Contemplating the breadth and scope of his inventive output over a prolonged and varied career, the Southern California architect Gregory Ain (1908–88) remains comparatively mysterious, however his operate in the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s encapsulates the extremes of what was potentially the most dynamic and influential period in the wide sweep of 20th-century American architecture.
Ain’s housing assignments attempted to tackle “common architectural complications of typical persons.” Together with landscape architect Garrett Eckbo (1910–2000), he developed an modern solution to neighborhood style and design that associated the development of subtle sorts of collective spaces in a “social landscape,” by means of the integration of architecture, planning, and landscape. These extremely prosperous yet controversial housing initiatives, quite a few of which ended up centered on the cooperative product, advertising equality and racial integration, fused Ain’s interest in radical left-wing politics and design and style.
Ain was recognized for his passionate commitment to progressive politics. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), branded Ain “as an individual engaged in subversive and perilous political things to do,” and next the anti-communist witch hunts of the McCarthy period, his experienced prominence pale into in the vicinity of oblivion. As Anthony Denzer’s exploration displays, considering that 1944 Ain was less than practically-continuous surveillance by the FBI and other companies: He was adopted where ever he went, his mail and mobile phone phone calls were being monitored, and his name was positioned at the top of the list of suspected brokers to be “rounded up” and arrested in situation of enemy invasion. As a result, although he was by no means formally blacklisted, it became progressively complicated for Ain to safe funding for his tasks, and his operate ongoing to be closely scrutinized for communist impact. Nevertheless, Ain steadfastly pursued his vision of a cooperative, communal strategy to the postwar housing crisis, which stood in immediate distinction to models promoted and underwritten by the traditional, shopper-centric, laissez-faire solution to city advancement.
Continuously on the entrance traces in the battle from institutional racism, Ain turned down the govt-imposed restrictive covenants of enforced segregation. At his unbuilt Group Properties Cooperative (1946–48) undertaking, for illustration, Ain and the users of the cooperative opted to enable the advancement fall short rather than give in to the requires of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to ban African Individuals, Asian People, and other minority groups from dwelling together with white neighbors.
Ain also fought the underlying racism of the architectural profession. Commencing in 1939 he shared an workplace area with James H. Garrott (1897–1991), an African American architect with whom he formed a partnership and collaborated on many projects all through the 1940s and 1950s. In 1946, Garrott became the 2nd African American admitted to the AIA in Los Angeles, just after Paul R. Williams. Garrott’s application was sponsored by Williams and Ain. The partners designed and built the Ain and Garrott Studio (1950) in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighborhood at 2311 Hyperion Avenue. Regretably, this creating, which nevertheless stands, remains mainly unrecognized it deserves to be thoroughly acknowledged as a nationwide monument to racial equality.
Ain’s deep engagement with political issues informed his strategy to architecture and setting up, and his competencies as a designer enabled him to articulate affordable housing in a way that satisfied citizens while reflecting his progressive ideals. In the course of the 1930s, Ain experimented with establishing highly productive designs for little homes. In his proposal for the Property for Fashionable Living competitors (1935), sponsored by General Electrical, Ain arranged the circulation so that the entry corridor provided speedy access to the residing place and kitchen. In addition, he provided a playroom for small children off the kitchen with folding glass panels opening to an outside play region on a terrace. Recognizing these characteristics as a major breakthrough in residential style, Esther McCoy observed, “This was a person of the initially acknowledgements that kids in a servantless property needed play spaces in which they could be watched from the kitchen.” She also pointed out that “Neutra and Schindler not often achieved the definitely democratic tactic to the kitchen area that Ain located at at the time.”
In subsequent patterns Ain opened up the kitchen and positioned it in the major circulation of the property. This maximized the move of area and permitted women of all ages to be additional built-in with social pursuits in the dwelling room, difficult the sexism of common gender roles of the time. Drawing on progressive feminist concepts, Ain made a plan that sought to combine housework and little one-rearing. He reoriented the residing home to encounter the back back garden, generating a “strong romantic relationship to the children’s playroom and outdoor terrace, enabling the small children to continue being in see of the mother from the kitchen area.”
In addition to the open up kitchen area, one particular of Ain’s essential improvements was the “Flexible Residence.” As portion of a hugely compact however flexible home plan, movable partition walls permitted citizens to instantaneously transform their homes into a person-, two-, or three-bedroom models to go well with just about every family’s needs. As families grew and their demands adjusted, so really should their residences, Ain considered. This also lessened fees. Numerous modern day architects insisted on whole regulate of the built surroundings Ain, nevertheless, via his notion of flexible architecture, provided choices to purchasers, which was portion of the ethics of diversity that knowledgeable his democratic approach to style and design.
