Showing posts with label los angeles architecture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label los angeles architecture. Show all posts

Thursday, June 18, 2015


It pains me more than I can say but I might be moving out of LA in 6 months or so. It especially hurts because I love this city like no other. It's a city that in its modern incarnation was built by people like me, for people like me. Here you can make a living doing outrageous things that you'd be tarred and feathered for anywhere else. I exaggerate, of course, but its wonderful to live in a place that invites that. 

Most of all I'll miss my friends. Some are in the Warners group caricature (above) that Bruce did. They're generous, enthusiastic, exciting people who I care about immensely. This city is a magnet for talented people from all over the world, and its amazing how wonderful many of them turn out to be. 

On top of that, I love the city itself. With all its urban problems there's still a sense in which everything is new and being tried for the first time. Even now there's still what Bob Clampett called a "Gold Rush" feeling in the air.

I'll miss the audacity that abounds here. Readers who live here will know what I mean when I say that I'll miss the Angelyne billboards. San Francisco used to be home to a beloved eccentric who called himself "The Emperor of San Francisco." Everyone in the city loved the guy and when he turned up at official ceremonies his visit was regarded as bringing good luck. That's what Angelyne used to be for LA.

I'll also miss the ubiquitous Cliff May-type ranch houses. I won't see many of those where I'm going. Cheerful, playful houses like this (above) only make sense in a fun place like LA. 

Where am I going? [Sigh!] the farm belt. I certainly admire the people there and if I'm lucky they might regard me as a tolerable oddity...but I don't think I'll ever be accepted as a member of the pack.

Good old L.A.! How many people realize how great you are?

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Living in California has convinced me that the most interesting parts of a modern house are the roof and the patio. Get the roof right and the design of the home under it just follows naturally...or at least it seems that way when the architect is Cliff May.

May was known as the inventor of the modern ranch house. It's a style that combines cowboy ranch hand and Wright-style modernism with traditional Japanese, Mexican and Mediterranean styles. May was largely self-taught so he disregarded orthodoxy and just combined elements he liked.

Here's (above) a small Cliff May courtyard. He could have paved it with grass or gravel but he gave it a smooth, hard, light-colored surface similar to the one inside the house. That makes the courtyard an extension of the living room, following Frank Lloyd Wright's dictum: "bring the outside in and the inside out."

 Wow! A sort of indoor picnic table (above)! I like to spread out when I work so this would make a perfect working space for me, and with the substitution of chairs for the benches, it's also a perfect dining table.

BTW, how do you like the dynamic sweep of this room? It's so cheerful, so optimistic, so American in the best sense of the word.

May wrestled with modernism and made it cozy. I can't stand the depressing factory-style modernism that we associate with Bauhaus. This (above) is modernism done right.

May was a developer as well as an architect and he tried to bring low cost modernism within the reach of the common working man. For that he had to rely on prefab parts but that proved to be difficult because, as a pioneer, he was the only buyer and couldn't benefit adequately from economies of scale. Not only that but different suppliers worked to different standards. Some nearly went broke and May had to start a loan business to keep them afloat. The projects put grey hairs on May and were reportedly "not fun."

May's reward for his labors was Mandalay, a home he designed for himself near his favorite city, Los Angeles. The house was mostly demolished by a new owner but bits of the old structure remain. Here's (above) a picture of May's interior court yard which contains some of his books.

Nifty, eh? Why isn't May better known?

BTW: A friend expressed no interest in May and said he didn't see what was so special about him. I was astonished. For his sake I'll put up a couple of examples (below) of how other lesser architects handled the modern ranch idea.

Here's (above) one example: it's not horrible but it's modern only to cash in on a trend. There's no philosophy here, no awareness of how a space can be enclosed in an exciting and stimulating way.

 Here's (above) squares with built-in awnings (Yawn!). Once again, it's modern just to cash in on a trend. This architect was told that large windows and plain, flat walls are the latest thing so that's what he did. Cliff May, on the other hand, started with a question: "How can I excite the person who lives here? How can I challenge him to be a better man?

Okay, 'nuff said.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Of course Los Angeles should retain its deco architecture, it's craftsman houses, it's Googie's restaurants and hot-dog stands shaped like cartoon characters, nobody disputes that. But what about the rest? What should be the norm? What building style reflects the real soul of the city? That's easy...traditional Mexican style!

Well we are in the Southwest, after all. And it's about time that we made a radical re-assessment of Mexican style and how it compares to other styles. Mexican architectute isn't just one more quaint variation of the New World Spanish style, it's the very best variation. It's easily the most beautiful style anywhere in the Americas. It's probably more beautiful than what you'd find in Spain. It's world class, fully comparable to middle-European and Japanese styles.
It certainly is full of fun and color. Maybe that's because it's a synthesis of Spanish and native indian styles. Aztecs used to love those colorfull, complex jigsaw puzzle shapes and every indian seems to have inherited a taste for bright-colored handicrafts. Other South American cultures are colorfull too. I'm thinking of the Panamanian and Peruvian indians. The difference is that they colored only their textiles. Mexicans colored almost everything.

I know what you're thinking, what about the Haitians (not portrayed in pictures here)? They REALLY color everything! But they don't have the Mexicans' taste. Sorry. Haiti overdoes it.

These pillars are the natural, uncarved forms taken by a palm tree that grows in Mexico. Are the tendrils part of the palm or are they the kind of parasitic wooden vine that strangles trees? I don't know, but they sure are pretty. Try not to look at the ugly, modernist wall behind the pillars. I guess even Mexico has its share of bad architects.

Los Angeles isn't that far from Mexico. What could be more natural than a Mexican influence on what we do here? Why are we impoting East Coast and Bauhaus styles when one of the world's most pleasing styles exists right in our own backyard?
The red brick house above is from England. It's the house that was just in the news for being trashed by English MySpace readers. It's pretty ugly, isn't it? Why does modern England insist on building so many ugly houses? The amazing thing is that they're right next to France where tourists flock to see the traditional architecture. I guess the English are just too proud to be influenced by foreigners. And so are we. We in the Southwest U.S. are just too proud to be influenced by the beauty next door.