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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
Oct172011

UPDATE: WHITE KNIGHT SAVES NEUTRA’S KRONISH HOUSE

© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Thanks to the LA Conservancy and many dedicated preservationists, Beverly Hills agreed to withhold a demolition permit for Neutra’s Kronish house for two months, allowing time for a buyer to ride to the rescue. This is cause for celebration, as is the pledge from the new owner to restore the house. However, it is crucial that this restoration be done with respect for the character of the house, to preserve its authenticity. The goal is to balance past and present, upgrading the services and plumbing unobtrusively, and refurbishing the materials the architect used. Several local architects have mastered this skill. Michael Boyd has drawn on his experience of restoring houses by Paul Rudolph and Oscar Niemeyer to polish other faded jewels--by Neutra, Schindler, Lautner and Ellwood. Anyone who collects vintage fabrics or art works understands the crucial importance of enlisting expert help. Too often classic modern houses are treated as though they were lumps of soft clay, to be reshaped at the whim of the owner. Too many have been insensitively remodeled and tarted up to satisfy a momentary whim. Adding black granite floors or a Greek portico is not a great idea, when there are so few masterpieces and such an abundance of mediocre properties that cry out for improvement. Owners might remember the watch ad: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

Tuesday
Sep062011

LOOPING THE LOOP

When SPF:a built their new Culver City office in 2006 they created a major urban amenity, with a bold façade of jutting bays, studio apartments in back, a corner restaurant (currently occupied by Sublime) and—most importantly—a soaring gallery. Partner Judit Fekete, whose Hungarian accent would charm birds out of trees, has made this gallery one of the liveliest and most eclectic in LA. Six times a year there’s an exhibition of art, architecture, or design—currently “Lorcan O’Herlihy: Lines, Mounds and Internal Landscapes.”

Even as his architectural practice has flourished, O’Herlihy has always made time to make art. In this ambitious exhibit of paintings, prints and sculpture, he follows Paul Klee’s lead, and takes a line for a walk. Tubes of paint and charcoal are applied directly to the canvas and then partially erased, creating free-form linear compositions. The sculptures were born by chance when his order for a modest length of porous rubber hose (used for drip-irrigation) was misread and 500 feet was delivered to his studio. Instead of returning it, he started to play with the coils, tying up loops and creating self-supporting structures that are the three-dimensional equivalent of the drawings.

The O’Herlihy exhibition runs through October 6. 
Next up is “Lux Natura: Transpersonal Photographs by Marc Franklin”.

SPF:a Gallery
8609 Washington Boulevard
Culver City
310.558.0902

Friday
Aug052011

When will Beverly Hills start protecting its heritage? 

© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Thanks to the LA Conservancy and an outpouring of public concern, the threatened demolition of a major Richard Neutra house has been postponed until after October 10 and—if a buyer can be found—averted. The 1955 Kronish house, located at 9439 Sunset Boulevard, is the last survivor of the three this modern master designed in Beverly Hills. Soda Partners, a greedy speculator that wants to clear the 2-acre site of its “encumbrance,” bought the 7500-square-foot house in a foreclosure auction for $5.8 million, tried to sell it as a tear-down, and now wants to flip an empty plot for $14 million. In a more civilized neighborhood than this, a major work by a 20th-century giant would add value to the property and command immediate respect. Here, as in Rancho Mirage where Neutra’s Maslon house was flattened before anyone could protest, the threat was off the radar until two weeks ago.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jul282011

Celebrating John Lautner

Infinite Space: the Architecture of John Lautner is an award-winning documentary by Murray Grigor, a Scottish filmmaker acclaimed for earlier studies of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Whether or not you caught the recent screening at the Egyptian—a highlight of the Lautner Foundation’s centennial celebration of the master’s birth—you should treat yourself to the DVD.

Grigor is one of the few moviemakers who understands—as Lautner did—that architecture is about space and light, not static facades. He and his cinematographer capture the dynamic experience of walking up to, around, and through 14 of Lautner’s greatest houses, from the Hollywood Hills to Aspen and Acapulco. He chronicles the evolution of an artist for whom each site and client was a fresh challenge. Few had the imagination or the budget to exploit his full potential, but Marbrisa, the Elrod, and Turner houses show the reach of his daring. But he was equally concerned to perfect a mountain cabin.  A succession of proud owners—some original, some who brought endangered houses back to life—explain how living in a Lautner has immeasurably enriched their lives. They too, deserve praise, and it’s a great loss to architecture and to LA that Lautner found so few of them in his fifty-year career.

 

Contact the John Lautner Foundation
for information on fall events,
including a tour of the Desert Hot Springs Motel
and a preservation symposium on October 9.

 

 

Thursday
Jul142011

Cuba's Other Revolution

As in Brazil and Venezuela, the pre-revolutionary middle classes of Cuba embraced modernity as an expression of their cosmopolitanism, and Havana still boasts a fast decaying legacy of progressive architecture. When I was there, ten years ago, I was lucky to have Eduardo Luis Rodriguez, a crusader for these treasures, show me around and share his indispensable Havana Guide.  Most of these houses and public buildings are off the radar, few Americans have had the opportunity to explore them first hand, and there may soon be little left to see. As in the Soviet Union, there was a brief flourish of innovation in the early, idealistic phase of the revolution before it was snuffed out by the ideologues. The ruined Arts Schools of the early 1960s are a sad memorial to a vision betrayed.

To discover what is being lost, you should sign up for a lecture, “Echoes of the Avant Garde: Cuban Architecture from the 1930s into the 1960s,” at the Getty Center on July 21 at 7pm. Julio Cesar Perez Hernandez, a Havana-based architect, urban planner, and professor of design, will explore the evolution from eclecticism and Art Deco to international modern. His presentation offers a rare opportunity to get an insider’s view and meet an architect who is helping devise a master plan for post-Castro Havana. And be sure to visit the Getty’s photography exhibition “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.”