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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

Tuesday
Dec102013

Book Review: New York, New York

Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture. John Hill. Norton ($29.95).

This is a catch-up review of a handy pocketbook I missed when it first appeared—much to my regret. It would have saved me hours of digging up information on new buildings and have been an indispensable companion on recent visits to New York. Having written an architectural guide to LA, and edited two others, I know how much skill and effort must have been invested in research, selection, procuring images, and writing succinct descriptions. Hill has chosen more than 200 buildings completed in the first decade of the 21st century in all five boroughs, plus a selection of projects anticipated for the second decade. What makes the guide a joy to use is the clarity of the layout, in which buildings are grouped in 22 districts and indicated on useful maps that also include subway stops. Scattered through the geographical coverage are break-out sections on public spaces, designer shops and restaurants, fire houses, memorials and other categories.

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Monday
Dec022013

Exhibition Review: Calder Explores the Third and Fourth Dimensions

Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic November 24, 2013–July 27, 2014 Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Calder Foundation, New York, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.Forget the shopping and enjoy the best seasonal gift that you or your friends could imagine: LACMA’s pitch-perfect Alexander Calder retrospective. Curated by Stephanie Barron and installed by Frank Gehry in the Resnick Gallery, it’s an ideal fusion of art and architecture, form and space, stillness and motion. Calder and Abstraction, from Avant-Garde to Iconic comprises 50 sculptures and maquettes that trace the artist’s career from 1931 to 1975, the year before his death. Most are grouped in shallow curved bays to encourage visitors to focus on one at a time and surrender to their leisurely rhythms. Gazing at the mobiles as a current of air animates one part and then another, you realize that Calder took the surreal abstractions of Joan Miró, whom he met in Paris in 1928, and added the third dimension of depth and the fourth of time. The compositions are constantly shifting so that each mobile incorporates a multitude.

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Tuesday
Nov262013

Books: An Unheralded Brazilian Modernist

By Michael Webb

Lina Bo Bardi. Zeuler R.M. de A. Lima (Yale University Press, $65).

Niemeyer aside, Latin American architecture has received far too little attention in the US, so this scholarly monograph on Lina Bo Bardi (1914-92) is especially welcome. It examines the career of an architect who won attention as a critic and designer in her native Italy, moved to Brazil in 1946, and struggled to realize a radical vision. In her 45 years of residence, she completed only 14 projects, but they include a house of rare distinction and two major public works, all in the city of São Paolo. The MASP Museum of Modern Art comprises glass-walled galleries suspended from two massive, long-span concrete frames, shading a public plaza and revealing the park beyond. The SESC Pompeia Leisure Center is an adult play structure: two raw concrete volumes linked with bridges and lit from biomorphic openings.

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Tuesday
Nov192013

Exhibition Review: Celebrating the Machine in Twenties Paris

Leger: Modern Art and the Metropolis at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a dazzling exhibition with a misleading title. In the 1920s, Berlin, not Paris, defined the metropolis, and German artists had a love-hate relationship with its oppressive streets, flashing lights, and surging crowds. Filmmakers followed their lead—in Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, People on Sunday, and the dystopian vision of Metropolis.

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Monday
Nov042013

Book Review: The Building Impulse

By Michael Webb

Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture. Rowan Moore (HarperDesign, $30).

Rowan Moore is the outspoken architectural critic of The Observer, one of the last serious newspapers in Britain—a market increasingly dominated by tawdry tabloids. His commentaries on new buildings can be found on the Web site of The Guardian, a liberal daily owned by the same non-profit trust. In Why We Build, he has stepped back to reflect on a broad swathe of architecture and the forces that shape it.

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