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


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.”


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.


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


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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BOOK REVIEW: Landscapes in Landscapes

uuThe High Line

When the Royal Horticultural Society of Britain commissions an addition to its flagship garden from a Dutch landscape designer you know he must be an extraordinary talent.  The title of this delectable portfolio hints at Piet Oudolf’s gift for creating environmentally responsible gardens that relate to urban and natural landscapes, as well as the cycle of the seasons. At first view, his plantings atop the High Line in Lower Manhattan and in Chicago’s Millennium Park look as though nature had run wild without the intervention of a designer’s hand. Therein lies the artistry, for the challenge in New York was to evoke the wilderness that had taken over an abandoned freight line, and in Chicago to play off the wall of skyscrapers that frame the park. Less familiar is Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, where the juxtaposition of towers and lush grasses is even more surreal. Photographs of great beauty capture the subtle balance of form and colors, and elaborate diagrams explain how the magic was accomplished.


Landscapes in Landscapes 
by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
The Monacelli Press ($65)


BOOK REVIEW: Allied Works Architecture/Brad Cloepfil: Occupation

Allied Works Architecture/Brad Cloepfil: Occupation
Text by Sandy Isenstadt, Kenneth Frampton
Photography by Victoria Sambunaris
Gregory Miller & Co. ($85)

Art and nature fuse in the work of Brad Cloepfil and his associates, and this lavish monograph explores the highlights of his practice in depth. As the title implies, his buildings are deeply rooted in their sites, which range from empty Western landscapes to the dense fabric of major cities. His museums enhance the art they display and are quiet works of art in themselves. The geometries are simple, the materials traditional, and you have to look very closely to catch the subtleties that give each space its special quality. Cloepfil is particularly skilled in adapting older structures, especially in his transformation of Edward Durrell Stone’s faux Venetian folly on Columbus Circle in mid Manhattan. Kenneth Frampton contributes an insightful essay, and each project is followed by a dialogue with an artist or critic. Lorraine Wild designed this book for a publisher who has as much respect for his craft as Allied Works have for theirs. Stock of a weight that is rarely encountered today, spacious layouts, and fine printing make this monograph a sensual and intellectual delight.