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The Complete Arts & Architecture 1945 - 1954

Welcome to Arts & Architecture. In the case of some, maybe, welcome back. It’s a wonderful thing that TASCHEN is doing—reprinting first Domus magazine and now, in two installments, Arts & Architecture. My first thought when approached was that the project was impossibly retro. TASCHEN had already done a physically immense reproduction of Arts & Architecture’s Case Study House Program. That seemed to me to be sufficient. After all, the magazine was best known, almost exclusively so, for this 20-year-long program sponsoring new ideas in residential design.

But A&A was more than that. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to understand a time that is not your own, to feel the excitement of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s if you were not a part of them. The World War II years and the post-war period in the United States were an energetic mix of culture and politics, and A&A was at the leading edge in architecture, art, music—even in the larger issues of segregation in housing and education and other manifestations of racial bias, before they became codified as civil rights.

Arts & Architecture acted like sunshine on West Coast architects, who grew and flourished under its rays

The magazine was hopeful about life; it had a sense of mission. Editor John Entenza’s moral seriousness—leavened by his wry humor—infused the magazine. In his “Notes in Passing” editorials, his support of our Soviet allies, his attacks on the prejudice behind the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, his life-long support of the UN, gave A&A social significance beyond architecture. (My editorials tended to be sermons, dealing with architectural sins and sinners.) Polymath Peter Yates wrote with intellectual depth and fervor on anything from the music of Cage, Ives and Guston to Mayan art to the social issues which continue to afflict us today. He once wrote an epigraph for the time, for all time,“Let’s begin with man, with respect, compassion and love for the individual, or we’ll never get anywhere.” Leaf through the issues of 1940s and 1950s and, I blush to say, the 1960s; the content was imaginative, new and exciting.

First and above all, however, Arts & Architecture acted like sunshine on West Coast architects, who grew and flourished under its rays: Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler, Harwell Harris, Gregory Ain, Charles Eames, Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Ed Killingsworth, the carpenters in steel—Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig—and in the north Campbell & Wong, William Wurster. The list must end but seems endless. The magazine’s Los Angeles headquarters at 3305 Wilshire Boulevard became the center for Southern California architects with a common cause, whose modest, low-cost, modern and remarkably efficient designs laid the foundation of the Case Study House program and reinvented the single family dwelling. Although aware of it, the East Coast professional and trade press—Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architectural Forum, AIA Journal, House & Garden—had largely ignored the West Coast revolution in residential design until the 1950s. The “sing fam dwell” didn’t interest them or their advertisers much. But the eastern magazines, just as we did, had exchange subscriptions with 30 or so architectural journals around the world and when they—particularly the European journals— began to pick up the CSH projects and then other projects designed by the program’s architects and other local designers, the East Coast press could no longer treat them as an inconsiderable regional anomaly. Publication in Arts & Architecture became a door to national and international renown for West Coast architects. Reyner Banham said A&A changed the itinerary of the Grand Tour pilgrimage for European architects and students: America replaced Italy and Los Angeles was its Florence. To step back to the beginning, California Arts & Architecture was formed in 1929 by a merger of Pacific Coast Architect, established 1911, and California Southland, established 1918. Architecturally it was devoted to eclectic residential design—Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean, Georgian, California amorphous. It preferred classic style in larger projects, and now and then Art Deco (such as the Richfield Building and Bullocks Wilshire, both in Los Angeles). In 1930 it was a substantial magazine. Issues ran from 70 to 80 pages with lots of advertising. The editor was then Harris Allen, AIA, and there were familiar names among its contributors and advisors—Roland Coates, Sumner Spaulding, Ralph Flewelling,Wallace Neff. By 1933 the Great Depression had starved it down to 30 pages and subsequently into bankruptcy, where John Entenza found it in 1938.Modern had yet to touch the magazine.

Under Entenza’s editorship, California Arts & Architecture changed from a review of “nostalgic historicism” present- ing eclectic houses for the rich and famous to an avantgarde magazine publishing low cost houses rich with social concern. Entenza had an extraordinary eye for creativity which was itself creative. In the January 1943 issue, the presentation of the Harris House by R.M. Schindler, which cost $ 3,000, was a wonderful harbinger of things to come.

Publication in Arts & Architecture became a door to national and international renown for West Coast architects

There is some confusion and a bit of mythology about the Case Study House Program. The magazine said in its CSH announcement in the January 1945 issue that it would be the client for the houses constructed in the program, and it never explicitly abandoned that public posture. In practice, however, John Entenza—thus the magazine—was the actual client in a financial sense only for his own house (CSH #9) on Chautauqua in the Pacific Palisades designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen and published in the July 1950 issue. Several early CSH projects went unbuilt because there were no clients and John Entenza either didn’t have the money or didn’t want to spend it. Banks didn’t yet loan on flat-roofed modern houses. Somehow the myth arose that John was making a killing in real estate out of the program, which is ridiculous, perhaps originating from a disappointed architect. Early designs had to await the architect finding a client. This became the pattern. The architect would bring a client and a design and, if deemed worthy, the project would be included in the program. Materials weren’t donated as some have reported; rather manufacturers and suppliers would provide top of the line materials and equipment at bottom tier prices.

In the same economic vein, the magazine did not pay for its photographs. The photographers—Marvin Rand, Balthazar Korab, Ezra Stoller, Morley Baer and the legions of others—were paid by the architects who were submitting their work for publication. Even Julius Shulman and one or two others listed from time to time on the masthead were not paid staff members. It wasn’t parsimony so much as frugality.

Not much more need be written about the Case Study House Program of Arts & Architecture. It has been documented by Esther McCoy wonderfully in Modern California Houses: Case Study Houses, 1945–1962 (Reinhold, 1962; reissued as Case Study Houses 1945–1962 by Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977) and fully and beautifully in recent books from TASCHEN (with magnificent color photographs by Julius Shulman that A&A couldn’t afford to print) and M.I.T. Press.

A&A’s covers and layout were touched by Dada during the 1940s and 1950s—graphic designer Herbert Matter had more in common with Kurt Schwitters than the double t’s in his name. But there was no Dada or Surrealism in its content. The avowed purpose was to present good, contemporary design to the magazine’s largely lay audience and nudge its professional and architectural student subscribers into a truer path. The results were remarkable and A&A’s readers, who held architecture and art close to their hearts, would curl up with a cup of hot chocolate for an hour or so to read the latest issue of the magazine.

It was the policy of A&A to present projects without any accompanying critical analysis. The buildings were allowed to speak for themselves and any explanatory text was limited to a brief statement, usually based on a description of the program and the structure supplied by the architect. The reasons behind the policy were simple enough and did not include fear of offending an advertiser or architect, as has been suggested from time to time. To be selected for presentation, a project had to be one of exceptional merit and interest. Not free of faults, but the good qualities had to heavily outweigh any bad ones. Where the reverse was true, we did not publish the building. It was dismissed rather than criticized.