But the real strength of this exhibition is in suggesting a slightly different explanation for May's wild success and wide influence: his ability to take a handful of architectural threads -- from the most romantic historicism to the most forward-looking modernism -- and weave them masterfully together in successive variations of the ranch house template.
The exhibition underlines the diversity of the architects who inspired May, who died in 1989, by hanging designs by George Washington Smith, Myron Hunt, Irving Gill, Rudolph Schindler and many others around the perimeter of the galleries. (If May's ranch houses were "modern without looking it," Schindler's own house on King's Road, the show suggests, was the opposite: a stealth ranch house prototype cloaked in modernist garb.)
Surprisingly absent -- probably because UCSB doesn't own his archive -- is architect William Wurster, who worked mostly in Northern California and produced an especially appealing and plain-spoken modernism.
May's own designs are meanwhile grouped in the center of the galleries, many of them mounted on what the curators call "sheds": small gabled displays where plans, renderings and photographs are laid out on burlap under glass. The show, designed by Rollin Fortier and Amy McFarland, is on the rustic side, and it suffers from a problem typical of architecture exhibitions, which is that you don't get much of a spatial sense of what it's like to walk through, let alone live in, the houses on view.