Jon Christensen writes: A very warm weekend in early March, even near the beach, two beautiful new books on architecture in Los Angeles, and the rise of two big-box homes on our block have left me in a melancholy mood.
Will we look back on late 20th century LA--often thought of as the worst of times, with the city's sprawling conquest of nature--as paradoxically the best of times, when a style of architecture briefly prevailed that invited the outside in, and the inside out? When a congenial climate enabled a modern style that opened up homes to nature through sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors and floors that flowed seamlessly from the living room to the patio, while the garden flowed back indoors too?
This style is lovingly documented in Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams, which celebrates the work of architects Whitney Smith and Wayne Williams, and Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia, which celebrates the LA neighborhood shaped by Smith and Williams, along with architect A. Quincy Jones. They were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's dictum: "We have no longer an outside and an inside as two separate things. Now the
outside may come inside, and the inside may and does go outside."
That's all over, I'm afraid. The new big-box homes on my block, like so many others around LA, have been built lot line to lot line. No outdoors survives on these properties.
California's climate and landscape made a modern "outside in" architecture and lifestyle possible. These new homes are designed for the climate coming our way. Unwittingly, to be sure, because maximizing square footage seems to be the main motive. But these are bunkers against a hotter, drier, harsher LA, designed to shelter in and keep the outside out.
Los Angeles is going to get hotter over the next several decades no matter what we do to try to stop climate change, says UCLA climate scientist Alex Hall, who has brought global climate models down to the neighborhood scale in LA. Increasing temperatures are "baked in," as they say, because of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases already in the air.
The farther from the ocean, the hotter it's going to get, Hall's model predicts. Of course. We all know that. It's already true. But even near the beach, temperatures are rising.
June gloom may become a thing of the past. Our urban heat island--concrete and asphalt retain heat and remain warmer even at night--has been steadily pushing fog and clouds higher into the sky over the past 67 years, according to a study in Geophysical Research Letters.
So precisely during the time when "outside in" architecture flourished and defined the modern Southern California lifestyle, the building boom of the post-war era helped create the conditions that could make it unpleasant if not untenable in the future.
Add this to the ironies of our postmodern predicament.
At least we'll have these pretty picture books to remind us of the way things used to be when LA was modern.
Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia. By Cory Buckner. (Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2015. 177 pp. 200 photos and illustrations. $35 paper)
Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams. Edited by Jocelyn Gibbs. (Los Angeles: Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara in association with Getty Publications, 2014. 192 pp. 221 photos and illustrations. $49.95 hardcover)