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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 books (18)

Tuesday
Jan032012

Book Review: Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History

Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History
by Robert Hughes
(Knopf, $35)

No city has offered more inspiration to architects over a longer period of time than Rome. Nolli’s map of the city is ubiquitous, and a residency at the American Academy is coveted even by the most progressive designers. As the capital of an empire and then of a faith, it drew the finest talents and created a series of enduring monuments, some of which may be more inspiring as ruins than they were when new. It’s a fine subject for Hughes, whose battered face glares out from the dust jacket like the bust of a dissolute emperor. A trenchant critic, he skewers this sacred cow while celebrating its past glories. He dismisses the fantasy portrait of ancient Rome as a city of gleaming white marble. “The real Rome was Calcutta-on-the-Mediterranean—crowded, chaotic and filthy,” he observes. “The Pompeian house of Marcus Lucretius Fronto looks like the terrace of Luigi’s Pasta Palace in coastal New Jersey, crammed with sculptures that are more like garden gnomes.”

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Tuesday
Jan032012

Book Review: a5 Copenhagen: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle

A5 Copenhagen: Architecture, Interiors, Lifestyle
Edited by Casey C.M. Mathewson
and Ann Videriksen.
(Oro Editions, $60)


Copenhagen is indeed a wonderful place, for its urbanity and unfailing commitment to good, humane design. It expresses the integrity of a society that values people over profits, substance over show. Buildings and open spaces are organic parts of a larger whole, and the entire city is tied together by a dense network of bicycle lanes, buses and 24-hour subways. It has made the transition from a pocket capital to a carefully planned metropolis that has outsourced its port facilities to Malmo, and redeveloped its entire waterfront as a mix of offices, apartments, arts, education and recreational space. In these and most other respects, it is the polar opposite of LA, so it’s ironic to find the two cities linked as the first and second in a series of books edited by a Berlin-based architect (who, sadly, died on the eve of publication) and a Danish architect, who now promotes the cause of good design in LA.

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Monday
Oct242011

Book Review: Fougeron Architecture: Opposition/Composition

As Hitoshi Abe observes in his foreword to this engaging monograph, “The architecture of Anne Fougeron explores the possibility of a new expression of technology while transforming it into a friendly mediator between human beings and the environment.” It’s hard to improve on that description of the houses and a scatter of small public buildings created by this French-American architect in and around her San Francisco base. She has mastered the challenge of integrating what she calls “humane modernism” within a city that resists change and in the bucolic oasis of Big Sur. Her text is as high-principled and serene as her work, which includes a small apartment block, public library, wine bar (in Akron) and art gallery, in addition to modest offices for Planned Parenthood and other worthy non-profits. There’s a strong consistency in the material palette and airy, luminous structures, which are crisp but unaggressive, yet each seems an appropriate response to context and users. Besides chronicling a decade of work by one small practice, this monograph confirms the value of architecture in shaping lives and enriching the environment.

 

Fougeron Architecture: Opposition/Composition
by Anne Fougeron
Princeton Architectural Press, $40 pb

Tuesday
Mar012011

REVIEW: APOP Living: Apartments, Houses, Cities

APOP Living: Apartments, Houses, Cities
Edited by Geog Driendl
(Actar, New York. $69.95)   

From a close-up of one house to an overview of many, all created by the Vienna firm of Driendl Architects. This weighty paperback deconstructs the conventional monograph, interleaving images of people, food, and landscapes with architectural photos and drawings to relate living spaces to everyday life. Multiple authors contribute to the text which wanders off in different directions and employs botanical names to conceal the identities of clients and collaborators. Don’t ask why; just immerse yourself in Driendl’s world of transparency and sustainability; an architecture that’s as sane and satisfying as this book is eccentric and challenging.


Sunday
Nov282010

REVIEW: AIA Guide to New York City, Fifth Edition

AIA Guide to New York City, Fifth Edition
by Norval White & Elliot Willensky with Fran Leadon
(Oxford, $39.95)

This is a thousand-page love letter to one of the world’s great cities as well as a meticulous catalogue of its physical features. The format is similar to that of the first edition of 1968, but the new guide is fifty percent longer, and the entries are now arranged in two columns to make room for more and larger maps and photographs. Each building is numbered and a tiny icon identifies its architectural style. The history of each neighborhood is briefly sketched, and the reader is led on walking tours that cover each borough, beginning at the Battery and ending on the outer islands. The text is erudite, opinionated, and compelling. Open the book at any page and you’ll be hooked, gazing upwards on a virtual tour of districts you may never have visited.

From the start, this guide was the product of passion: an urgent appeal to cherish and preserve an urban legacy that was under assault. The authors were among the architects who protested the wanton destruction of Penn Station in 1962, a catastrophe that launched the New York preservation movement. Their guide helped focus public attention on the soul and substance of a great work of art; today, almost everything is preserved, and the greater threat is the gentrification of what were once gritty neighborhoods. New York has become too much like San Francisco: a tough, blue-collar city transforming itself into a pretty tableau for tourists and a playground for malefactors of great wealth.

Elliot Wilensky died in 1990; Norval White completed most of the revisions for the fifth edition just before his death at age 83, with help from architect-teacher Fran Leadon. White’s age may explain the cursory and often dismissive entries on new work by Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Norman Foster and Jean Nouvel—just as Robert Winter, another traditionalist, soured on radical additions to LA in the last Gebhart-Winter guide. It’s pure speculation but did he resent the bold interventions by outsiders in his beloved city?

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