No American architecture journal has captivated its readers—nor devoted itself to a specific agenda—quite like Los Angeles–based Arts & Architecture, which made the improvement of the modern house its mission during the postwar years. A popular magazine transformed by visionary editor John Entenza, it was for more than two decades the leading voice for innovation in residential design. Now, with the creation of artsandarchitecture.com, a sample of the journal's engaging content is online.
“I'd thought about putting it on the web a long time ago, but I only had it on microfilm,” says David Travers, who followed in Entenza's footsteps as editor from 1962 to 1967, when publication ceased. Travers, now 81, says the site finally came to life when he was provided the digital content by publisher Benedikt Taschen, who plans to issue a comprehensive book about Arts & Architecture in 2008.
The minimalist site includes a chatty essay by Travers in which he offers up personal impressions about the magazine's glory days, noting that “the dowdy offices at 3305 Wilshire became the center for Southern California architects with a common cause, whose modest, low-cost, modern, and remarkably efficient designs ... reinvented the single family dwelling.” The bulk of the site's material consists of snippets from issues published from 1945 to 1960. (Travers intends to add the later years once the scans become available.) But it's hard to fill up on the low-cal presentation, in which coverage of individual issues is limited to the contents page and a single project presented on one or two spreads. The covers are a delight to behold, however, both because of their artfulness and their retro graphic appeal.
And don't overlook the Case Study houses, ultimately what the magazine was best known for. Initiated by Entenza, who never studied architecture but was a passionate advocate for Modernism, the experimental program commissioned houses to redefine modern living. Nine architects—including Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, and Ralph Rapson—were invited to participate in the early years. Later a new generation, including Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig, joined the fold. Many of the houses were never constructed, but as a body of work their influence was far reaching.
Travers, who asserts that the avant garde in architecture has lost its way, wants to perpetuate that legacy. In creating the site, his hope is that a glimpse of the golden age in modern design will nudge young designers away from “architectural narcissism and back to a more rational approach to architecture.” It's worth a try.