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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

Thursday
Jul182013

Books: Reshaping British Architecture

By Michael Webb

Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress. John Allan. Artifice, $59.95

In this greatly enlarged edition of a book he created 20 years ago, John Allan explores the career and influence of an émigré from the Soviet Union who introduced conservative Britons to the marvels of modernism. Allan is a director of Avanti Architects in London, and he specializes in the restoration of mid-century modern buildings. As a graduate student he met Berthold Lubetkin (1901-90) and their two-decade friendship kindled his admiration and this exemplary tribute.

It’s an extraordinary story, compellingly told. Lubetkin, who was born in Georgia, was caught up in the turmoil in Russia following the Bolshevik coup d’etat, whose leaders first encouraged and then suppressed experimentation. He moved back and forwards from Moscow to Berlin and Paris, finally settling in London in 1931. Britain was smugly insulated from the wave of innovation that was sweeping over Europe and Lubetkin played the same role as early Christian missionaries—bringing enlightenment to the heathen.

His first successes were with animals in progressive zoos, and the restored Penguin Pool in the London Zoo is a widely beloved classic. Later he designed a health center that has been sadly neglected but is still a model of its kind, as well as the best prewar apartment towers. In the idealistic aftermath of war, he designed innovative social housing, stretching the meager budgets to include staircases that rival those of Borromini. One of the estates was named for Lenin, with a bust supplied by the Soviet Embassy in London. A decade later, that feature fell victim to the Cold War, and two letters in the sign over the portal were changed, making it a memorial to (Ernest) Bevin, Britain’s feisty foreign secretary. Lubetkin was made chief architect of Peterlee New Town, where his visionary ideas were sabotaged, putting an end to a brilliant career

Allan’s first text was a graceful summary: now, words and archival images occupy five times as many pages, and the book has become a scholarly reference work, investigating context and designs in meticulous detail. The historical material is fascinating and there’s a section of new color photos that show how well many of the buildings have survived. However, invaluable as this study will be, its design falls short. The type is small and closely spaced and the layout feels cramped, in contrast to the airy elegance of Merrell’s 2002 edition. Lucid writing makes up for the compression.

Tuesday
Jul092013

Books: Two Southern California Modernists

Edward A. Killingsworth: an Architect’s Life. Jennifer M. Volland and Cara Mullio. Hennessy + Ingalls, $60.

A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living. Edited by Brooke Hodge. Hammer Museum and Del Monico Books/Prestel, $60.

By Michael Webb

For an architect to win fame, it helps to be dead. Louis Kahn commanded attention from only an enlightened few during his painful struggle to win commissions; today, he is acclaimed as one of the giants of modernism. Still more is that true in southern California, where R.M.Schindler and John Lautner were ignored or dismissed during their lifetimes but are now seen as seminal figures. A host of lesser talents await their due

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Sunday
Jul072013

Exhibitions: The Art of Light

By Michael Webb

You are lying on your back, gazing at an intensely blue sky. Any Angeleno can do that, but a lucky few will start the experience in James Turrell’s Perceptual Cell at LACMA. There, in your own private spaceship, the sky will darken and explode, in vibrating patterns of color and light that fill your field of vision. You are absorbed into this magical illusion and you lose all sense of time. And then, all too soon, the expanse of blue returns and you slide out of the capsule and are back in the everyday world.

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Wednesday
Jun262013

Exhibitions: Pristine Planet

Sebastião Salgado, The Eastern Part of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. USA. 2009. © Amazonas Images Courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery.

By Michael Webb

The most important photographic exhibition of the year opens on June 29th at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica. Sebastião Salgado—Genesis is the distillation of an eight-year project: an odyssey by the Brazilian photographer to remote parts of the world that remain pristine. Its importance resides in the epic grandeur of the images, and the message that it is not too late to save the planet from despoilation. Salgado is a fearless explorer and a brilliant artist, as earlier series, “Workers” and “Migrations”, proved. Genesis is even more ambitious, and it may be the last this 70-year-old can undertake. That makes this tribute to the wonders of nature and the tribes that live in harmony with the natural world even more affecting.

Henri Cartier-Bresson introduced Salgado to Fetterman, who is now one of the photographer’s ardent supporters and principal dealers. He curated the selection of images on show in his spacious gallery, and will be selling the large black and white prints alongside the full collection that’s been published by Taschen Books in trade and collectors’ editions. In a world that complacently hastens its destruction by climate change and lacks the will to arrest catastrophe, these images symbolize the beauty we stand to lose. Melting icecaps and rising sea levels, endangered wildlife and tribal habitat invaded by greedy settlers, will steadily erode the earthly paradise Salgado recorded. Cherish it while it’s still here. 

 

Tuesday
May282013

Exhibitions: From the Generic to the Quirky

One of the images from the new show Windshield Perspective at the A+D Museum.Tom Bonner, Dog & Cat.Courtesy A+D Museum.

By Michael Webb

It’s hard to keep up with Pacific Standard Time, the flurry of exhibitions sponsored by the Getty in local museums that explore LA’s architectural culture. Overdrive, the Getty’s own historical survey, was reviewed a few weeks ago, and two upcoming exhibitions, The Presence of the Past, opening at LACMA on June 9, and A New Sculpturalism opening at MOCA on June 16 are eagerly anticipated. Two smaller shows also deserve attention.

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