Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Slate's Witold Rybczynski Writes Single Stupidest Sentence In History Of Architectural Criticism!!

Normally reliable architecture critic Witold Rybczynski (and superb writer, to boot) has somehow coughed up a staggeringly inaccurate sentence that manages to get every single 'fact' in it dead wrong - and no one seems to have noticed! The overall story in SLATE concerns the lack of any kind of innovative architectural movements in San Francisco - and he's on his usually fairly firm ground there.

But then he tackles Los Angeles and fumbles... badly:

The West Coast suffered by comparison to the East Coast, though there have been at least two significant architectural movements in Los Angeles in recent years: the first in the 1960s, represented by Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Craig Ellwood, and the second today, dominated by Frank Gehry, who moved to the city when he was 17 and has become L.A.'s—and the country's—leading architect.

I mean - where do I begin? Well, to call Charles and Ray Eames part of the 1960's architecture movement is beyond lunacy when virtually every single significant building they created was designed - and built in... the 1940's. And Charles Eames started work as an architect in... 1930.

So what about Craig Ellwood? Well, he started in the 1940's and almost all of his masterpieces were done starting with the Hale House in 1949 between then and the late 1950's. By the early 1960's his career had peaked creatively and his firm was by then doing mostly corporate work until it closed in the 1970's. He was one of the quintessential 1950's architects.

And what about the claim that Richard Neutra was part of the 1960's architecture movement in Los Angeles? Well, you be the judge; Neutra attended architecture school during... World War I in Vienna - plus what many people consider his finest building was designed in Los Angeles in... 1927 and finished in 1929. Plus there was the minor problem that in the 1960's he was in his 70's and his finest work was done in the 1920's, the 1930's, the 1940's and the 1950's.

Part of the 1960's architecture movement?

Ironically, each of the named architects was a product of the 1920's Bauhaus/International style of architecture which reached its Los Angeles climax in the 1950's with the Case Study Houses and the almost exclusive use of the glass box in commerical office buildings; then in the 1960's, a variety of reactions to that style developed.

Still even more ironically, though, the only architect mentioned who can be legitimately described as being part of the 1960's movement is... Frank Gehry.

Gehry developed much of his style due to his interaction with the artists of that era. Gehry's use of provocative shapes and unusual materials was also already in evidence in his 1965 Danziger Studio and other designs of the era - plus he set up his office in 1967. He was a creative child of the 1960's in every way.

But Rybczynski is correct in that there was a significant 1960's - and 1970's - architecture movement in Los Angeles.

He just gets the names wrong.

Among the real members of that now fabled generation, besides Frank Gehey, were Cesar Pelli, Tony Lumdsen, Charles Moore, Craig Hodgetts, Tim Vreeland, Robert Mangurian, Thom Mayne, Peter De Bretteville, Ed Niles, Roland Coate, Frank Israel, Michael Rotondi, Coy Howard, Fred Fischer, Eric Owen Moss and many others.

The other flaw in the piece is an extreme example of East Coast myopia:

It's hard to know exactly why some cities develop an architectural sensibility. Clearly, having a local star serves to raise the level of public consciousness of good architecture. In the 1960s, Mies van der Rohe in Chicago and Louis Kahn in Philadelphia attracted and trained a generation of talented young architects from around the world, many of whom stayed to open their own offices. A strong architectural tradition helps, too. Chicago got a running start with Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham at the end of the 19th century, Boston had H.H. Richardson, and during the Gilded Age New York City had McKim, Mead & White.

The West Coast suffered by comparison to the East Coast.....

Suffered by comparison??

What he neglects to mention is that in the early 20th Century, Los Angeles had an architectural tradition that equaled or exceeded any of those cities from 1910 to 1950. In addition, no other city in the world had as varied a list of architects - and architectural traditions - as did Los Angeles during that era.

Starting with the Japanese influenced bungalow styles of Greene and Greene and Alfred and Arthur Heineman and other craftsman architects, the Mission and Spanish style of numerous architects such as John Byer, the early modernism of Irving Gill, the unique style of Frank Lloyd Wright's LA homes, the Bauhaus informed houses of R. M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, rivalist stylists such as Myron Hunt, the older Roland Coate, Sumner Hunt, Paul Williams, Robert Stacy-Judd, S. Charles Lee and Wallace Neff and the ranch houses of Cliff May, the era came to a close with a parade of modernists who appeared in the 1930's and 1940's such as John Lautner, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Thornton M. Abell, Raphael Soriano, Pierre Koenig, Lloyd Wright, Walter Wurdeman, Rodney Walker, Charles Luckman, Douglas Honnold, John Rex, Thornton Ladd, Carl Maston, Gregory Ain, Welton Beckett, J. R. Davidson, William Pereira, Edward Killingsworth, Gordon Drake, Frederick E. Emmons, A. Quincy Jones and many, many others.

Again... suffered by comparison?

Comparison to... what?


Anonymous said...

Any response yet from Slate?

Anonymous said...

Brady et al:

When the National Trust for Historic Preservation met in Los Angeles a few years ago, a keynote speech was given by a professor from Princeton about the Los Angeles architectural heritage. He said that the two most important cities of the twentieth century architecturally were Berlin and Los Angeles. He then went on to trace out the numerous architectural innovations that L.A. produced over the course of a century.