Echoes of the Avant Garde: Cuban Architecture from the 1930s into the 1960s,” at the Getty Center on July 21 at 7pm. Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez, a Havana-based architect, urban planner, and professor of design, will explore the evolution from eclecticism and Art Deco to international modern. His presentation offers a rare opportunity to get an insider’s view and meet an architect who is helping devise a master plan for post-Castro Havana. And be sure to visit the Getty’s photography exhibition “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.”

Friday
Jul012011

Piero Lissoni Times Two

Italy’s master of elegant minimalism has brought his distinctive touch to two new showrooms in the West L.A. design district. For Graye (316 S. Robertson Blvd.) Piero Lissoni stripped a warehouse to create a white void in which to display a few carefully selected pieces that he and others designed for Living Divani and Porro. They are all covetable, but my favorite was Balancing Boxes, a side table cum storage unit of tilted white-lacquered steel boxes. It was designed by Front, a trio of Danish women.

Graye

Around the corner is the new Boffi showroom, which occupies the former Modern Living store (8775 Beverly Blvd.). Lissoni installed the model kitchens and bathrooms complementing their sleekness with vintage wood boards and assorted bric-a-brac. In a competitive market, innovation is essential and Boffi have fused the best of Italian craft (exquisitely detailed acacia cabinetry) and German engineering (integrated ovens and appliances by Gaggenau). It’s a winning combination; too bad L.A.’s super rich homeowners rarely put these kitchens to practical use.

Boffi/photo by Benny Chan

Graye, 316 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, (310) 385-7872

Boffi, 8775 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, (310) 652-5500

Friday
Jun242011

BOOK REVIEW: Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War

Publication Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War (2011). © CCA / Hazan

 

Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War
by Jean-Louis Cohen
Canadian Centre for Architecture/Hazan ($50)  

As a scholar of modernism Jean-Louis Cohen has few rivals and Architecture in Uniform may be his most important book to date for it provides a broad-ranging account of a blank space in architectural history. It serves as a companion to an exhibition of the same name that was based on Cohen’s research and is on show at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal through September 18. Book and exhibition chronicle the preparations for war, the devastation of aerial bombardment, and the ways in which architects and designers helped devise new forms and techniques of construction, ranging from bomb shelters to prefabrication.

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