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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
Feb032014

Book Review: On Bikes, in Paris

Paris: Women and Bicycles. Photographs by Gil Garcetti. Balcony Press, $45.

Bill Cunningham, the 84-year-old Bostonian who bikes around New York in all weathers chronicling street fashion for the NY Times, would love this book, for Garcetti’s images are all about grace, style, and spontaneity. My Parisian friend Linda de Nazelle complains that “riding my rickety old bike…I cant be as chic as I might.” I disagree. Years ago I invited her to dinner at Le Meurice, and she arrived in a stunning dress, handed her bike off to the doorman, and sashayed in as though she had alighted from a limousine. Her daughter, Audrey, has contributed a forward on the “Vélorution” in Paris. As a student, she helped organize demonstrations and then worked with city officials to make the streets bike-friendly. The terrifying traffic of Paris was tamed, and a former mayor pioneered “Vélib”—racks of bikes that are available to all for a nominal charge. Mayr Boris Johnson in London, and Bloomberg in New York followed his lead. The cities of Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan are already dominated by cyclists—indeed in Amsterdam they are as aggressive as kamikazes, and can bowl over unwary pedestrians.

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Thursday
Jan232014

Book Review: Museum Piece

Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Galllery of Art and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Neil Harris (University of Chicago Press, $35).

I had the good fortune to know Carter Brown during the 1970s when I lived in Washington DC, and this detailed account of his 23-year stewardship of the National Gallery brings back many fond memories—of wide-ranging conversations, ambitious exhibitions, and the excitement stirred by I.M.Pei’s East Building. Harris shares my hero worship of an extraordinary individual and his many successes, but this book is chiefly valuable as a critical appraisal of the achievement and its legacy. Brown could charm birds out of trees and, thanks to the support of Paul Mellon, he enormously enriched the NGA collections. But, along with Thomas Hoving, his arch-rival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he focused too much of his attention on blockbuster exhibitions, borrowing pictures that should never have been allowed to travel, and assembling them as theatrical spectacles.

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Thursday
Jan162014

Book Review: Chilean Creativity

White Mountain: Architecture in Chile. Puro Chile and Hatje Cantz; DAP. $85  

All the usual suspects and several unfamiliar names are rounded up in this ambitious bilingual catalog of recent work by about sixty Chilean architects, working alone or on collaborative ventures.  Essays by Miquel Adriá,  Horacio Torrent, and Pablo Allard provide a historical background, explain how architecture has flourished in Chile over the past two decades, and introduce some of the leading players. Each architect or team is represented by one or more buildings—the prolific Mathias Klotz has eight—shown in plans and photos with brief factual descriptions.

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Monday
Jan132014

Book Review: Crucible of Invention

Think Dutch: Conceptual Architecture and Design in the Netherlands.  Bilingual text by Jeroen Junte and David Keunig. Daab/Frame Publishers. $175.

A third of the Netherlands lies below the present sea-level and the first priority is to live with, above and even on water. So it’s appropriate that this provocative survey should begin with a focus on water. Here are inventive bridges, a floating mosque, and a half-submerged  tax office, as well as water purification devices.

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Tuesday
Dec102013

Book Review: New York, New York

Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture. John Hill. Norton ($29.95).

This is a catch-up review of a handy pocketbook I missed when it first appeared—much to my regret. It would have saved me hours of digging up information on new buildings and have been an indispensable companion on recent visits to New York. Having written an architectural guide to LA, and edited two others, I know how much skill and effort must have been invested in research, selection, procuring images, and writing succinct descriptions. Hill has chosen more than 200 buildings completed in the first decade of the 21st century in all five boroughs, plus a selection of projects anticipated for the second decade. What makes the guide a joy to use is the clarity of the layout, in which buildings are grouped in 22 districts and indicated on useful maps that also include subway stops. Scattered through the geographical coverage are break-out sections on public spaces, designer shops and restaurants, fire houses, memorials and other categories.

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