Having written an architectural guide to LA myself, I know how much research and travel is required to do the job properly, and the challenge of making personal, but objective judgements on a diversity of buildings. So I tip my hat to the authors of this handsome pocket guide, and I wish I had had it when I first started exploring the legacy of modernism back East. “Coastal” is misleading; the guide ventures as far inland as Pittsburgh. Mid-century—that overworked term beloved of publishers—ranges from the mid 1930s, when the first tentative shoots of modernism sprouted in New England, to the mid 1970s when the movement fell out of fashion.
Many buildings of that era, including brutalism and the paper-thin confections of Edward Durrell Stone, have never recovered their appeal but the authors generously include them alongside the classic work of Louis Kahn, I.M Pei, Gordon Bunshaft, Eero Saarinen and other immortals. Their generosity verges on indulgence in Washington DC, where they find no fewer than 23 buildings of note—including such questionable examples as the Kennedy Center –“kitsch as kitsch can”, in the memorable phrase of Charles Eames—and the FBI building, an overpriced eyesore that is falling apart. However, I was astonished to discover that a late Neutra house of great quality can be seen less than a mile from where I lived in the 1970s.
That is the great strength of this guide: making discoveries and finding hidden treasures alongside the usual suspects. Paul Rudolph—from his early years in Sarasota to his mature work in New England—has 17 entries (more than any architect besides Marcel Breuer) and unfamiliar names crop up throughout. For anyone contemplating an expedition along the Atlantic littoral, this guide should help in your planning and be your constant companion.
Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide: East Coast USA. Text by Sam Lubell, photography by Darren Bradley. Phaidon, $35.
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.