Like Rudolph Schindler just before him, Ain experimented with means to rationalize and simplify normal wooden-body design. Making upon a human body of useful knowledge by way of experimentation and refinement of construction techniques was paramount in attaining his objective of reducing the price of residences. For case in point, at the time perfected, related window and doorway specifics were being utilized through his assignments. This tactic underscored Ain’s aim of addressing and fixing specific issues fairly than pursuing arbitrary expressions of uniqueness. Ain consistently argued that his architectural designs ended up “always intended to be a specific resolution to prior said troubles, rather than Architecture.” He was well informed, and seemed well prepared to settle for, that the outcome of this method experienced “far fewer ‘eye-appeal’ than modern day function which may well have experienced a different determination.” This attitude helps demonstrate why his get the job done typically displayed an extraordinary mixture of innovation and convention.
The McCarthy hearings signaled the end of a progressive period in the United States. Right after a partnership with Joseph Johnson and Alfred Day dissolved in 1952, Ain started instructing in the University of Architecture at the College of Southern California. As collective living, public housing, and arranging were more and more discredited by right-wing politicians and the mainstream media, innovative small-price tag housing pretty much disappeared from the architectural agenda in the adhering to a long time. From 1963 to 1967, Ain served as dean of the College of Architecture at Pennsylvania Point out College and published two substantial posts on the idea of architecture and the condition of architectural education. Next a “nervous breakdown,” he returned to Los Angeles in 1968. Ain died on January 9, 1988, as a relatively not known architect whose operate was mostly underappreciated.
Julius Shulman acknowledged that “good design is seldom acknowledged. It has to be offered.” Neutra and other popular media-savvy architects in Southern California masterfully orchestrated the reception of their work by way of the mindful staging of photographs—“as deliberately lit as a film set”—by Shulman, which were published in Arts & Architecture and numerous other journals. Even while Ain was a person of Shulman’s very first customers, the position of endorsing his own do the job appears to have been very low on his list of priorities. Perhaps to his very own detriment, Ain claimed, “Public Relations was never a factor in my practice, which I can illustrate by the observation that a community displaying of my structures has minor attractiveness to me without a prior declaration of the challenge to be solved. The digicam has hardly ever been section of my trouble.” This kind of disregard of the function of the media, which undoubtedly contributed to the restricted dissemination of his get the job done, must have seemed as commercially counterproductive then as it would nowadays.
A person can think about a pretty diverse variation of postwar America experienced Ain’s ideas been embraced relatively than repressed. In contrast to racially divided city environments and market-pushed tract housing, Ain promoted affordable, effectively-intended, household architecture situated in socially inclusive neighborhoods with shared amenities and lively public areas. With his desire in community organizing, adaptive infill of America’s sprawling suburbs, and compact multiunit urban housing, Ain provided a cooperative vision and a persuasive way ahead.
Soon after generations of architects relinquished all serious engagement with social concerns, the trouble might properly be one particular of a lack of conviction to generate minimal-cost and substantial-high quality environments for normal people, a precedence that has only lately been revisited in modern day architecture. What function could possibly Ain’s perform perform in instigating a renewed interest in lower-value housing as a essential and relevant implies of engaging a broader audience?
If from a present standpoint Ain’s politics were being on the “right facet of background,” in the postwar period of time he was perceived as a hazardous radical communist. The fantasies of countless assets, which fueled an financial technique based mostly on rampant intake, now show up to be working their class. Presented the emergence of a new era that insists on answers for addressing weather adjust and environmental devastation, it is barely a coincidence that calls for for alternative power are accompanied by calls for a new sort of “shared financial state,” based on open sources and mutual desire in the prevalent very good.
My engagement with Ain’s legacy operates with the hope that designers may perhaps be inspired not only to seek innovative options for building minimal-charge, significant-top quality environments but also to handle some of the additional tricky concerns connected to inequality and segregation that continue to condition our cities.
Anthony Fontenot, architectural historian, theorist, and curator, is a professor of architecture at Woodbury University University of Architecture in Los Angeles. He is the author of Non-Design: Architecture, Liberalism, and the Market place (University of Chicago Press, 2021) and editor of Notes from An additional Los Angeles: Gregory Ain and the Development of a Social Landscape, lately released by The MIT Push, from which this textual content is tailored.