cover of book

Nothing Permanent: Modern Architecture in California
by Todd Cronan
University of Minnesota Press, 2023
Paper: 978-1-5179-1520-9 | eISBN: 978-1-4529-6938-1 | Cloth: 978-1-5179-1519-3


A critical look at the competing motivations behind one of modern architecture’s most widely known and misunderstood movements


Although “mid-century modern” has evolved into a highly popular and ubiquitous architectural style, this term obscures the varied perspectives and approaches of its original practitioners. In Nothing Permanent, Todd Cronan displaces generalizations with a nuanced intellectual history of architectural innovation in California between 1920 and 1970, uncovering the conflicting intentions that would go on to reshape the future of American domestic life.

Focusing on four primary figures—R. M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, and Charles and Ray Eames—Nothing Permanent demonstrates how this prolific era of modern architecture in California, rather than constituting a homogenous movement, was propelled by disparate approaches and aims. Exemplified by the twin pillars of Schindler and Neutra and their respective ideological factions, these two groups of architects represent opposing poles of architectural intentionality, embodying divergent views about the dynamic between interior and exterior, the idea of permanence, and the extent to which architects could exercise control over the inhabitants of their structures.

Looking past California modernism’s surface-level idealization in present-day style guides, home decor publications, films, and television shows, Nothing Permanent details the intellectual, aesthetic, and practical debates that lie at the roots of this complex architectural moment. Extracting this period from its diffusion into visual culture, Cronan argues that mid-century architecture in California raised questions about the meaning of architecture and design that remain urgent today.

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