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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
Aug112014

Book Review: Artists' Adventure

The Journey to Tunisia, 1914: Paul Klee, August Macke, Louis Moilliet. Hatje Cantz, € 29.80.

A companion book to an exhibition presented at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Berne to mark the centenary of a legendary journey. In April 2014, three artists whose friendship spanned national boundaries on the peaceful eve of the First World War, made a productive two-week trip to Tunisia. That brief immersion in an exotic culture, and the brilliance of the light and colors, transformed their art. Macke had only a few months to live; he was cut down in one of the early battles. The other two lived on, Klee until 1940, Moilliet until 1962, creating work that recalled their shared experience in North Africa.

The watercolors and sketches in the exhibition are all well illustrated, and these are supplemented by work the artists created before and after. Klee kept a journal and polished his entries years later to provide a vivid account of how they were received by a Swiss emigré "who seemed more of a stranger to me than the first Arab beggar I met" and how they began sketching the morning after their arrival. The country was a revelation, much as the French Riviera had been for an earlier generation of north-European artists. "“One swims in blue air; it is frightening," as Monet wrote from Antibes in 1884. Anyone who loves the formative era of modernism and is curious how it came about, will treasure this account.

Monday
Jul212014

Book Review: Tropical Restraint

New Brazilian House. Dominic Bradbury. Photographs by Richard Powers. Thames & Hudson. $40.

Richard Powers is an exemplary photographer of residential interiors and Dominic Bradbury is a fluent writer. They've collaborated before, to great advantage, on The Iconic House and The Iconic Interior, but they are unable to strike a spark with this new collection. Layout, graphics, and landscapes are undeniably beautiful, but too much of the architecture seems to be no more than a standard-issue retreat from a frenzied city or a foil to nature. And the interiors feel inert, as though they were expensive showrooms, never to be inhabited by real people.

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Monday
Jul142014

Book Review: Case Study Debut

Arts & Architecture 1945-49. Taschen. $69.99.

Esther McCoy summarized the importance of Arts & Architecture:  "A magazine as flat as a tortilla and sleek as a Bugatti...became the greatest force in the dissemination of information, architectural and cultural, about California." East Coast publications largely ignored the best of the West. Arts & Architecture gave generous coverage to regional modernists, but also featured houses by Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Harry Seidler, and Oscar Niemeyer. Editor John Entenza had his blind spots, scanting the originality of Schindler and Lautner in favor of orthogonal orthodoxy. But he was far ahead of public taste and most of the profession, and his genius was to win converts to modernism, and plant a seed that would keep blooming. The Case Study house is still a viable model.

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Monday
Jul072014

Book Review: Under the Skin

Performative Skyscraper: Tall Building Design Now. Scott Johnson. Balcony Press, $45.

The wow! factor was there from the start. We have all gazed upwards in awe. For centuries, Gothic spires dominated the city skyline and then, thanks to the invention of the steel frame, elevators, and several other key advances in building technology, office towers outreached them, and the competition to build ever higher is as lively as it was a hundred years ago, when the Woolworth palazzo broke the record. In his second book on the high-rise, Scott Johnson moves beyond height and structure, to review ways in which skyscrapers can perform better and make a positive contribution to the environment.

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Wednesday
Jun252014

Book Review: Re-evaluating Rudolph



The Architecture of Paul Rudolph
. Timothy M. Rohan. Yale University Press, $65.

A well-researched, critical study of an architect who is in urgent need of re-evaluation. In 1963, Paul Rudolph was widely admired—for his leadership of the Yale School of Architecture, newly installed in his monumental building; for his light, airy houses and schools in Florida, and for his ambitions to renew American cities. He was seen as an iconoclast, experimenting with new forms and materials, and offering bold alternatives to modernist orthodoxy. He was unafraid to express himself, break the rules, and create an architecture of emotion. As Rohan writes, "Rudolph believed that every cantilevered beam, every twist of a passageway, and every bright orange carpet could awaken the creativity and individuality of a building's inhabitants and thus combat the monotony and conformity of postwar life."

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