“Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future 1940-1990” charts the astonishingly rapid and dense development of Los Angeles in the second half of the last century. These two images capture the range of possibilities in just one of the subjects—housing and suburban development--included in this ambitious and engrossing exhibition, first seen at the Getty in Los Angeles. Julius Shulman’s photograph of the Case Study House No. 22 seems to pluck Pierre Koenig’s home out of its urban context, isolating it above and apart from the city, which is seen like an abstract painting in the background. Many of Shulman’s beloved photographs of L.A. architectural icons do the same thing, decontextualizing buildings from their surroundings, so that they relate only to the landscape, or occasionally to the people inside or near them. This photograph captures the essential suburban fantasy, to be both in an apart from the city, close enough but at a safe distance from the urban madness. The reality for most people, including those lucky enough to live in the relatively well-planned and architecturally interesting Corbin Palms development, was quite different. Houses are tightly packed, with views confined to inward space, including the backyard. Even this small patch of the American suburban dream would prove an expendable luxury as a new “corporate suburbs” were developed on a mass scale, entirely standardized, and laid out over the land with little or no regard to the original topography. A view of the world was still possible, just not through the window. For a vista, you turned on the increasingly wide-screened television. Art review: ‘Overdrive’ at the National Building Museum
At first glance, this plot plan for the Corbin Palms neighborhood looks like just another crowded, shoulder-to-shoulder suburban development in Los Angeles. The houses are tightly packed, and text in the side margin is about standardizing the urban design, from the width of sidewalks to the height of fences. But Corbin Palms belongs to what scholar Becky Nicolaides calls the age of the “sit-com suburb,” when individual design and personal taste still played a role in the design and evolution of the urban landscape. Corbin Palms was also an oasis of architectural taste, with houses that are now highly prized as classic examples of mid-century modern design. The sit-com suburb, immortalized on television as a safe, familiar backdrop for anodyne family dramas and comedy, would give way in the 1960s and 70s to a new kind of development, the “corporate suburb,” developed on a vast scale, with far more standardization, and a move toward a more interior-oriented lifestyle. “Developers discouraged alterations to home exteriors through mind-numbing lists of covenants, conditions, and restrictions… enforced by homeowners associations,” writes Nicolaides of the new approach to mass development. (Courtesy The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles / Courtesy Palmer & Krisel and National Building Museum)
This most famous image of one of the most famous houses in history—the Case Study House No. 22—captures a utopian ideal in urban design. In the flush years after the Second World War, when new roads were connecting a newly mobile and affluent middle class with booming suburban neighborhoods, there was hope that ordinary people might have access to the best architectural thinking and design. The Case Study House program invited prominent modern architects to create modest, efficient customs homes that could serve as the basis for mass housing development. The Case Study House #22 was designed by Pierre Koenig, and seen here in an image by the legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman. It captures Los Angeles at night, a beautiful lattice work of horizontal streets and twinkling lights, beneath a transparent living room where elegant woman seem to hover above the hustle and bustle of the city. Like the other Case Study Houses that survive from this noble endeavor, this house is now anything but a standardized model home. It is an architectural and artistic object, highly prized, and beyond reach to anyone of ordinary means. (Copyright J. Paul Getty Trust./National Building Museum.)
SOURCE: Philip Kennicott.