Modernism was made for California. Just as it was on the West Coast that the 20th century’s dominant art form, the movie, was to flourish, so Modernist architecture blossomed unencumbered by the concerns and limitations of the Old World.
Here was a climate that adored flat roofs and a hilly topography of brilliant views that called for structural daring, a place with a self-conscious lack of history in which displaced Europeans – and Americans freed from the waspish East Coast – could create whole new lifestyles facing the freedom of the seemingly infinite desert and the Pacific.
Superlatives abound: the ‘cast stone’ of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute is perhaps the most sublimely generous construction of postwar architecture; while at the beginning of the century, Greene & Greene and Bernard Maybeck’s Japanese-inspired California Arts & Crafts is as vivid a reimagining of William Morris as you could conceive. Equally remarkable are the cities, from the captivating milieu of San Francisco to its unfathomable cousin Los Angeles, the city of Reyner Banham’s 4 Ecologies: Surfurbia, Foothills, the Plains of Id and Autopia.
The chutzpah of patron and architect has not let up in recent years, with Richard Meier’s hilltop Getty Center, Raphael Moneo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Our Angels – both in Los Angeles – and Herzog & de Meuron’s de Young Museum in San Francisco.
If one looks for a beginning to all this, beyond the fragments of the Pueblo and the Spanish Mission architecture, it is found in Frank Lloyd Wright. His commission for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo brought him to California where, while moving back and forth across the Pacific, he built some of his most original and regionally specific architecture.
In Los Angeles, beginning with the extraordinary Hollyhock House, he demonstrated a virtuosity on California’s slopes equal to that he had achieved on the flat expanse of the Midwest. Wright’s approach was extended by his ex-pupils Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra who threw away the cloak of their native Vienna to create a series of exquisite, ecologically responsive dwellings that would lead, after the Second World War, to the internationally significant ‘Case Study Houses’.
Wright built his combined home and fellowship at Taliesin West in the desert outside Phoenix. Gradually shaped over 30 years, this complement to his earlier Taliesin in Wisconsin, is Wright at his most successful – and moving. A blurring of building and landscape formed from desert rocks and sand, its inspiration lies in the light touch of the native Sinagua Indians.
Arcosanti conceived by Wright’s disciple Paolo Soleri, is still being constructed today far out in the Arizona desert. It pays homage to Taliesin and is either a suggestion of an ecologically viable future, or the American Dream at its most indulgent and eccentric.
London to Phoenix (Arizona). Fly at c. 2.45pm from London Heathrow to Phoenix (direct flight; time in the air: c. 10 hours). Located in salubrious, suburban Scottsdale, our hotel was built in 1929 under the supervision of Frank Lloyd Wright, a luxurious low-lying complex with lawns, pools and landscaping. Arrive in time for dinner. First of two nights in Phoenix.
Phoenix, Taliesin West. The morning is dedicated to Taliesin West, Wright’s desert camp and means of escape from Wisconsin winters. The tour includes desert shelters, performance spaces and offices. The afternoon is free back at the hotel. Overnight Phoenix.
Arcosanti, La Jolla (California). Deep in the Arizona desert, Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s dream city, is built around objectives of self-sufficiency and a resistance to urban sprawl. Begun in the 1970s, it remains a work in progress. Fly in the afternoon to San Diego and drive north to the seafront town of La Jolla. Overnight La Jolla.
La Jolla, Palos Verdes, Los Angeles. In La Jolla, visit Louis Kahn’s magisterial Salk Institute (1958), designed to create an inspiring space in which to carry out scientific research: pozzolanic concrete, travertine marble, oak, and, above all, natural light. In the afternoon, drive north to the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the timber and glass Wayfarer’s Chapel (Lloyd Wright, 1951), designed, with a spectacular ocean setting, by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. First of four nights in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles: Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood. Drive to Venice Beach to see Frank Gehry’s Norton House and Chiat/Day buildings. Up the coast in Pacific Palisades, visit the house-cum-studio of Charles & Ray Eames (Case Study 8, 1949), lightweight steel frame, coloured panels, glass, in a meadow with ocean views, as well as Pierre Koenig’s Schwartz House (1996), his last completed building. Richard Meier’s hilltop Getty Center (1997) is an astonishing sequence of multi-level travertine, glass and steel structures interspersed with courtyards and gardens; modernist objectives of space and light dictate but the effect is overwhelmingly contemporary. Overnight Los Angeles.
Downtown Los Angeles. Downtown is spread over an extensive, hilly grid, which today provides a rare opportunity to walk. See the intricate Bradbury Building (1893) and Moneo’s Cathedral (2002) of gargantuan proportions flooded with warm light. Close by are the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Gehry, 2003), Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art (1983) and The Broad (Diller Scofidio + Renfro, 2015). Free time here to see the excellent collection of postwar and contemporary art. Afternoon excursion to Koenig’s Stahl House (Case Study House 22, 1960). With its glass-and-steel construction, it is one of the most famous examples of the Case Study House programmes’s principles and aesthetics. Overnight Los Angeles.
