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Modernist pioneer

Irving J. Gill Architect, 1870-1936 Photographs by Marvin Rand Gibbs Smith, $50

January 11, 2007|Bettijane Levine

This book is a stunning photographic record of Irving J. Gill's work, and its images help to put Southern California's architectural history into perspective.

Gill, born in upstate New York, arrived on the West Coast in 1893 when he was 23. From then until his death at 66, he experimented constantly with Modernist design and re-imagined the look of homes, schools and churches in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.

Revered as one of the Southern California's most important early architects, and one of the most eminent Modernists of his era, Gill's structures are an homage to simplicity of form and its relationship to nature. He disliked unnecessary ornamentation. He railed against desecration of the exquisite Western landscape to which he became devoted. "The West, unfortunately, has been and is building too hastily, carelessly and thoughtlessly. Houses are springing up faster than mushrooms," he wrote in 1916.

Photographer Marvin Rand, who lives in Marina del Rey, is more than a historian with a camera. With the eye of a poet, his images draw viewers into the homes he photographs, creating a vibrant sense of the space and the setting, and even a kind of kinship with those who must have lived there.

The text is unevenly distributed and leaves the reader longing for more information about each project. Much of that information is bunched up at the back of the book, instead of on the relevant pages. The photos, however, make up for such shortcomings.

-- Bettijane Levine

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