about arts & architecture
Welcome to Arts & Architecture. In the case of some, maybe, Welcome back, Old-Timer. On this website you will find selected projects from issues of the magazine 1945 through 1967. The internet publication of A&A is made possible by Benedikt Taschen who reprinted 10 years of the magazine, complete issues from 1945 to 1954, perhaps someday to be followed by issues from 1955 to 1967, the final 12 years.
My first thought when approached about the project was that it was impossibly retro. Taschen had already done a physically immense reproduction of Arts & Architecture's Case Study House program (taschen.com). That seemed to me to be sufficient. After all, the magazine was best known, almost exclusively so, for this 20-year-long program sponsoring new ideas in residential design.
But A&A was more than that. Even the present is beyond comprehension for most of us, and it is more difficult, maybe impossible, to understand a time that is not our own, to feel the excitement of the 40s, 50s and 60s if you were not a part of them. The World War II years and the post-war period were an energetic mix of culture and politics, and A&A was at the leading edge in architecture, art, music—even in the larger issues of segregation in housing, in education and other manifestations of racial bias before they became codified as civil rights. The magazine was hopeful about life; it had a sense of mission.
John Entenza's moral seriousness—leavened by his wry humor—infused the magazine. In his Notes in Passing editorials, his support of our Soviet allies, his attacks on the prejudice behind the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, his life-long support of the UN, gave A&A social significance beyond architecture. (My editorials tended to be sermons, dealing with architectural sins and sinners.)
Polymath Peter Yates wrote with intellectual depth and fervor on anything from the music of Cage, Ives and Guston to Mayan art (February 1964) to the social issues which continue to afflict us today. He once wrote an epigraph for the time, for all time, "Let's begin with man, with respect, compassion and love for the individual—or we'll never get anywhere." Leaf through the issues of 1940s and 1950s—and I blush to say immodestly the 60s as well—the content was imaginative, new and exciting.
First and above all, however, Arts & Architecture acted like sunshine on West Coast architects who grew and flourished under its rays: Richard Neutra, R.M. Schindler, Harwell Harris, Gregory Ain, Charles Eames, Lloyd Wright, John Lautner, Ed Killingsworth, the carpenters in steel—Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig—and in the north Campbell & Wong, William Wurster. The list must end but seems endless. The dowdy offices at 3305 Wilshire became the center for Southern California architects with a common cause, whose modest, lowcost, modern and remarkably efficient designs laid the groundwork for the Case Study House program and reinvented the single family dwelling.
Although aware of it, the East Coast professional and trade press—Progressive Architecture, Architectural Record, Architectural Forum, the AIA Journal—had largely ignored the West Coast revolution in residential design. The "sing fam dwell" didn't interest them or their advertisers much. But the eastern magazines, just as we did, had exchange subscriptions with 30 or so architectural journals around the world and when they—particularly the European journals—began to pick up the CSH projects and then other projects designed by the program's architects and other local designers, the East Coast press could no longer ignore them. Publication in Arts & Architecture became a door to national and international renown for West Coast architects. Reyner Banham said A&A changed the itinerary of the Grand Tour pilgrimage for European architects and students: America replaced Italy and Los Angeles replaced Florence.
To step back to the beginning, California Arts & Architecture was formed in 1929 by a merger of Pacific Coast Architect, established 1911, and California Southland, established 1918. Architecturally it was devoted to eclectic residential design—Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean, Georgian, California amorphous. It preferred classic in larger projects, and now and then Art Deco (the Richfield Building, Bullocks Wilshire, both in Los Angeles) In 1930 it was a substantial magazine. Issues ran from 70 to 80 pages with lots of advertising. The editor was then Harris Allen, AIA, and there were familiar names among its contributors and advisors—Roland Coates, Sumner Spaulding, Ralph Flewelling, Wallace Neff. By 1933 the Great Depression had starved it down to as few as 30 pages and subsequently into bankruptcy where John Entenza found it in 1938. Modern had barely touched the magazine.
Enytenza's editorship, California Arts & Architecture changed from a review of "nostalgic historicism" presenting eclectic houses for the rich and famous to an avant garde magazine publishing low cost houses rich with social concern. He had an extraordinary eye for creativity, which was itself creative. In the January 1943 issue, the presentation of the Harris House by R.M. Schindler, which cost $3,000, was a wonderful harbinger of things to come.
The story goes that California was dropped inadvertently from the magazine's name by the printer. It did disappear from the cover of the September 1943 issue but reappeared the next month. My belief is that the missing California was an "accident" engineered by the wily advertising manager, Robert Cron, who must have believed that there would be advertising advantages if A&A went national. In any case, California was dropped permanently from the cover and masthead without comment in February, 1944.
There is some confusion and a bit of mythology about the Case Study House program. The magazine said in its CSH announcement in the January 1945 issue that it would be the client for the houses constructed in the program, and it never explicitly abandoned that public posture. In practice, however, John Entenza—thus the magazine—was the actual client in a financial sense only for his own house (CSH #9) on Chautauqua in the Pacific Palisades designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen and published in the July 1950 issue. Several early CSH projects went unbuilt because there were no clients and John Entenza either didn't have the money or didn't want to spend it. Banks didn't yet loan on flat-roofed modern houses. Somehow the myth arose that John was making a killing in real estate out of the program, which is ridiculous, perhaps originating from a disappointed architect. Early designs had to await the architect finding a client. This became the pattern. The architect would bring a client and a design and if deemed worthy, the project would be included in the program. Materials weren't donated as some have reported; rather manufacturers and suppliers would provide top of the line materials and equipment at bottom tier prices.
