Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader

Affection isn’t a word often used to describe architecture criticism, but that’s the ruling emotion of Piecing Together Los Angeles, the first collection of the writings of California historian and critic Esther McCoy (1904-89). There’s McCoy’s affection for Los Angeles superstars like Charles Eames, Pierre Koenig and John Lautner when they were young and needed books like McCoy’s Five California Architects (1960) to give their work a backstory—and when they were old, and the world needed a reminder of their talents. (On Lautner: “Instead of repose, his houses are thorny with ideas, ideas that wake up the eye and astonish the mind.” On Ray Eames: “She had one of those minds that feasted on facts. Along with this was a sensibility that could transform facts into art.”) Reyner Banham called McCoy “the founding mother” and said, “She has the gift of friendship…and is profoundly concerned about people… and that is one of the special strengths she brings to her architectural writing.” This book, which collects McCoy’s never-finished memoirs, essays on three generations of California architects, fiction, and retrospective essays from the 1980s, is the product of editor Susan Morgan’s affection for McCoy’s whole project. The culmination may be her contribution to Blueprints for Modern Living, the catalog for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 1989 Case Study exhibition, published two months before her death.