An exemplary monograph on the LA partnership of Swiss-born Frank Escher, and Ravi GuneWardena, who moved here from Sri Lanka. The title is drawn from a lecture by the philosopher Karl Popper on the contrast between rational thinking and chance. Clocks stand for precision and clouds for things that cannot be controlled. It’s an apt title, for the practice alternates between meticulous restoration of classic houses and ground-up buildings that adapt to difficult sites and make a virtue of irregularities in the building process. The book has some of the qualities of a Swiss watch in its design and production, for the Basel-based publisher has exacting standards. An extended interview by Swiss critic and historian Dr Lilian Pfaff  is complemented by six essays from other authorities to provide a broad-ranging survey of the firm’s houses, art installations and spiritual buildings.

Barbara Lamprecht’s “Four Conversations with the Past,” examines the different strategies these architects employ in restoring damaged treasures. They were challenged to extend the life of the Eames house by 250 years, while preserving the patina that gives that landmark its unique character. “The goal was to preserve the messy, vibrant joie de vivre that Charles and Ray Eames created but now is silent,” she explains. It was a hugely complex task to replace decrepit components, check rising moisture, and combat the sun’s ultra violet rays without changing the appearance of the house. “Doing nothing” was their response; a poetic way of saying that replacement and refinishing was held to a minimum.

In contrast, John Lautner’s Chemosphere house had been abused by later owners, “who ripped out the original cabinetry and covered platforms in grey carpet as though the the whole house was some ’70s cat scratching post,” as Escher described it. A new owner commissioned the architects to recreate what had been lost, working from a few drawings and an intuitive understanding of Lautner’s craftsmanship, while using the latest technology to join glass panes seamlessly.  Here and throughout the book, contributors examine the work of a talented pair to explore the roots of architectural invention.

Clocks and Clouds: The Architecture of Escher Gunewardena. Edited by Lilian Pfaff. (Birkhauser, $69.95)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.

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