Thinking outside the tract

WITH its miles of upscale, monotone, cookie-cutter tracts and nostalgic faux Mediterranean mansions, much of Southern California is filled with what author Michael Webb refers to as dumbed-down, high-priced housing built as status shelters for conformists who don't know any better.

The exquisitely creative residential California that might have been built -- and that still may come to pass -- is envisioned in Webb's new book, "Brave New Houses: Adventures in Southern California Living" (Rizzoli International, $39.95). It offers a look at 30 new homes, all modern in design, each created by the area's new generation of fine architects who follow in the footsteps of "greats" such as Neutra, Lautner, Schindler and others.

Homes with curving walls, swooping roofs, undulating eaves, circles, squares, angles -- all are calibrated to honor the specific sites, the predilections of owners, and, most important, the modern aesthetic that will carry architecture boldly into the future.

The book begins with architect Stan Allen's exquisitely cubist, light-filled residence designed for artist and educator Linda Burnham in Glendale. It ends with architect George Yu's circular white concrete reverie, a space designed for fashion guru Leon Max in the hills above Malibu.

In between is a selection of homes that combine all the most ancient and elemental basics of shelter, configured to include technological advances.

The photos are accompanied by floor plans and some rather dry prose by Webb, who's written 21 books, most on architecture and design. Not all homes in the book are large and expensive; some are urban and affordable. Not all will appeal; some may seem antiseptic and antisocial. But Webb makes the point that modern can be as cozy and embracing as any of those faux Cape Cod colonials that have been springing up. He hopes Californians will lose their fear of architects, whom he describes as "underemployed." If you have (or can buy) a piece of land, Webb says, hire an architect. Build something individual and special. Take a chance on the future.

--Bettijane Levine

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