Few architects write with such intelligence, brio, and irreverence as Craig Hodgetts, and this collection is a joy to read. It includes prescient polemics on the endangered environment—from 50 years back; succinct tributes to Jim Stirling and other mentors; the limitations of digital technology; and a couple of short plays. Several of the essays are being published here for the first time, notably a detailed analysis of the Eames’s DCW chair and a critical appreciation of John Lautner. Craig was an industrial designer working for General Motors before practicing and teaching architecture, and he is as much at home with cars as with buildings. The two interests converge in a funny piece on Le Corbusier’s ill-fated attempt to design a viable vehicle.

I’ll resist the temptation to quote at length, but a few excerpts may provide a flavor of this compellingly readable anthology. In 1978 he wrote: “But now it’s been twenty years since Rauschenberg glued a goat to an automobile tire, and architects still talk about modules and structure and hierarchy just as they did before silicon and epoxy and Elsie the Cow; and even the technically adventurous are just now getting around to pasting glass together…So houses like the one Frank Gehry has built for himself are usually the work of retired seamen, or widows with endless ruminations, or acid-generation carpenters…Almost never architects.”

Or again, “Lautner’s language simply defies the niceties of architectural expression in favor of a raw, adventurous reality that redefines itself with every discovery…In Lautner’s best work, it is not only the eye of the designer and the mind of the engineer but the imagination of a storyteller at play.”

Hodgetts describes the palazzo he built for Larry Gagosian in Venice Beach, his designs for an unrealized movie of Ernest Callenbach’s novel, Ecotopia, and the potential of the OCTA-BOT node for space frames. On every topic, he has something sharp to say.

Swimming to Suburbia and Other Essays. Craig Hodgetts; edited by Todd Gannon. (Oro Editions, $24.95)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.

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