An exhibition at SFMOMA offers new perspective on Sea Ranch


Few examples of California modernist architecture hold the mystique of Sea Ranch, the iconic ’60s-era housing community on Sonoma County’s craggy coastline that became a pioneering model of environmental and communal-minded design. This winter, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art pays tribute to this legacy with “The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism,” an exhibition that takes a closer look at the earliest plans and concepts behind the legendary enclave and explores what lessons in “living lightly on the land”—both visually and ecologically—they may offer us today.

Architects Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore and William Turnbull in Condominium One courtyard, 1991


Sketch for Condominium One by MLTW, 1964.

Archival photographs and original drawings trace the inception of the project, with a focus on the aesthetic and social ideals of its founding designers: landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, Berkeley firm MLTW (Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull and Richard Whitaker), architect Joseph Esherick and graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Esherick’s famous hedgerow houses—modeled after wind-sculpted cypress—get their due, and landmark Condominium One comes to life in the gallery with a scale model of its lofted master suite “aedicula” design.

“What you see in the initial thinking behind Sea Ranch are the Bay Area’s most progressive designers grappling with the tenets of European Modernism that had come West while navigating regional traditions of landscape-focused architecture and the era’s collective-living mind-set,” says exhibition co-curator Joseph Becker. “The look they forged, of simple volumes clad in the natural beauty of local materials, marked a turning point in Bay Modernist style that influenced building practice far beyond Northern California.”

(Through April 28, 2019;

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