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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

Monday
Apr232012

MUSTS IN MAY


Early May brings two events that every architect and aficionado should try to attend. The AIA/LA Spring Home Tour on May 6 includes four exceptional properties in Pacific Palisades by Barbara Callas, William Hefner, Michael Lehrer and William Wagner (above). Sponsored by Gruen Associates, the tour offers a rare opportunity to view houses of great originality that are hidden away in canyons leading down to the ocean. For tickets and information, click here.

 

Aqua Tower, Chicago, by Studio Gang. Photo by Steve Hall (c) Hedrich Blessing.On May 8 at 7:30pm, LACMA hosts Jeanne Gang in its Distinguished Architects Lecture Series. Winner of the MacArthur “genius” award and head of Studio Gang Architects, she’s been acclaimed for the Aqua apartment tower—a stunning addition to the Chicago skylines.

Her collective of architects, designers and thinkers have enriched the fabric of their home city and created a rich array of provocative projects. These are chronicled in Reveal Studio Gang Architects (Princeton Architectural Press, $45) and the book makes one eager to witness her presentation. Tickets may be ordered by calling 323.857.6010 or at lacma.org. Parking in the Pritzker Garage on Sixth Street, east of Fairfax, is free after 7pm.

Wednesday
Apr112012

BOOK REVIEW: Venice in Solitude

© Christopher Thomas, 2012On my first trip to Venice in 1963, I arrived at 3am, dropped my bags at the hotel and strolled though the deserted city, delighting in the watery reflections and the skyline etched black against the pale light of dawn. I’ve never repeated that nocturnal exploration, but looking at Christopher Thomas’s magical images I think I shall. The German photographer went to live in Venice and every night he would set off with his large format camera and tripod to capture a specific view or detail in long exposures. Relying on street lamps, the moon, or the faint glow of dusk  and dawn, he created monochromatic compositions of extraordinary beauty. Misty or pin-sharp, they show the piazza and the neighborhood campi, the canals and bridges, polished pavers and fanciful facades in all kinds of weather. There are no people. “It is an attempt to recover the serenity of Venice found in images from the nineteenth century and to release the city from mass tourism,” he writes.  

All that needs to be said about Venice has already been written, as Goethe noted two centuries ago. The poems of Albert Ostermaier that are interleaved with the photographs are trifling. However it’s good to read the afterword by Antonio Foscari, an architect and professor who restored La Malcontenta, his family’s Palladian villa. He praises the “genial intuition” of Thomas that he could capture on film only one aspect of a city that eludes comprehension, even by those few residents whose roots run deep.

Venice in Solitude
Photographs by Christopher Thomas
(Prestel, $49.95)

Tuesday
Mar202012

BOOK REVIEW: A Visual Inventory John Pawson


John Pawson, the British maestro of minimalism, famed for his refined white interiors and perfectly calibrated details, has created an album of personal snapshots. In the introduction he explains that photography is one of his compulsions: “if you don’t record everything, moments slip away and are lost forever.” Culling his collection of a quarter of a million images—an average of 85 a day since he bought his first digital camera in 2003— he has selected a modest 272, arranged in pairs on facing pages.  He likens them to “an archive of a way of looking”, and it’s fascinating to see what caught his eye. There are a few recurring favorites—his own house in London, Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, and Le Thoronet Abbey in Provence—but they are far outnumbered by chance encounters—the ordinary made extraordinary through meticulous framing. What links the landscapes and cloudscapes, the close-ups and aerial views, the textures of wood and stone, form and light, is geometric or organic pattern. He composes images as carefully as he creates interiors. This obsession is, he insists, “not so much a reflection of an ordered mind, as the need to control, as tightly as possible, those limited areas of life that can be controlled.” Even designers who shy away from that intensity will find inspiration and delight as they browse this elegant anthology.

A Visual Inventory John Pawson  (Phaidon, $49.95)

Pawson House, London, England, November 2009

Tuesday
Feb142012

Another L.A.

Installation view Chris Burden Metropolis II, 2010 Three ½ hp DC motors with motor controllers, 12,000 custom manufactured die-cast cars (1,100 for operating, 10,900 for replenishing damaged cars), 26 HO-scale train sets with controllers and tracks (13 for operating, 13 for replenishing damages), steel, aluminum, shielded copper wire, copper sheet, brass, various plastics, assorted woods and manufactured wood products, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Dado Cubes, glass, ceramic and natural stone tiles, acrylic and oil-base paints, rubber, sundry adhesives. 9 ft., 9in. (H) x 28 ft., 3in. (W) x 19ft., 2in. (D). Courtesy of The Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation © Chris Burden Photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Next time you are gridlocked on the 405, imagine an alternative LA: a city in which cars speed without stalling or colliding on a network of freeways that loop around an eclectic array of towers. Trains run on elevated tracks and the ground lies forgotten, far below. It’s the city that Filippo Marinetti conceived in his Futurist Manifesto and Fritz Lang brought to the screen in Metropolis. Eighty-five years later, Chris Burden has revived the concept as Metropolis II and this mesmerizing installation is on long-term loan to LACMA, a few steps from Urban Light, his forest of vintage street lamps. Orson Welles described the RKO Studio as “the greatest train set a boy ever had,” and Metropolis II is a kinetic toy to delight frustrated drivers and their offspring.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb072012

RADICAL MOVIES


All violent revolutions eat their children, and none was more voracious than the Soviet Union in the Stalin era. The trickle of useful idiots from the West who went to Moscow and extolled the tyrant seemed unaware that he had suppressed an extraordinary generation of artists and was busy murdering real and imagined dissidents. One survivor of that early, creative phase was Dziga-Vertov, the made-up name of a revolutionary moviemaker, who made the first Bolshevik propaganda films, kept his head and his camera through the war years, and outlived Stalin by a year. The UCLA Film and Television Archives are presenting a major retrospective of his work at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater, February 17 - March 3.

Seize this rare chance to see sparkling archival prints of newsreels and documentaries that are as fresh as when they were made, 90 years ago. The popular success of Hugo and The Artist has revived interest in the silent era, when movies had as little need of dialogue as ballet. Live music and a dazzling virtuosity of imagery and cutting were the ingredients for the best movies of that era and Dziga-Vertov was one of the most inspired directors. He was also, like Leni Riefenstahl, a passionate propagandist, building support for an evil regime, but there’s no denying his mastery of the medium. Beyond the formal brilliance is a fascinating portrait of the Soviet Union—not as the squalid backwater it was, but as a heroic beacon for humanity. Lies can be very seductive and it’s hard not to be swept along.

For a schedule and to buy tickets, click here.