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Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary Hardcover – September 30, 2008
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"...architect and writer Anthony Denzer talks about how the mid-century legend was one of the first to meld low-slung and low-income housing into one singular, single-family housing concept." ~Angeleno Interiors
From the Inside Flap
Gregory Ain (1908-88) argued that "architecture is a social art" that should serve the "common people," and he demonstrated that belief as one of America's most prominent modern architects in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Ain helped pioneer several design strategies for houses and housing patterns - such as the open kitchen and the greenbelt - that would become part of the American vernacular. Until now, there had not been a comprehensive study of his career, and he had been, to some extent, forgotten. This book, the product of six years of research, brings new light to Ain's works and ideas, showing that many of his critical contributions remain as relevant and potent as ever. The book also reveals that Ain's architectural priorities were tied to left-wing politics: many of his clients were Communist Party members, and Ain attended meetings himself. In short, there is an extensive unreported history of a Communist subculture in architecture in Los Angeles, which was organized around Ain. The `Red Scare' of the 1950s effectively ended this underground movement, and Ain pursued a second career in academia. According to Thomas S. Hines, "In Denzer's skillful hands, Gregory Ain finally has gotten his due."
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Above all, I am thrilled that it exists. I have long admired the work of Ain, and wished to know more about the man and his work. So, kudos to the author!
That said, this is an incredibly frustrating book. Sadly, it's frustrating for the same reason that so many books on architecture/architects are.
Plans! Where are the plans? HOW is it possible for any author to write a monograph on architect X, and not include plans, or reproduce them so small as to be illegible? HOW is this possible?
This book does include plans, but I do not exaggerate when I state that most are the size of postage stamps, and stuck in the margins. Hello? Hello?
WHAT was the author thinking?
WHAT was the editor thinking?
WHAT was the graphic designer thinking?
This is particularly egregious as the author states (pages 230,231) that Ain himself lambasted writers for focusing on IMAGES while neglecting the PLANS which he felt were all important. Yet the author is guilty of this practice, too! Incredible! Didn't he read his own words?
(Regarding the famous Dunsmuir Flats, the author has but one plan. While larger than most, it's a terrible plan! I had to go online to find a decent one.)
Another frustrating issue, and one also sadly typical, is that the reader gets no clear idea of any single project. The text meanders from one building to the next with no visual cue between projects. While reading you have to continually stop and think: Is this still the X House, or the Y House?
Besides the laughably minute plans, there are but a few images of any building. I longed, for example, to really understand the famous Edwards house, Ain's "first significant building". Even though the house has been beautifully restored, and is presumably available for images, there is but one exterior image (and attendant postage-stamp plan). I had to go online, again, to find interior archival images.
You know, if I can't understand a building, how can I ever appreciate its creator?
I think Congress should pass a new law. All architectural monographs need to include plans for every building discussed. The plans need to be LARGE. Each building should have its own distinct section, and with enough text and images so as to make the structure clear. Violation of these conditions should, IMO, result in some severe penalty, like being forced to spend the rest of eternity in a suburban McMansion. With no satellite TV.
Well, ranting aside, I still recommend this book if you are interested in Ain, and early 20th century modernism. It's a good book and worth the price. However it could so easily have been a great book.
As usual with books that try to provide both lengthy, serious scholarship and a beautiful layout, the images suffer. Plans and photos are fewer and smaller than they should be. Nevertheless, the selections are relevant and include rarely published housing studies and plans. An excellent companion book with complementary illustrations would be Esther McCoy's "The Second Generation," a great book in its own right.
The author's description of the architectural and social biases of the federal government and the banking industry with regard to post-war housing are highlights and bring greater clarity to the radical nature, and intellectual rigor, of Ain's attempts to redefine quality affordable housing. The quality of the writing and scholarship (no fashionable theorizing here about "surface" or Analog End Times) make this a must-have volume for anyone interested in learning more about the trials and tribulations of developing modern homes in the US and why post-war suburbs look the way they do.