Los Angeles Modernism

Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz

September 2010 ATLANTIC


Architecture of the Sun 
Thomas S. Hines 

Hines—professor emeritus of history and architecture at UCLA and the author of influential, elegant books on the architects Daniel Burnham, Richard Neutra, and Irving Gill—has produced a summa of his life’s work. This gorgeous, hulking volume examines the interplay of regionalism and modernism in Los Angeles architecture from 1900 to 1970. Although Hines doesn’t ignore the public buildings that in most places would constitute an architect’s claim to greatness (see A. C. Martin’s crisp, shimmering Department of Water and Power building), he perforce focuses on domestic architecture: indisputably, the region has the greatest collection of modernist houses in the country, marked by a permeability of outdoor and indoor space. Here we read and see—this is the most discerningly curated collection of SoCal modernist architectural photography ever published—how the region’s great architects molded the understated, clean International Style to the climate and good life of Los Angeles. The result was a kicky, often family-oriented glamour—almost a contradiction in terms; this inherent tension is ultimately what makes these houses so beguiling. The book lacks the analytical focus and intellectual verve of such classics as Peter Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Esther McCoy’s Five California Architects, Robert Winter’s The California Bungalow, and Hines’s own books on Neutra and Gill, but it is the most comprehensive and seasoned—and beautiful—work on Los Angeles modernism yet produced.

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