Los Angeles. Located on the edge of the reservoir which gives the Silver Lake district its name, Richard Neutra’s VDL (Van der Leeuw) Research House was designed in 1932 as his own experimental live-work residence and rebuilt, with his son Dion, following a fire in 1963. In nearby Hollywood, the recently restored Hollyhock House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1922, departed radically from his previous prairie-style houses, resembling instead a Mayan temple. In Pasadena, visit the brilliant collection of the Norton Simon Museum (Ladd & Kelsey, 1969; Gehry, 1995) and tour the Gamble House (Greene & Greene, 1908), a perfect California Arts and Crafts house. Overnight Los Angeles.
From L.A. to San Francisco. The Schindler/Chace House (1922) in West Hollywood is one of the finest examples of environmentally conscious architecture anywhere and was designed as an experiment in co-operative living. LACMA (Pereira, 1964) on Wilshire Boulevard has a staggeringly rich collection. The museum campus was extended by Renzo Piano in 2010. Afternoon flight to San Francisco for the first of three nights.
San Francisco, Berkeley. A morning walk includes the Hallidie Building, almost the world’s first glass-curtain-walled structure (Willis Polk, 1918), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Morris Gift Shop (1948), a prototype for the New York Guggenheim and the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Mario Botta, 1995; Snøhetta, 2016). Time to visit the collection independently. Cross the Bay to university town of Berkeley. Bernard Maybeck’s First Church of Christ the Scientist (1910) is an almost fairy tale construction using industrial materials, incongruously tucked between the modern halls of residence. Overnight San Francisco.
Stanford, San Francisco. Walk through the Stanford University campus, starting with the Richardsonian Romanesque buildings (1886) and concluding with another Diller Scofidio + Renfro design, the McMurtry Building (2015). Some free time to explore the Cantor Arts Center and the Anderson Collection. Spend the afternoon in the Golden Gate Park, home to Herzog & de Meuron’s landmark de Young Museum (2005), built from recycled redwood, eucalyptus and copper, where the oxidising exterior is progressively blending with its environment. Opposite is Renzo Piano’s ‘green museum’, his extension to the California Academy of Sciences (2009). Overnight San Francisco.
San Francisco, Marin County. Free morning in San Francisco. In the early afternoon, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Frank Lloyd Wright’s final commission, the Marin County Civic Center (completed after his death in 1962). Drive back down the peninsula and fly from San Francisco at c. 7.30pm.
Arrive London Heathrow at c. 2.00pm.
A number of these buildings are not usually open to the public and it is possible we will not be able to include everything listed.
Professor Neil Jackson
Architect and architectural historian. He is Charles Reilly Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool, and former resident scholar at the Getty Conservation Institute. Publications include The Modern Steel House and California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. His most recent books, published in 2019, are Pierre Koenig: a View from the Archive and Japan and the West: An Architectural Dialogue.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £6,670 or £6,000 without international flights. Single occupancy: £7,910 or £7,240 without international flights.
Flights (Economy Class) with British Airways London–Phoenix, San Francisco–London (aircraft: Boeing 747); from Phoenix to San Diego with American Airlines (Boeing 737); and from Los Angeles to San Francisco with Delta (Boeing 737); private coach throughout; hotel accommodation as described below; all breakfasts, 7 dinners with wine, water and coffee (meals are also provided on flights); all admission charges; all tips; all state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager and guides on site.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
We can request flight upgrades to World Traveller Plus, Club or First Class and can request extra nights in the hotel at the end of the tour and delay your return flight. Please contact us for a quote. An amendment fee will apply.
Arizona Biltmore, Scottsdale: an attractive hotel complex in beautiful grounds with numerous swimming pools, a good restaurant and comfortable rooms. La Valencia, La Jolla: colourful hotel with eclectically furnished rooms, gardens and pool overlooking the Pacific. Omni Los Angeles, Downtown: well-equipped, functional hotel with spacious bedrooms. Palace Hotel, San Francisco: an elegant 5-star hotel, located within walking distance of Union Square, Embarcadero and Yerba Buena Gardens and a 30-minute coach drive from the Opera House. Rooms are classically furnished, of a good size and excellent standard.
There is a lot of walking and standing around and getting on and off coaches. Some visits are on rough ground (desert) and require sure-footedness. With transatlantic flights, two domestic flights and four hotels, the tour is tiring. Average distance by coach per day: 55 miles.
There may be performances in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Programmes will be available nearer the time.
Between 12 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.
'Our lecturer was excellent – deeply knowledgeable but patient and informative in responding to questions.'
'The tour exceeded our exceptions and we are recommending MRT to our friends.'
'The lecturer was a most knowledgable and informative guide. The tour manager looked after every detail of the tour impeccably.'