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Craig Ellwood: The Architecture of California Modern [Hardcover]

N. Jackson

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Book Description

May 2002
He had no professional license, but was named one of the "three best architects of 1957" along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. He drove a red Ferrari with the license plate VROOM. His succession of wives brought him clients and influenced his designs. He relied on a staff of talented assistants to realize his ideas. If ever there was a product of Hollywood, it was architect Craig Ellwood (1922-1992). A fiction of his own making--even his name was an invention--Ellwood fashioned a career through charm, ambition, and a connoisseur's eye. By the 1950s Ellwood had a thriving practice that infused the Germanic rationalism of Mies van der Rohe with an informal breeziness that was all Southern California. A series of dramatic, open, and elegant houses made him a media star, and interest in him and his work has only increased in recent years. California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood is the first compre-hensive monograph on this prolific, influential, and complex character. Copiously illustrated with contemporary images--including many striking black and white photographs by Julius Shulman--plans, drawings, and specially commissioned new photography, California Modern traces Ellwood's fascinating personal history, provides a critical evaluation of his work, and establishes his importance as a pivotal shaper of the California style.

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About the Author

Neil Jackson is an architect and professor at the University of Leeds, in the UK.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very honest look at my father's work and life 19 Mar 2002
By Jeff Ellwood - Published on
This is an excellent and comprehensive book about Craig Ellwood's life, both professional and personal. It is thoroughly researched, well laid out and fascinating in its detail.
In sharp contrast to Rob Davis' review of this book, I have to say that from my point of view as Craig Ellwood's eldest son, Neil Jackson's book presents a very accurate and honest depiction of my father's work and life. There is no "prejudicial attitude" on Jackson's part. While it is true that the words of my father's former employees should be taken with a grain of salt (obviously!), I can attest that much of what they have to say is correct. Not all of it, but they are not totally off-base. Jackson leaves it up to reader to arrive at his or her own conclusions.
I also take issue with Davis' assertion that Jackson was "rankled" at Craig Ellwood's lack of a license. To the contrary, Jackson allows the irony of Ellwood's being an "architect" (with quotation marks around the term) to speak for itself: license or no license, his work was significant and important. Jackson's book is far more accurate than Meredith Clausen's "concise" hatchet job. Jackson actually took the time to get his facts straight. Clausen's "exposé" was riddled with gross errors and based on mis- (and dis-)information, with little discernible attempt to do the research to get it right. Her article was self-serving rubbish. It is clearly Clausen who wrote from a prejudiced attitude, not Jackson. Without an axe to grind or some personal agenda, Jackson provides an honest look at Craig Ellwood the person. The book is impressive for its extensive research, for the balanced presentation of Ellwood's life and body of work, for the depth of information provided and for the choice of illustrations included.
My only disappointment was with the cover photograph, which is not the most representative of Ellwood's work. This was the US publisher's choice, however. The UK publication has a much better, more visually pleasing cover.
For anyone who wants the most complete and balanced work on Craig Ellwood, this is the book. It is neither a whitewash nor a hatchet job. Rather, it is the best attempt so far to capture and record the spirit of an imperfect, perfectionist designer whose work influenced his associates and American architecture itself for decades.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Initial Comments 31 May 2007
By Mark P. Lawler - Published on
Excellent value for money,hard cover,gloss paper,good graphics and photos.

Text covers Caig Ellwoods full career and life.
19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Inspector Morse here.... 15 Feb 2002
By Robert J. Davis - Published on
This book is reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures executive that wrote of Fred Astaire "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."
The book is spottily written and makes too much of Ellwood's humble family background, that he changed his name, and is reported not to have been able to draw. It follows University of Washington Professor Meredith Clausen's exposé of a couple years back, which tread on the same subject matter, though more concisely.
Once much published in the architectural press, Ellwood had until recently been fairly well forgotten, which is a shame in that modern design would have been poorer without his undeniable contribution. The central precept of Neil Jackson's book seems to hinge on whether Ellwood was a designer that communicated via graphic means or an exponent and impresario of modernist design. That he wasn't licensed seems to rankle the writer (and the architectural profession) perhaps mostly in that his office continuously produced award-winning work from its inception to Ellwood's retirement.
A series of verbatim interviews with several of Ellwood's past associates' paints a generally unflattering picture of both Ellwood and in the process, the interviewees themselves. Much is made of Ellwood's high living style but in the end the reader learns very little of how he lived except for the foibles of his mid-life crisis. While the reader is regaled with carefully researched minutia like Ellwood's business telephone listings in the late 1940's, there are significant gaps in the story.
Missing entirely is any description of Ellwood's sense of humor, his visual sensibility, his methods of communication within his office or personal details like whether or not he lived in a house of his own design.
More than his associates and most of the architectural profession, Craig Ellwood knew how to create opportunities for good design and this is the critical distinction between those that rise to prominence and the 98+ percent of practitioners licensed (or unlicensed) that don't. In his pursuit of demeaning Craig's generally enviable career, the author has even stooped to suggest that publisher John Entenza's homosexuality might have been a factor in the consistent publication of Ellwood's work in Arts & Architecture magazine, as Craig was a strikingly handsome fellow.
A more logical explanation of the Jackson's seemingly prejudicial attitude may come from embarrassment at having devoted the predominately laudatory Chapters 5 & 6 in his previous book (The Modern Steel House. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York. 1996.) to Ellwood's work as a designer, only to later discover that the technical design of many of the projects could, well after the fact be attributed, in part or whole, to others.
Typographically this book is hard to read having been set in too light and too grey a typeface. It is poorly illustrated, the pictures being generally too small and lacking in descriptive quality.
This book is worth reading but should be taken with a grain of salt as the melancholy accounts of Ellwood's former employees, now claiming full responsibility for his genius, come more than 10 years after Ellwood's death.
Perhaps like Fred Astaire history will be kinder to Craig Ellwood.
5.0 out of 5 stars Books for college 10 Oct 2013
By Momma Em - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
These were purchased for my son in law for school. He loves the books. He is going for his masters.
0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Upgrade and a bow to superior knowledge! 20 April 2002
By Robert J. Davis - Published on
Based on Jeff Ellwood's assessment, I'm upgrading my rating for this book by a full star as blood is likely thicker than admiration.
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