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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

Entries in architecture (21)

Wednesday
Oct292014

Book Review: Architectural Character

 

Nairn's London. Ian Nairn. Penguin Classics, £9.99.

There never was and probably never will be another architectural critic as impassioned, omnivorous, and outspoken as Ian Nairn (1930–1983). Largely self-taught, he conducted a one-man crusade against the outrages of post-war British architecture, which he contrasted with the best work of past centuries. But he was no reactionary: He found excellence and mediocrity in every era, dismissing one Gothic cathedral as mechanical and unfeeling—the same deficiencies he found in the widely acclaimed Royal Festival Hall of 1951. "What I am after," he wrote, "is character, or personality, or essence." He accepted the wartime destruction in London as the price paid to defeat evil; now "It is burning again, but this time only to satisfy developers' greed, planners' inadequacy, and official stupidity." 

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Monday
Oct132014

Exhibitions: Florentine Sketchbook

Floretine architect Andrea Ponsi's sketches are featured at an exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. Image courtesy Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles.

For centuries, architects sketched their work and recorded their impressions of the places they visited, and the Beaux Arts curriculum was based on a mastery of drawing. Software and digital cameras have eroded that tradition, but a few architects (Frank Gehry and Steven Holl are notable examples) still prefer pen and brush as tools to express their ideas. Andrea Ponsi is a Florentine architect whose watercolors of his native city are on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood through October 31. The exhibition, Andrea Ponsi: Florence, A Map of Perceptions, was organized by IIC Director Michela Magri, and it provides an insider's perspective on the cradle of Renaissance architecture.

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Monday
Aug182014

Book Review: America's Architectural Hub

AIA Guide to Chicago, Third Edition. Edited by Alice Sinkevitch and Laurie McGovern Petersen. University of Illinois Press, $34.95.

No American city has a greater concentration of architectural masterpieces or a stronger urban identity than Chicago, and this guide is a match for its subject. The historical span is short; little survives from before the fire of 1871. Virtually everything was created in the past 140 years: from the first steel-framed high rises to Studio Gang's Aqua, which soars on the cover. In the late 19th century and again in the postwar years, the city nurtured the great luminaries, including Sullivan, Burnham, Wright, Mies, and many more top talents, who excelled individually even as they enhanced the urban fabric.

Most of the entries in this fat volume were compiled by a team of volunteers and they lack the wit and authority of those in the oft-revised AIA Guide to New York City, which began as a collaboration of two exceptional individuals (much like the Gebhard-Winter guide to Los Angeles) But the key entries are longer and signed; the maps and layout are exemplary. More than a thousand buildings, from the Loop to Oak Park and Pullman are featured, many with illustrations. It's as much an encyclopedia as a guide; no visitor will have time to see more than a tiny fraction of these buildings, but it provides the perfect incentive to hop on a plane in the fall and explore the best of the new, as well as old favorites and treasures you missed on previous visits. See you there in late September.

Monday
Jul142014

Book Review: Case Study Debut

Arts & Architecture 1945-49. Taschen. $69.99.

Esther McCoy summarized the importance of Arts & Architecture:  "A magazine as flat as a tortilla and sleek as a Bugatti...became the greatest force in the dissemination of information, architectural and cultural, about California." East Coast publications largely ignored the best of the West. Arts & Architecture gave generous coverage to regional modernists, but also featured houses by Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler, and Oscar Niemeyer. Editor John Entenza had his blind spots, scanting the originality of Schindler and Lautner in favor of orthogonal orthodoxy. But he was far ahead of public taste and most of the profession, and his genius was to win converts to modernism, and plant a seed that would keep blooming. The Case Study house is still a viable model.

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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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