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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

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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Thursday
Dec152011

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

Thursday
Nov172011

Design Polymaths

Five celebrations of Charles and Ray Eames are on show in LA through early 2012, recalling the landmark exhibition of their work, which ended its international tour at LACMA, eleven years ago. That ambitious show attempted to bring all the designers’ achievements under one roof, and it overwhelmed many visitors.  Small, specialized exhibits make the Eames’s genius feel more visceral.

© 2011 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com)

The best starting point is the iconic house (203 Chattauqua Blvd, Pacific Palisades). The living room has been emptied and its furnishings are displayed in a recreation of the house as a highlight of the LACMA exhibition “Living in a Modern Way: California Design, 1930-1965” (5905 Wilshire Blvd, through June 3). That gives the Eames House Foundation the opportunity to

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Wednesday
Nov092011

Esther McCoy at the Schindler House  

Esther McCoy at her drafting board, mid-1940s. Courtesy of Esther McCoy Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian InstitutionIt’s always a joy to revisit the MAK Center on Kings Road, for it offers the pleasure of quiet contemplation and the thrill of an experiment in living that seems as fresh today as it was in 1922. Over the next two months the ghosts of the Schindlers are joined by that of Esther McCoy, a brilliant writer and an impassioned champion of southern California modernism. Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design, sounds more like the title of an academic thesis than a riveting show, but don’t be put off.  MAK director Kimberli Meyer has risen to the challenge of curating a text-driven exhibition and integrating it with the fabric of a house that is a self-sufficient work of art. As you read McCoy’s pithy comments and hear her voice narrating a documentary on Schindler, you are transported back to an era when modernists were fighting for their principles, trying to win over an indifferent public, and combating reactionaries as benighted as today’s Republican right.  Exhibits include a semi-literate letter informing the FBI that McCoy and her commie friends were listening to Paul Robeson and talking about workers’ rights. Letters and clippings document the effort she spearheaded to save Irving Gill’s Dodge House a block to the north, a masterpiece that was wantonly destroyed after a shameless speculation by the LA Board of Education.

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