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


BOOK REVIEW: Landscapes in Landscapes

uuThe High Line

When the Royal Horticultural Society of Britain commissions an addition to its flagship garden from a Dutch landscape designer you know he must be an extraordinary talent.  The title of this delectable portfolio hints at Piet Oudolf’s gift for creating environmentally responsible gardens that relate to urban and natural landscapes, as well as the cycle of the seasons. At first view, his plantings atop the High Line in Lower Manhattan and in Chicago’s Millennium Park look as though nature had run wild without the intervention of a designer’s hand. Therein lies the artistry, for the challenge in New York was to evoke the wilderness that had taken over an abandoned freight line, and in Chicago to play off the wall of skyscrapers that frame the park. Less familiar is Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, where the juxtaposition of towers and lush grasses is even more surreal. Photographs of great beauty capture the subtle balance of form and colors, and elaborate diagrams explain how the magic was accomplished.


Landscapes in Landscapes 
by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
The Monacelli Press ($65)


BOOK REVIEW: Allied Works Architecture/Brad Cloepfil: Occupation

Allied Works Architecture/Brad Cloepfil: Occupation
Text by Sandy Isenstadt, Kenneth Frampton
Photography by Victoria Sambunaris
Gregory Miller & Co. ($85)

Art and nature fuse in the work of Brad Cloepfil and his associates, and this lavish monograph explores the highlights of his practice in depth. As the title implies, his buildings are deeply rooted in their sites, which range from empty Western landscapes to the dense fabric of major cities. His museums enhance the art they display and are quiet works of art in themselves. The geometries are simple, the materials traditional, and you have to look very closely to catch the subtleties that give each space its special quality. Cloepfil is particularly skilled in adapting older structures, especially in his transformation of Edward Durrell Stone’s faux Venetian folly on Columbus Circle in mid Manhattan. Kenneth Frampton contributes an insightful essay, and each project is followed by a dialogue with an artist or critic. Lorraine Wild designed this book for a publisher who has as much respect for his craft as Allied Works have for theirs. Stock of a weight that is rarely encountered today, spacious layouts, and fine printing make this monograph a sensual and intellectual delight.


BOOK REVIEW: Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism 

Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism
by Alexander Gorlin
Rizzoli New York ($65)

The finest collection of midcentury modern houses outside of southern California is located at the opposite corner of the U.S. “Why did modern architecture take root in this region of colonial homes and entrenched tradition?” asks Gorlin. He traces its roots to the Puritan cult of honesty and simplicity that was echoed in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau. Harvard was the crucible of revolution. Walter Gropius radicalized the GSD; Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson moved to New Canaan and built model houses there. Sadly, Gorlin falls into the same trap as Elizabeth Gordon and Tom Wolfe in explaining the decline of modernism. He trots out the familiar cliches about dictatorial architects trying to brainwash the public, with no mention of the vulgarity and crass materialism of the new rich. It’s the striving for status and the retreat into the cozy womb of the past that blocks rational construction and it has been that way for a century or more. Twenty-five houses, ranging in date from 1930-1967 (plus a Prairie Style forerunner of 1912) are illustrated, and they include the usual suspects along with many unfamiliar examples.


BOOK REVIEW: California Houses of Gordon Drake

California Houses of Gordon Drake
by Douglas Baylis & Joan Parry
William Stout Books ($39.95)

In a preface to this new edition of a 1956 monograph, Glenn Murcutt pays tribute to an architect who inspired him while growing up in Sydney. As he writes: “In an era besotted with computer generated and often extremely noisy ‘architecture’ where anything can be ‘designed’…simply because it can…the reprinting of this book on Gordon Drake in a timely reminder that good design lasts.” 

Drake achieved extraordinary success in a brief career that was delayed by war service and cut short by a fatal skiing accident at age 34. He designed 60 houses in his seven years of practice, realizing only a quarter of them. Their warmth, simplicity and sensitive detailing resonated with clients and editors. His work was widely published in leading magazines, but few remember him now. That makes this handsome reprint and its fresh appraisal by Pierluigi Serraino especially welcome.

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 Vintage photographs of Pierre Chareau’s legendary Maison de Verre in Paris will be on sale at Tripod Studios on March 24, 25, 26 and 28, 6-9pm. British architect Michael Carapetian shot these black and white images in 1966, and  Kenneth Frampton, who was there to survey the house, wrote “Carapetian’s beautiful photos capture the Parisian culture of the Maison de Verre when the original clients were still alive. These photos register the cultural density of the house when it was still in their ownership.”

Tripod Studios were established by Peter Carapetian, who is a notable photographer in his own right, as a place for photographers to gather and show their work. His brother Michael lives in the other Venice, where I first saw these photos last year, and was entranced by the patina that Frampton remarked on.



To attend the sale, contact,
or call 310 920 4612.

Tripod Studios
608 Main Street
Venice, CA 90291