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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

Thursday
Sep092010

REVIEW: American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstoreAmerican Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture
by Alice T. Friedman
(Yale University Press, $65)

A brilliant study of post-war American architecture comes in frivolous disguise. The cover illustration is a Slim Aarons tableau of the idle rich: models impersonating trophy wives in playsuits, sipping champagne around a turquoise pool. Neutra’s Kaufmann house is relegated to the far corner. But this image, along with the sleek jet that upstages Saarinen’s TWA terminal on the back cover, illustrates Friedman’s thesis: that modernism won brief popular acceptance in the US through its association with escapism, consumerism, and image-making.

In Europe, modernism had a social conscience and put down deep roots; in the US, Philip Johnson christened it International Style, stripped it of its socialist baggage, and sugar-coated it for the masses. This is a tale of optimism and opportunism; of talented architects like Eero Saarinen, Morris Lapidus, and even Frank Lloyd Wright indulging public fantasies in the decade of the 1950s. It was an era of big corporations and splashy public projects; the rejection of austerity in a supremely confident and prosperous America. As Friedman observes, that decade now seems as remote as the Jazz Age or the Gilded 1890s, and it deserves her thoughtful re-evaluation. The images of sleek buildings and seductive advertising are reason enough to browse this book, but you should buy it for its provocative, compelling text.

Thursday
Sep092010

REVIEW: New Architecture in Japan

Click image to visit Hennessey + Ingalls BookstoreNew Architecture in Japan
by Yuki Sumner and Naomi Pollock
Photography by Edmund Sumner
(Merrell, $49.95)

Outsiders have the sharpest appreciation of the contradictions of Japan, and this selection of a hundred recent buildings focuses on radical alternatives to a prevailing conformity. A British photographer traveled extensively with his Japanese wife, searching for exceptional work by mainstream architects and such mavericks as Atelier Bow-Wow, Shuhei Endo, and Terunobu Fujimori. Perceptive essays by Yuki Sumner and Naomi Pollock, an American architect who lives in Japan, seek to explain why innovation flourishes in a country that seems so uniform and banal to Western eyes.  Sumner traces the long history of deviance in Japan and the subtle ways that individuals can express their dreams. Pollock evokes the ephemeral urban context that is constantly renewing itself, rejecting the past in a quest for novelty. “Freed from the historical and aesthetic constraints facing their counterparts in the West, architects in Japan readily experiment with new structural systems, construction materials and geometrical solutions,” she asserts. Confronted by tough legal restrictions and deeply entrenched social conventions, the best architects “treat those limitations as catalysts for, not impediments to, good design” Many of the buildings shown here are hidden away or are located in remote areas that may take a day to reach, and that makes this colorful survey all the more valuable as a record of what lies off the radar.

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