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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
Feb242014

Book Review: Masterly Survey of a Master Architect 

Mies. Detlef Mertins. Phaidon, $150.

The late Detlef  Mertins distilled a lifetime of scholarship and research on Mies van der Rohe into this massive and authoritative survey of the master’s work and thought. Seven hundred drawings and photos illustrate the entire arc of a career that took Mies from Peter Behrens’ office in Berlin to a global practice in Chicago as the primary exponent of international modernism. “Less is more” and “God is in the details,” have become part of the everyday language of architecture. To some he was a god-like figure; others dismissed his buildings—even the best of them—as unlivable, dysfunctional, and authoritarian. It’s time for a reappraisal.

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Tuesday
Feb182014

FORM Events: Architecture and Design on Film

If You Build It explores a community building program in North Carolina and will be one of the films featured in the Los Angeles edition of the Architecture and Design Film Festival coming next month. Image courtesy Brad Feinknopf.

The New York Architecture and Design Film Festival was SRO last October, and it’s being reprised in LA, March 12-16, at the downtown Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 South Spring Street. Highlights include Tadao Ando: from Emptiness to Infinity, documentaries on visionary architects Paolo Soleri and Eugene Tssui, and a community building program in the poorest county of North Carolina. I’ll be moderating a panel on the restoration of classic modern houses with Kelly Lynch, Michael Boyd, and Frank Escher on the afternoon of Sunday 16th and that will be followed by The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, a portrait of the little gem in Lone Pine, CA, that Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer lovingly restored. Featured designers include Massimo and Lella Vignelli, and the British maverick Paul Smith. The scandal of Chavez Ravine and the misguided reinvention of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia will be explored, along with a dozen other projects, large and small. It’s must-attend event, and you should buy your tickets asap at adfilmfest.com.

Wednesday
Feb122014

Book Review: Chinese Megastructures

By Michael Webb 

Urban Hopes: Made in China by Steven Holl. Edited by Christoph a. Kumpusch (Lars Müller Publishers, $49)

In the 19th century, “Go west, young man” was an invitation to settle the prairies or prospect for gold in Colorado and California. Now, architects fly to China to realize their dreams on a scale and at a speed that’s unimaginable  in the West of today. Few have achieved more spectacular success than Steven Holl. When I was in Beijing in 2008, his Linked Hybrid was a construction site; now those towers have been matched by Sliced Porosity in Chengdu and Horizontal Skyscraper in Shenzen. To come are a pair of new museums near Tianjin, and a porous city within the fast-growing city of Dongguan, a neighbor of Shenzen.  All five of these vast projects are explored in a masterpiece of miniaturization that is elegantly produced and fairly priced for a book of this quality.

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Monday
Feb032014

Book Review: On Bikes, in Paris

Paris: Women and Bicycles. Photographs by Gil Garcetti. Balcony Press, $45.

Bill Cunningham, the 84-year-old Bostonian who bikes around New York in all weathers chronicling street fashion for the NY Times, would love this book, for Garcetti’s images are all about grace, style, and spontaneity. My Parisian friend Linda de Nazelle complains that “riding my rickety old bike…I cant be as chic as I might.” I disagree. Years ago I invited her to dinner at Le Meurice, and she arrived in a stunning dress, handed her bike off to the doorman, and sashayed in as though she had alighted from a limousine. Her daughter, Audrey, has contributed a forward on the “Vélorution” in Paris. As a student, she helped organize demonstrations and then worked with city officials to make the streets bike-friendly. The terrifying traffic of Paris was tamed, and a former mayor pioneered “Vélib”—racks of bikes that are available to all for a nominal charge. Mayr Boris Johnson in London, and Bloomberg in New York followed his lead. The cities of Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan are already dominated by cyclists—indeed in Amsterdam they are as aggressive as kamikazes, and can bowl over unwary pedestrians.

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Thursday
Jan232014

Book Review: Museum Piece

Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Galllery of Art and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Neil Harris (University of Chicago Press, $35).

I had the good fortune to know Carter Brown during the 1970s when I lived in Washington DC, and this detailed account of his 23-year stewardship of the National Gallery brings back many fond memories—of wide-ranging conversations, ambitious exhibitions, and the excitement stirred by I.M.Pei’s East Building. Harris shares my hero worship of an extraordinary individual and his many successes, but this book is chiefly valuable as a critical appraisal of the achievement and its legacy. Brown could charm birds out of trees and, thanks to the support of Paul Mellon, he enormously enriched the NGA collections. But, along with Thomas Hoving, his arch-rival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he focused too much of his attention on blockbuster exhibitions, borrowing pictures that should never have been allowed to travel, and assembling them as theatrical spectacles.

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