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



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.



BOOK REVIEW: The Future of Architecture Since 1889

The Future of Architecture Since 1889
by Jean-Louis Cohen
Phaidon, $75

Don’t be put off by the silly title. Few architectural historians are as lucid and insightful as Jean-Louis Cohen, and this magisterial survey distills his encyclopedic knowledge of the highways and byways of modernism. Rather than an epic narrative of great formgivers, now staled by familiarity, he explores the rich diversity of expression around the world through the end of the 20th century. Each of the 30 chapters focuses on a theme that might easily be expanded into a book, and the 600 illustrations are as eclectic and relevant as the text.

In compressing so much information into 500 pages, this survey could easily have become a dry summary of actors and buildings. Instead, Cohen gives an organic account of how architecture was shaped by social forces, economic growth, war, and advances in technology. He demonstrates the universality of new ideas, juxtaposing concrete frame buildings that were realized around 1910 by Gill, Perret, Maillart and by lesser known architects on a heroic scale in Wroclaw and Talinn.  We see how Peter Behrens progressed from his neo-Renaissance crematorium to the timeless functionalism of the AEG Turbine Factory in just two years, and the close similarity of the Zuev Workers Club in Moscow and Terragni’s Novocomun apartments in Como, both of 1927-29.  Period illustrations convey the shock of the new. This is history as it was lived, with all its contradictions and surprises.

Wisely, Cohen ends his account in the year 2000 with a few short sections on Frank Gehry, OMA, Jean Nouvel and Herzog & de Meuron as firms that define the present, but inevitably this ending feels cursory and anticlimactic. The present is evolving too widely and unpredictably to be encapsulated and analyzed with the authority Cohen brings to the past. Other histories will supplement this one in years to come, but are unlikely to supplant it. This is a must-have for architects, students and anyone who cares about the built environment.    


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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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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Transparency and Color

Light in Art showcases the fittings and murals of the Israeli glass artist Shimon Peleg, and it provides a valuable resource for architects and designers searching for fresh ways of illuminating residential and commercial spaces.

Interior designer Michelle Krief established this new gallery at 8408 Beverly Boulevard, which has become LA’s premier avenue of design. In contrast to the sleek fittings from Italy and Scandinavia, Peleg’s work is hand-crafted and explores unfamiliar territory. He fuses translucent beads of glass to create pedants and wall sconces that resemble clusters of ice crystals. Fall foliage inspires a cluster of warm-toned leaves of glass, and those autumnal hues are carried over into bathroom sinks. Backlit murals, customized to fit any room, employ bold sweeps of color. “As a farmer and earth lover, I derive my passion directly from nature,” says Peleg, who joins a long line of artists who have found inspiration in the great outdoors.

Light in Art
8408 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048