How Architectural Photographer Marvin Rand Defined Mid-Century California

Originally published by Another Mag: April 16, 2018
by Alexander Hawkins
All images courtesy of the Marvin Rand Estate

Craig Ellwood, Palevsky House, Palm Springs, 1971

Craig Ellwood, Palevsky House, Palm Springs, 1971

The story of California Modernism is often dominated by a select few names. But without Marvin Rand, a Los Angeles native who captured California’s architectural history over five decades, the story as we know it could be quite different. Known for his impeccable and original eye, his 2009 obituary in the LA Times read: “Although he operated in the shadow of his more famous rival, the noted architectural photographer Julius Shulman, Rand was an artist with the camera, admired for his grasp of the interplay among form, line and light in the structures he caught on film.”

A new book, California Captured, makes a case for his significant role in defining the mid-century California style. As one of a handful of photographers who set the standards for architectural photography in America, Rand was eventually made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects. Including both private homes and commercial buildings, California Captured is a survey of Modernist landmarks and lesser-known buildings as seen through his singular lens. 

Frank Gehry, Steeves Residence, Los Angeles, 1963

Frank Gehry, Steeves Residence, Los Angeles, 1963

When Rand started out in the 50s, architects were beginning to understand the power of photography as a tool for promoting their work. Welton Beckett, Craig Ellwood and Edward Killingsworth were just a few of those who relied on the photographer to use his talent for graphic composition to create definitive portraits of their buildings. His client list also included Charles and Ray Eames, Louis I. Kahn and Frank Gehry – all of whom he kept pace with. 

Rand’s attention to form earned him the respect of both architects and magazine editors. When Architectural Review published his photograph of Craig Ellwood’s Smith House, completed in 1959, the accompanying text noted: “The chances are that another viewpoint, or another photograph, taken from the flanking sun deck, will reveal the house in a completely different light, but we must still remain grateful to Marvin Rand for having taken just one photograph that reveals an aspect of architecture with such clarity.”

The son of a furniture maker and a clothing designer, he served as an aerial photographer during World War II. But it wasn’t until after the war, when he enrolled at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and met design historian Esther McCoy, that Rand found his niche in architectural photography. His archive of some 20,000 images is a visual index of Modernist masterworks, built by architects whose careers he helped launch and whose legacies he helped establish. 

Richard Dorman & Associates, Vault Roof House, Sherman Oaks, 1959

Richard Dorman & Associates, Vault Roof House, Sherman Oaks, 1959

In California, the Modernist aesthetic was reinvented to fit the West Coast lifestyle. It moved away from the austere look of its European and East Coast precursors – the Bauhaus and the International style – and towards something warmer and more natural. Not only did the architecture champion easy living, its clean lines also cut dramatic shapes against the scenic backdrops of the desert and the beach. At their simplest, buildings were single-storey and open-plan, with exposed wood and plenty of natural light. At their most impressive, monumental, glass-walled and framed by natural wonders. For Rand, they were the perfect subjects. 

His interest was the structures themselves, rather than the lifestyle they embodied, and his talent was capturing their essence. Some have suggested being a born-and-bred Angeleno meant that Rand brought an insider perspective to a city of notorious outsiders; others that his time as a military photographer led him to approach his craft with a certain rigour. In either case, he often ignored requests for specific shots in favour of his own interpretations of a space. Luckily, his instincts produced pictures that continue to exceed expectations, even today.

Welton Becket & Associates, Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, 1963

Welton Becket & Associates, Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, 1963

6 must-follow architecture & real estate Instagram feeds

MID-CENTURY HOME: Consistently great posts for the mid-century modern enthusiast. @midcenturyhome

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ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST: Sumptuous spaces, landscapes and buildings, immaculately curated. @archdigest

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ARCH-DAILY: Off-beat and striking examples of architecture from around the world.
@archdaily

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LIZ CARA: Architectural photographer who curates a gorgeous feed with her own work. @lizcara

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ARCHITECTURE HUNTER: Classy and impressive. “Architecture the world needs to see.”
@architecture_hunter

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THE MODERN HOUSE: UK-based real estate firm with impeccable editorial photography and substantive writing on real estate, architectural history and design.
@themodernhouse

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Tropical Modern Perfection

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Designed by architects Melissa and Jacob Brillhart, the Brillhart house in Miami, FL is a single family home built for and by themselves. Brilliant design and tough decision making were needed to maximize the modest 1500 square feet of livable space. The results of the couple’s two year collaboration is an extraordinarily efficient and magnificent looking structure that utilizes materials in a forward-thinking way, while honoring local history.

