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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

Sunday
Nov072010

REVIEW: Florence: A Map of Perceptions

Florence: A Map of Perceptions
by Andrea Ponsi
(University of Virginia Press, $22.95)

For anyone who loves architecture and Italy (and who doesn’t) this is the perfect small gift. Ponsi is an architect who works in Florence and engages it as an artist. His sketches and watercolors enrich a personal account that addresses the historic monuments but, still more, the topography and textures of the city, its labyrinthine streets and Platonic geometries. You could use this pocket book as a guide, walking from one piazza to the next, climbing to a high terrace for a view over the city, and savoring the text on the same stone bench that Ponsi has frequented over the years. Or you could stay home, play a CD of Francesco Landini’s Renaissance ballads, and weave yourself into the fabric that the author describes with such intimate attention to detail. It’s a candid account of a city that has been repeatedly assaulted--by the devastation of war and the destructive flood of 1966, a ceaseless tide of tourists and traffic, and the plague of graffiti. But Ponsi convinces you to return and view the city anew through his eyes.

Thursday
Nov042010

Rome Redux

I’ve just returned from a symposium in Rome, “Whatever Happened to Italian Architecture?” co-sponsored by the Depart Foundation and the Swiss Institute. A dozen architects grappled with this question, and the answers were far from reassuring. American architects are having a hard time finding work; imagine what it must be like in Italy, where 150,000 registered practitioners compete for the few projects that win approval from a corrupt and scelerotic bureaucracy. Competitions are rigged, jobs are handed off to political cronies, and the reactionary mayor of Rome has blocked almost all the projects initiated by his predecessor.

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Tuesday
Nov022010

REVIEW: Pamela Burton Landscapes

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstorePamela Burton Landscapes
Foreword by Robert A.M. Stern
(Princeton Architectural Press, $50)

I'm in awe of Pamela Burton’s erudition (the way she rattles off familiar and Latin names of every plant in her path) and still more her ability to make those flowers and shrubs thrive and compose natural works of art. It’s a terrible admission, but I cannot recall the names of more than a few species, and plants wither at my touch—a failing so shameful that I had to flee England. However, this collection of seventeen public and private landscapes is more architectural than horticultural, and it drew me in. As the author explains, “When designing gardens, I think of myself as shaping distinctive outdoor rooms in the process of forming spatial axes and proportions of height and width, then creating exploratory paths that serve as connections between those garden rooms. In addition, elements such as openings, lighting, temperature (shade and water), sounds, and furnishings must be considered.” Haptic architecture, employing organic materials.

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Friday
Sep242010

An Acre of Art - LACMA's Resnick Pavilion Press Preview


LACMA
has a new gallery and it’s a winner. The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion is a work of art that complements BCAM to the south and fleshes out Renzo Piano’s master plan. It substitutes a vibrant, layered composition of travertine, scarlet steel, and plantings for a dowdy courtyard as the museum’s core. Unjustly disparaged as the safe choice for American museums that are afraid of innovation, Piano demonstrates a mastery of space and connectivity that make him an ideal choice for LACMA. He has introduced order and excitement to an institution that stumbled badly in commissioning two mediocre sets of buildings in its early years, and then abruptly abandoned Rem Koolhaas’s iconoclastic proposal to start afresh. As an Italian, Piano has a sense of history and the way cities grow incrementally over time. He is familiar with excavations that reveal the foundations of Roman villas—a discovery that delayed construction of the Rome Auditorio by several years. “Here we struck oil—and dinosaur bones, but it didn’t stop us,” he observed.

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Friday
Sep242010

From Bathrooms To Michelangelo - Hennessey + Ingalls Bookstore


Hennessey + Ingalls
is the best-stocked art and architecture bookstore in America, and it has grown ten-fold in its half century of operation. It's still a family-run operation and its Santa Monica store offers 80,000 titles on subjects as diverse as classic art and home improvement, Swiss graphics and Japanese photography, but architecture predominates.

Mainstream publications are a key click away and they will be shipped to your door, often at a substantial discount, so how can a specialized bookstore stay in business? Many have failed, most recently Urban Center Books in New York. There is no endangered species protection for independents, but Mark Hennessey is determined to survive the triple threat of recession, architectural meltdowns, and Amazon. In Santa Monica and  the Hollywood satellite you can find rarities, imports, and the latest El Croquis or GA, as well as a broad selection on masters and new talent. Often a customer will find that the book she came in for isn't what she needs but end up buying a couple she hadn't heard of.

I love books. I've written quite a few, and my shelves are full to overflowing. I might one day read a novel on a Kindle but I cannot imagine doing that for an architectural title, where the quality of the images, layout and physical dimensions are  crucial. Bookstores like these two are staffed with knowledgable enthusiasts, who don't draw a blank when you ask what they have on Peter Zumthor. They've made choices from the thousands that are published worldwide every year and you can compare a new title with one that first appeared before the store was launched. Expert guidance combined with serendipity is a productive experience and it carries over into Hennessey + Ingalls well-organized web site. But the stores are what counts: cherish them while they are still there. 

214 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401 


Space 15 Twenty
1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 8
Hollywood, CA 90028