I wrote a modest monograph on Steven Ehrlich in 2002 and I’ve watched the practice evolve into the partnership of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney, designing large-scale corporate, cultural and institutional buildings with growing assurance. In this latest chapter of their creative story, the selection is limited to fifteen recently completed houses for which Steven Ehrlich and/or Takashi Yanai were the design principals. A Dynamic Serenity, the title I chose for the earlier volume, would still be an apt description of their residential work, for the practice remains true to its principles. The earthiness of the desert vernacular (which Ehrlich experienced as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) and the tranquility of Japanese architecture are present in almost every one of these houses. The rigor and simplicity of their geometry, the response to site, and the dissolving of boundaries between indoors and out have been there from the start.

What distinguishes most of these houses from their predecessors is an amplitude of scale, a refinement of finishes and details, and a spatial drama that embraces sweeping views or focuses on a walled courtyard, a single tree and a patch of sky. A tiny infill for a college professor in Venice has the same DNA as an expansive family house for two physicians in Houston or an adventure-loving couple in the mountains above the Coachella Valley. Ehrlich has a long record of working with artists and the most exciting project in the collection is the Spectral Bridge House, a collaboration with artist Johannes Girardoni that employs the latest interactive technologies to transform three rotated cubes into an immersive experience of color and light. Grand but unpretentious, sober yet exhilarating, these houses must lift the spirits of their fortunate owners and provoke envy among the readers of this elegant volume.

Ehrlich Yanai: Outside-In New California Modernism. Introduction by Zahid Sardar, text by Nancy Griffin. (The Monacelli Press, $60)

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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