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In their own words:
”The design for our house relies on a back-to-the-basics approach – specifically studying old architectural models that care about good form but are also good for something. Each design decision was organized around four central questions that challenge the culture for building big: what is necessary; how can we minimize our impact on the earth; how do we respect the context of the neighborhood; and what can we really build?”

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“Some answers came from a place with which we are already intimately familiar – the seemingly forgotten American Vernacular, and more specifically, the Dog Trot, which for well over a century, has been a dominant image representing Florida Cracker architecture. The small, simple, and practical building is both modest and rich in cultural meaning. It attempts to maximize efficiency, space, and energy; relies on vernacular building materials; and celebrates the balmy breezes.”

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“The principles of Tropical Modernism also offered direction. The architects building in South Florida’s postwar period turned to local landscape, climate and materials to inform their designs, marrying building traditions with passive systems, new technologies, and innovative construction techniques. In that same spirit, we sought an alternative to the use of concrete and concrete only, instead exploring steel and glass as the superstructure. As a result, we wasted fewer materials, simplified the assembly, and reduced the cost and time of construction, all the while allowing for increased cross ventilation and a heightened sense of living within the landscape.”

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“Elevated five feet off the ground, the project includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass – 50 feet spanning the full length of both the front and back sides of the house, with four sets of sliding glass doors that allow the house to be entirely open when desired. The house also includes 800 square feet of outdoor living space, with both front and back porches and shutters along the front façade for added privacy and protection against the elements. These details, and the position of the house, which is at the center of a 330-foot long lot, allow the house to meld seamlessly with the site’s dense and lush native landscaping. With interior and exterior spaces fused together, the experience is that of a floating tropical refuge.”

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All photographs: Claudia Uribe
Read more at NEW YORK TIMES
See more on the BBC’s 2018 season of World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, now on Netflix

Restored: Craig Ellwood's masterful Smith House

Originally published in Dwell: June 20, 2018
By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
Photography by David Archer


Craig Ellwood's Iconic Smith House in L.A. Is Listed For $3M

Here is your chance to live in an iconic work of art.

Originally constructed in 1958 by influential modernist architect Craig Ellwood, the Smith House has been recently restored under the guidance of James Tyler, FAIA in 2018.  Now, this striking midcentury abode has hit the market for $3,000,000.

A showcase of midcentury modern architecture, the Smith House is located in Crestwood Hills and has been widely published throughout the years, including an appearance in Arts & Architecture Magazine. Scroll ahead for a peek inside the two-bedroom, two-bath home.

The 1,550-square-foot hillside home features a vertical T-shaped layout and houses dramatic city and ocean views.

The 1,550-square-foot hillside home features a vertical T-shaped layout and houses dramatic city and ocean views.

The structure is an updated showcase of midcentury modern architecture.

The structure is an updated showcase of midcentury modern architecture.

Here is a look at the elegant entrance.

Here is a look at the elegant entrance.

The vertical part of the "T" contains the living and dining rooms, which are divided by a fireplace. This area also provides the most dramatic vantage point for the sweeping views.

The vertical part of the "T" contains the living and dining rooms, which are divided by a fireplace. This area also provides the most dramatic vantage point for the sweeping views.

The property also has a 530-square-foot deck. Stairs from the deck lead to a children’s play area below.

The property also has a 530-square-foot deck. Stairs from the deck lead to a children’s play area below.

A look at the open living plan. Note the fireplace is set in the center of the space against a brick dividing wall.

A look at the open living plan. Note the fireplace is set in the center of the space against a brick dividing wall.

In this image the T-shaped plan is clearly visible. The two bedrooms are retained in the head of the "T." The entrance hall, kitchen, and laundry room are set between the focal point of the plan.

In this image the T-shaped plan is clearly visible. The two bedrooms are retained in the head of the "T." The entrance hall, kitchen, and laundry room are set between the focal point of the plan.

An alternate view of the living room.

An alternate view of the living room.

The open kitchen and dining area.

The open kitchen and dining area.

A look at the kitchen.

A look at the kitchen.

"At night, the Smith House appears to float like a glass box in space."

"At night, the Smith House appears to float like a glass box in space."

1095 N Kenter Avenue is now being listed by Frank Langen at Deasy/Penner