Years ago while visiting a friend in L.A. I was driving up Laurel Canyon and decided for some
reason to hang a left on one of the myriad winding roads and see how far up the mountain I could get. The tightly packed homes all seemed to display a combination of affluence due to location and a certain worn around the edges dilapidation I imagined was from the owners inability to afford both their inflated property taxes and a minimum amount of home maintenance. As I wound higher up the hill, the lots grew larger, the worn edges crisper, the views more expansive. Arriving at last at the headwaters of this asphalt tributary, satisfied that I had gone as high as you can go above Sunset without abandoning my car, I sat on the hood for awhile with my back against the windshield and soaked in the views and late afternoon sun.
Back in my rig and turning to descend, a small driveway leading a bit higher caught my eye. Not wanting to return to base camp without an actual summit, I turned up and drove the remaining fifty yards to the top of the ridge. Built on the apex of this summit was a home that changed forever my idea of what a house was. I didn’t know it at the time but it was a house designed by Richard Neutra. It was vacant and in pretty bad shape, the landscaping obviously once grand but now wild and overgrown with native vine and brush. Observing the expanses of glass, the classic Neutra spider leg beams, the thoughtful siting of the home to take full advantage of the 360 degree views of the Pacific and surrounding hills, my reaction was as if I had stumbled on a Mayan ruin and was the first to see it in a millenium. From that moment I realized that what had previously to me been only a place to live could be much much more. What had been just a place with four walls to put my feet up after the day could be something that was spiritually uplifting. Something that could open your mind, to art, to history, to philosophy, to beauty. I understood on that day what good architecture was meant to convey.
Architecture and Morality spells out much more eloquently than I that as green design has become more and more fashionable recently it is easy to forget that it has been around for awhile. As in most creative endeavors, there isn’t much that is beautiful or functional in modern design that truly is original but rather a new twist on old ideas.
Although it wasn’t called green at the time, good regional mid-century architecture is inherently green in that site location, climate, local cultural and historical traditions, all played a role. In my area of the country, northwest modernism of the mid twentieth century was influenced heavily by local Native American long house design with use of steep pitched post and beam construction, cedar and stone, as well as the symmetry and simplicity of Japanese design brought by early twentieth century immigrants. My home, pictured at the top of this blog, is more of the desert style and although beautiful to me, is not really a good example of regional modern and thus not particularly green as the flat roof and white stucco exterior require much maintenance in our climate and the floor to ceiling westerly facing windows bleed heat in the winter and cook you on summer afternoons. I do love the place though.
Green is and always has been simply letting the site and local conditions speak to you and then having the lack of hubris necessary to listen carefully and act.
Somewhere around 1970, the wheels fell off of the modern aesthetic and this sort of thing was the result. If perception is reality according to the post-modern credo, then if you think you look good you do. I’m not quite sold but you be the judge.
I personally dread our return via Congressional time tunnel to 1970’s America. I hardly got laid at all in the 70’s despite the snappy threads. It may have had something to do with my 6′ 3″ 140 lb. physique and zit covered brace face. I’m fat now and my skin has cleared up so maybe…
I wonder if the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition comes in a rag top.
I want to be Incredible!