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Craig Ellwood – Making LA (and a piece of San Diego) Modern

August 19, 2022 by AgentImage

Craig Ellwood (April 22, 1922 – May 30, 1992), known as the “California Mies van der Rohe” was an influential Los Angeles-based modernist architect whose career spanned the early 1950s through the mid-1970s.

Self-taught as an architect, Ellwood combined a talent for good design, self-promotion and ambition to fashion a notable career, recognized for fusing the formalism of Mies van der Rohe with the informal style of California modernism, becoming one of the leading architects of California’s mid-century period.

1965, Kubly House, Pasadena – Currently on the market for $3M. Listing courtesy of John Matthes at Crosby Doe

Throughout his career, Ellwood’s projects were widely published and he was often pictured in the media. Early projects included Case Study House 16 in 1952. The designs were well received by both the trade and potential clients, often receiving favorable coverage in influential publications like John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture, who was a zealous champion of his work.

1951-1953 The Salzman House | Case Study House #16, Bel Air. Photos by Matthew Momberger

Ellwood’s elegant, simple and streamlined style brought a light touch to Mies van der Rohe’s ideas, featuring the interplay of indoor and outdoor space. “With Ellwood, the plants and weather are inside the home and the Eames chairs were outside with the patio furniture, in some sense,” says designer Michael Boyd, who is the editor of Making L.A. Modern: Craig Ellwood – Myth, Man, Designer.

1953, Gerry and Charles Bobertz House, San Diego. Previously owned and completely restored by Agents of Architecture associate, Keith York. Photos by Darren Bradley

Ellwood designed for an open and easy lifestyle, considering how space was used, rather than strictly what it was used for. He is also credited with introducing industrial building methods to residential architecture, producing iconic designs at low cost. “After Ellwood, industrial methods and materials did not look out of place,” Boyd explains of how the architect transformed the landscape of LA. Today, his contribution to the modernist canon has been somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Richard Neutra or Charles and Ray Eames, but the purity of his design and its appropriateness for the Southern California climate means his buildings still resonate.

1st photo: Work by Elizabeth Roberts Architecture & Design, Photo by Dustin Aksland | 2nd photo: Interior design by Giampiero Tagliaferri, Photo by Sam Frost11

Ellwood’s architectural practice closed in 1977 and he retired to Tuscany, and for the following two decades would create abstract geometric paintings. Some of which are shown above.