PRINT January 2002

Herbert Muschamp on Callas Shortridge Architects

IF I GET ONLY ONE DREAM HOUSE TO LIVE IN, LET IT be a waterfront cottage on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, designed by Steven Shortridge and Barbara Callas. I would happily live there all year round. These Los Angeles-based architects design houses you could serve up in a crystal goblet with raspberry sauce. I’d ask them for sweetness and light—hold the irony—and I’d want the light warm, in a big picture window that I could gaze back at from the beach after a late afternoon hour with waves, when the surface of the Atlantic becomes metallic.

Callas Shortridge Architects has an important lineage. The two principals inherited the firm from Frank Israel when that brave and beloved figure died at the age of fifty, from AIDS, in 1996. It was a natural transition. Israel did not gain full use of his architectural voice until the last years of his life, and Steven Shortridge had supported Israel’s growing confidence. Those who tracked Israel’s career closely over the years saw Shortridge’s hand at work in two of Israel’s last and finest projects, the Dan House in Malibu and the Jupiter House in Jupiter, Florida (both were completed in 1997). These waterfront projects, executed in keeping with Israel’s personal brand of deconstruction, became the basis of the vocabulary that Shortridge and Callas have developed since.

It is an abstract vocabulary, undisturbed by the historical references that Israel typically incorporated into his designs. His late work had more in common with German Expressionist film sets than with the buildings of his Deconstructionist peers. Shortridge and Callas have domesticated elements of this vocabulary: weighty, asymmetrical roofs; splayed columns; and canted walls. But these forms are secondary to the light and space they manipulate.

Shortridge’s own house is a glorified beach shack in Venice. He has customized its rectangular forms with additions of sharply angled contour: a glass canopy over the patio stair; a driveway and carport; a front deck of wood—forms that, though derived from Expressionism, are used to sunny and serene effect.

Many of Callas Shortridge’s projects to date are transformative remodelings. These include the Kitaj Art Studio (1998), Rochman House (2000), Phay House (2001) and residential buildings in London and Tel Aviv. The firm has also recently completed the offices of the Norton Family Foundation in Los Angeles.

These projects bring to mind the work of Charles Voysey, a British architect whose most productive period extended from 1888 to World War I. Voysey purged his work of the period styles associated with Ruskin and Morris, just as Shortridge has eliminated the stylistic allusions in Israel’s work And Voysey was sympathetic to the rural vernacular, just as Callas and Shortridge are uncommonly sensitive to landscape. They do good seascapes too. Their particular affinity for water derives from their relaxation of form, releasing it from the grip of style.

HERBERT MUSCHAMP, chief architecture critic for the New York Times and a contributing editor of Artforum, has long championed adventurous design. The author of File under Architecture (1974) and Man about Town Frank Lloyd Wright in New York City (1983), both published by MIT Press, he has received numerous honors for his critical writing on architecture, including the National Endowment for the Arts’ Art Criticism Award in 1973, the Educational Facilities Laboratories’ Architecture Fellowship in 1979, and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Design Arts Award in 1986.