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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 (16)

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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Sunday
Nov072010

REVIEW: Florence: A Map of Perceptions

Florence: A Map of Perceptions
by Andrea Ponsi
(University of Virginia Press, $22.95)

For anyone who loves architecture and Italy (and who doesn’t) this is the perfect small gift. Ponsi is an architect who works in Florence and engages it as an artist. His sketches and watercolors enrich a personal account that addresses the historic monuments but, still more, the topography and textures of the city, its labyrinthine streets and Platonic geometries. You could use this pocket book as a guide, walking from one piazza to the next, climbing to a high terrace for a view over the city, and savoring the text on the same stone bench that Ponsi has frequented over the years. Or you could stay home, play a CD of Francesco Landini’s Renaissance ballads, and weave yourself into the fabric that the author describes with such intimate attention to detail. It’s a candid account of a city that has been repeatedly assaulted--by the devastation of war and the destructive flood of 1966, a ceaseless tide of tourists and traffic, and the plague of graffiti. But Ponsi convinces you to return and view the city anew through his eyes.

Tuesday
Nov022010

REVIEW: Pamela Burton Landscapes

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstorePamela Burton Landscapes
Foreword by Robert A.M. Stern
(Princeton Architectural Press, $50)

I'm in awe of Pamela Burton’s erudition (the way she rattles off familiar and Latin names of every plant in her path) and still more her ability to make those flowers and shrubs thrive and compose natural works of art. It’s a terrible admission, but I cannot recall the names of more than a few species, and plants wither at my touch—a failing so shameful that I had to flee England. However, this collection of seventeen public and private landscapes is more architectural than horticultural, and it drew me in. As the author explains, “When designing gardens, I think of myself as shaping distinctive outdoor rooms in the process of forming spatial axes and proportions of height and width, then creating exploratory paths that serve as connections between those garden rooms. In addition, elements such as openings, lighting, temperature (shade and water), sounds, and furnishings must be considered.” Haptic architecture, employing organic materials.

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