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BOOK REVIEW

A visual revolution between two covers

Seminal magazine Arts & Architecture changed how Americans view the buildings around them.Arts & Architecture 1945-54 The Complete Reprint Introduction by David Travers Tashen: 118 magazines in 10 boxes, 6,156 pp., $700

December 28, 2008|Greg Goldin | Goldin is the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine.

Arts & Architecture, which folded 41 years ago, is the most influential architecture magazine ever published. During the height of its run, from 1945 to 1967, it convinced the world that Los Angeles was at the vanguard of reinventing the single family home. John Entenza, the editor, quietly featured the work of Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Richard Neutra, George Nelson, Charles Eames, George Nakashima and Bernard Rudofsky.

Hans Hoffmann, Saul Bass, Eugene Weston III and Peter Krasnow, along with the indefatigable Herbert Matter and John Follis, did the covers. Peter Yates and Esther McCoy knocked out countless articles. Marvin Rand and Julius Shulman contributed photographs, for free. The effect, British critic Rayner Banham said, was that Los Angeles replaced Florence on the travel itinerary of European architects and students.

The magazine has now been reissued in a facsimile edition that covers 1945 to 1954 -- 10 years in 10 boxes, 118 issues in more than 6,000 pages. (A second installment, reprinting 1955 to 1967, is due in 2010.) Rarely more than 50 pages a month, and often fewer than 40, Arts & Architecture was alive with the possibility of cultural and spiritual renewal after the ravages of the Second World War.

The sense that something new was forming on the horizon was encapsulated -- and given shape -- by Entenza's now-famous Case Study House program. In January 1945, months before the German surrender, he announced that it was time "to get down to cases . . . in terms of post war housing." That's the etymology of "case" in Case Study.

The plan was straightforward: When wartime restrictions on home-building were lifted, the magazine would solicit and underwrite designs "of practical assistance to the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live." The very notion of "house" was up for grabs, and Entenza insisted that contemporary ideas would change the home, which he described as the "environment that is responsible for shaping the largest part of our living and thinking."

Liberating architecture

This, surely, was a key modernist faith, one that has long since been decimated by the failure of modern architecture (and art) to transform mankind. Yet in its hopefulness and enterprise, there is much to admire and adopt. As anyone who has recently been to New Orleans -- or Pacoima -- can attest, the problems Arts & Architecture confronted are still very much in our midst, which gives rereading the magazine a modern urgency.

The Case Study Houses, of which 26 were built, emerged from an abiding concern with small homes for small urban lots. Nearly every issue of Arts & Architecture contains titles like "Winners Second Annual Small House Competition," "Small Contemporary House," "A Tract of Small Modern Houses," and "The Small House and the City Plot."

Entenza and his architect pals -- William Wurster, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig, Raphael Soriano, A. Quincy Jones -- shared an obsession with finding a way to build inexpensive yet liberating homes. In his April 1949 essay, "Consider the Family," Josef Van Der Kar summarized the problem. "The small house with its many amenities both aesthetic and practical," he wrote, "is too often, in actuality, a juxtaposition of toys and stumbling people. . . . For the average person the hiring of a modern architect and the building of a modern home is too often a snare and a delusion of the slick magazines. For them, the architect becomes a swami of space well beyond their practical reach."

Echoing through these words were the stomping feet of 16 million returning veterans marching out of the cities straight to Levittown. Suborned by Veterans Administration loans and the newly conceived mortgage interest deduction -- the neutron bombs that killed American cities -- the migration to suburbia had a price, which some call the Geography of Nowhere. Arts & Architecture was a prescient force aligned against this mass-produced culture of dingbats, flattop malls and thruways. As the country drifted into the deadening alikeness of the Truman-Eisenhower years, Entenza and his obscure magazine, with a circulation of no more than 10,000, fought to express the conviction that, for less than $10 per square foot, art and architecture could stir the soul.

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