It is significant that two of the first three houses in the new monograph Steven Ehrlich Houses (Monacelli Press, $50) were originally designed not by Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, but by Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, respectively. Ehrlich is very much heir to those seminal California modernists, as demonstrated in his appropriately dramatic addition to a Neutra beach house once owned by Mae West and his respectful restoration and update of Schindler’s modest House on Ellis Avenue. Ehrlich’s new houses also build on the work of his spiritual forebears, who imported academic modernism to the land of endless summer. But while the first generation of California modern always spoke with a faint European accent, in Ehrlich’s hands the tradition is fully naturalized. In his houses, Ehrlich combines geometrical rigor with a subtle feel for material and the landscape. Strongly influenced by traditional West African architecture—he spent six years in the region with the Peace Corps and, later, as a teacher—Ehrlich makes frequent use of massive, monolithic forms. Walls, roofs, chimneys, and interior elements develop as independent, almost geological phenomena. Bridged by walls of glass, they enclose living space as if that outcome were incidental to their existence. Incidental but most fortuitous, because the resulting spaces often are powerfully compelling.
Ehrlich is no stranger to the editors of this magazine. Last year we named Ehrlich Architects one of the ra50, our list of architects we love. Winner of our Top Firm Leadership Award and a number of residential architect Design Awards, Ehrlich served on this year’s RADA jury. For those of us who have admired this work for years, Steven Ehrlich Houses affords a welcome opportunity to view it in greater depth. For newcomers, the book serves as an introduction to an important regional modernist at the height of his powers.
Ehrlich Architects was selected as one of our ra50 firms last year; read more about them.