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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 Michael Webb (6)

Monday
Aug262013

Book Review: Looking at Books

By Michael Webb

The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation. Edited by Mathieu Lommen. Thames & Hudson, $65.

Too many obituaries for the printed word have appeared on-line, and most will vanish into the virtual wasteland that swallows most digital utterances. Print has survived for more than five centuries and it will take more than Twitter and blogs to render it obsolete. Rather, we seem to be returning to the Middle Ages, when a well-educated minority read books and everyone else relied on preachers and gossip. So, three cheers for Thames & Hudson, which continues to publish inspiring titles even as their competitors dumb down. 

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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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Friday
Sep242010

An Acre of Art - LACMA's Resnick Pavilion Press Preview


LACMA
has a new gallery and it’s a winner. The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion is a work of art that complements BCAM to the south and fleshes out Renzo Piano’s master plan. It substitutes a vibrant, layered composition of travertine, scarlet steel, and plantings for a dowdy courtyard as the museum’s core. Unjustly disparaged as the safe choice for American museums that are afraid of innovation, Piano demonstrates a mastery of space and connectivity that make him an ideal choice for LACMA. He has introduced order and excitement to an institution that stumbled badly in commissioning two mediocre sets of buildings in its early years, and then abruptly abandoned Rem Koolhaas’s iconoclastic proposal to start afresh. As an Italian, Piano has a sense of history and the way cities grow incrementally over time. He is familiar with excavations that reveal the foundations of Roman villas—a discovery that delayed construction of the Rome Auditorio by several years. “Here we struck oil—and dinosaur bones, but it didn’t stop us,” he observed.

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Friday
Sep242010

From Bathrooms To Michelangelo - Hennessey + Ingalls Bookstore


Hennessey + Ingalls
is the best-stocked art and architecture bookstore in America, and it has grown ten-fold in its half century of operation. It's still a family-run operation and its Santa Monica store offers 80,000 titles on subjects as diverse as classic art and home improvement, Swiss graphics and Japanese photography, but architecture predominates.

Mainstream publications are a key click away and they will be shipped to your door, often at a substantial discount, so how can a specialized bookstore stay in business? Many have failed, most recently Urban Center Books in New York. There is no endangered species protection for independents, but Mark Hennessey is determined to survive the triple threat of recession, architectural meltdowns, and Amazon. In Santa Monica and  the Hollywood satellite you can find rarities, imports, and the latest El Croquis or GA, as well as a broad selection on masters and new talent. Often a customer will find that the book she came in for isn't what she needs but end up buying a couple she hadn't heard of.

I love books. I've written quite a few, and my shelves are full to overflowing. I might one day read a novel on a Kindle but I cannot imagine doing that for an architectural title, where the quality of the images, layout and physical dimensions are  crucial. Bookstores like these two are staffed with knowledgable enthusiasts, who don't draw a blank when you ask what they have on Peter Zumthor. They've made choices from the thousands that are published worldwide every year and you can compare a new title with one that first appeared before the store was launched. Expert guidance combined with serendipity is a productive experience and it carries over into Hennessey + Ingalls well-organized web site. But the stores are what counts: cherish them while they are still there. 

214 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401 


Space 15 Twenty
1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 8
Hollywood, CA 90028

Thursday
Sep092010

REVIEW: American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstoreAmerican Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture
by Alice T. Friedman
(Yale University Press, $65)

A brilliant study of post-war American architecture comes in frivolous disguise. The cover illustration is a Slim Aarons tableau of the idle rich: models impersonating trophy wives in playsuits, sipping champagne around a turquoise pool. Neutra’s Kaufmann house is relegated to the far corner. But this image, along with the sleek jet that upstages Saarinen’s TWA terminal on the back cover, illustrates Friedman’s thesis: that modernism won brief popular acceptance in the US through its association with escapism, consumerism, and image-making.

In Europe, modernism had a social conscience and put down deep roots; in the US, Philip Johnson christened it International Style, stripped it of its socialist baggage, and sugar-coated it for the masses. This is a tale of optimism and opportunism; of talented architects like Eero Saarinen, Morris Lapidus, and even Frank Lloyd Wright indulging public fantasies in the decade of the 1950s. It was an era of big corporations and splashy public projects; the rejection of austerity in a supremely confident and prosperous America. As Friedman observes, that decade now seems as remote as the Jazz Age or the Gilded 1890s, and it deserves her thoughtful re-evaluation. The images of sleek buildings and seductive advertising are reason enough to browse this book, but you should buy it for its provocative, compelling text.