SoCal Modernism

Via Verde housing project, South Bronx

In a post on Michael Kimmelman’s first architecture review in the New York Times, the New York Observer opined that the architects of the housing project in the South Bronx that Kimmelman referred to are “notable but far from famous architects.” Nicholas Grimshaw not famous? Well, perhaps not in New York City. Grimshaw—Sir Nicholas—has built in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia as well as his native Britain. He is part of a generation that includes Michael Hopkins, Ian Ritchie, Eva Jiřičná, Richard Horden, and the late Jan Kaplický who followed in the footsteps of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster (Jiřičná worked for Rogers; Ritchie, Horden, and Kaplický worked for Foster; Hopkins was a partner of Foster) in the British movement that is called, not altogether accurately, high tech. Now the movement is coming to the U.S., where Rogers, Foster, Hopkins, and Grimshaw are increasingly active. It is something of a homecoming, for British high tech is in no small part inspired by the early Southern California modernism of architects such as Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Raphael Soriano, and Pierre Koenig. Reyner Banham once referred to its chief characteristic, “skinny details,” which also showed up in the early work of Saarinen and Rudolph. But when American architects went in the “heavy detail” direction, British architects picked up the ball. Whoever thought that the Brits would be showing Yanks how to build?

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