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.
A Life Like Other People’s
Plucked from Untold Stories (published in 2005, a huge collection of Bennett’s critical and autobiographical writings), this loving but strictly unsentimental memoir centers on the British playwright’s modest parents. Bennett, of course, has an ear for telling (and humorous) dialogue: “Your Dad and me are going to start to mix. We’ve got some sherry in and we’ve got some peanuts too,” he writes, quoting from one of his mother’s letters to reveal a couple for whom the social ease implied by cocktail parties was unattainable. Walter and Lilian Bennett—he with his dreams of a “smallholding” on which he could raise chickens and plant potatoes, she with her genteel, slightly cracked collection of Staffordshire—emerge as vibrant, nuanced personalities, all the more distinct when set against the negative background of Lilian’s recurring bouts of depression, which mar the retirement the couple had long looked forward to. As in any good memoir, the context here is as vivid as the characters; this is as much a picture of a pocket of British life in a specific era—the failing shopkeepers and the matronly shop assistants (the “career girls”) of a post-mill and postwar northern city—as it is of a devoted husband and wife, who rub along as best they can.