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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

Monday
Jul072014

Book Review: Under the Skin

Performative Skyscraper: Tall Building Design Now. Scott Johnson. Balcony Press, $45.

The wow! factor was there from the start. We have all gazed upwards in awe. For centuries, Gothic spires dominated the city skyline and then, thanks to the invention of the steel frame, elevators, and several other key advances in building technology, office towers outreached them, and the competition to build ever higher is as lively as it was a hundred years ago, when the Woolworth palazzo broke the record. In his second book on the high-rise, Scott Johnson moves beyond height and structure, to review ways in which skyscrapers can perform better and make a positive contribution to the environment.

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Wednesday
Jun252014

Book Review: Re-evaluating Rudolph



The Architecture of Paul Rudolph
. Timothy M. Rohan. Yale University Press, $65.

A well-researched, critical study of an architect who is in urgent need of re-evaluation. In 1963, Paul Rudolph was widely admired—for his leadership of the Yale School of Architecture, newly installed in his monumental building; for his light, airy houses and schools in Florida, and for his ambitions to renew American cities. He was seen as an iconoclast, experimenting with new forms and materials, and offering bold alternatives to modernist orthodoxy. He was unafraid to express himself, break the rules, and create an architecture of emotion. As Rohan writes, "Rudolph believed that every cantilevered beam, every twist of a passageway, and every bright orange carpet could awaken the creativity and individuality of a building's inhabitants and thus combat the monotony and conformity of postwar life."

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Monday
Jun232014

Exhibition Review: Underwhelmed by the Venice Biennale

A recreation of the Do-mi-no house, Le Corbusier's conceptual design of 1914,stands at the entrance of the Central Pavilion at this edition of the Venice Binnale. Photograph Michael Webb.

Any pretext to revisit La Serenissima is welcome, and the Biennale offers a recurring excuse. It allows you to wander around the crumbling brick halls and still waterways of the Arsenale—arguably the most fascinating place in the city—and admire the zoo of architectural curiosities in the Giardini. The tide of mass tourism doesn't extend this far, though the obscenely large yachts moored along the quay are evidence of another kind of predator. This year's architectural Biennale was directed by Rem Koolhaas who insisted that it open in early June and run six months, as does the art exposition. Hopes ran high that his prestige and creative imagination would generate a memorable show.

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Monday
Apr282014

Book Review: Light Work

Nordic Light: Modern Scandinavian Architecture. Henry Plummer. Thames & Hudson, $40.

First published in hard cover in 2012, this paperback edition is a great bargain, for the author's 500 photographs capture the sensual beauty and bracing simplicity of architecture that enshrines light as a precious commodity. These are buildings that, like hardy plants, are adapted to long dark winters, and brief but brilliant summers. And they've found an ideal chronicler, for Plummer, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Illinois, studied light-art with György Kepes and apprenticed to photographer Minor White. Light is his passion and this new study rivals his earlier book, The Architecture of Natural Light.

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Monday
Apr212014

Book Review: At the Intersection of Old and New

Old Buildings, New Forms: New Directions in Architectural Transformations. Françoise Astorg Bollack. The Monacelli Press, $50.

A New York architect who specializes in the restoration and reinvention of historic buildings has written the best book to date on adaptive re-use. What marks it off from earlier surveys is the critical intelligence of her writing and the freshness of her choices. "An old building is not an obstacle but rather a foundation for continued action," she writes, and every paragraph conveys her passion for enhancing the beauty and utility of found structures, ranging from a ruined pigsty to the noblest monuments. In each, an architect who shares her skill has devised an appropriate strategy for creative intervention. And each building is explored in detail, with an image from Google Earth to show its surroundings, plans and drawings, and close-ups of finishes and details.

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