A&A's covers and layout were touched by Dada during the 1940s and 1950s—graphic designer Herbert Matter, had more in common with Kurt Schwitters than the double Ts in his name. But there was no Dada or Surrealism in its content. The avowed purpose was to present good, contemporary design to the magazine's largely lay audience and nudge its professional and architectural student subscribers into a truer path. The results were remarkable and A&A's readers, who held architecture and art close to their hearts, would curl up with a cup of coffee for an hour or so to read the latest issue of the magazine.
It was the policy of A&A to present projects without any accompanying critical analysis. The buildings were allowed to speak for themselves and any explanatory text was limited to a brief statement, usually based on a description of the program and the structure, supplied by the architect. The reasons behind the policy were simple enough and did not include fear of offending an advertiser or architect, as has been suggested from time to time. To be selected for presentation, a project had to be one of exceptional merit and interest. Not free of faults but the good qualities had to heavily outweigh the bad. Where the reverse was true, we did not publish the building. It was dismissed rather than criticized. There was one exception in May 1965 when I felt compelled to write critically of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art designed by the William Pereira office.
A&A continued to find and publish young architects in the 1960s. Frank Gehry (with then partner Greg Walsh) was first published in A&A under my watch and I believe my presentation of a Richard Meier beach house on Fire Island in January 1964 was his first publication. We also introduced Hans Hollein to America in 1963. But by 1960s—despite the popularity of the Case Study Houses and the magazine's influence on the design of the sing fam dwell—only three percent of houses, the bread and butter of the small office, were designed by architects. In residential design, developers had won the battle. I recall attending a housing conference given by a large tract developer, the Deane Brothers, where the moderator asked at one point if the Deanes ever used architects. The answer: "Never! Well, on the floor plan but never on the exterior. We know what the buyer wants." This prompted me to write (April 1966), "Defenders of the individual house as a phenomenon of architectural or social significance are increasingly hard to find. In the right hands, a profound study of our 20th-Century civilization could be written around the fall of the single family dwelling to its present shameful state as an ugly commercial product built of cheap and shoddy materials." The founding editor of Dwell magazine, Karrie Jacobs, was recently quoted as saying "our houses never seem big enough....[they] have nothing to do with necessity, not much to do with lifestyle." They are an investment and "the bigger the house, the better the investment." Einstein said America had the best means and the worst aims.
When I took over from John Entenza in 1962, the magazine had a paid circulation of some 8,500, fewer than 3,000 of them professional designers, fewer still registered architects. When I removed A&A from life support in September 1967, we had 12,500 paid subscribers (including 300 in the Soviet Union). This compared to between 40-50,000 registered architects each for P/A, Architectural Record, Architectural Forum and the AIA Journal. Little wonder that the advertising went to them. Andre Bloc, the late architect-editor of the highly profitable French journal l'Architecture d'Aujourdhui, was astonished that we struggled despite a circulation larger than his. But business and industry in Europe have a different approach to architecture and the arts than we do here in America. They support them; we exploit them. We conducted a study which showed that upwards of 20 people read each subscriber's copy of A&A, pushing the readership numbers up to a competitive level but to no effect with advertisers.
As Esther McCoy characterized A&A, "It was a shoestring operation, as avant garde magazines have always been in the U.S." (Case Study Houses 1945-1962). I would go further, it was a shoeless operation. In 1965, George Dudley, founding dean of the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Design and then UCLA chancellor Franklin Murphy tried without success to get the university's Board of Regents to adopt the magazine. Similarly, Martin Meyerson, dean of the College of Environmental Design at U.C. Berkeley, wanted A&A but when he was named chancellor of the university, his horizons grew and the idea was abandoned. He was replaced temporarily as dean by Charles Moore who was mute on the subject of acquiring A&A.
The struggle for each issue continued. Welcome and appreciated, but short-term, help came from the Victor Gruen partners. The Weyerhauser family foundation agreed to buy the magazine in 1967 but changed its mind when upon reflection it decided there would be insufficient return on the investment. There was much strife caused by this decision and the foundation closed its doors in California. A&A followed suit soon after.
An awakened Rip van Winkle—or more today—a defrosted cryogenicized modern movement architect from the era would be dumfounded by contemporary design. Architecture, which used to be serious but fun, is now serious but silly. Neo-ridiculous, someone said. Innovative straight line, geometrical, rational, less-is-more architecture has been replaced by novelty, by glib, zigzag, crumpled, broken, exploded and discontinuous designs, by "constructive alienation," by Bernard Tschumi. Gott im Himmelb(l)au! The avant garde in architecture has lost its way. There's an absence of social significance, of moral and ethical meaning and not just in housing. But architecture is resilient, always on the edge, always in transition and perhaps, just maybe, reprinting A&A will have a benign influence, nudging the young away from the architectural entertainment evident today and back to the proportion and civilized sensibilities of the A&A era. Bring A&A back with all its memories? Hmm....Well, here it is.
—David Travers, Santa Monica, CA