A Family's Archive

The New York Times, Art & Design
November 20, 2014
Eve M. Kahn
Read article on NYTimes.com

David, Gary and L. Anthony Greenberg, Los Angeles brothers, grew up in the 1940s and ’50s next door to the concrete-slab house designed by the architect Rudolph Schindler in the 1920s. The brothers, who inherited a retail store fortune, all went into the design field. Parts of their archives are now headed for public display.

Anthony Greenberg, better known as Tony, died in 1993, at 55; he had a relatively brief career as a modernist architect known for low-slung beachfront homes and commercial buildings with exposed beams, floor-to-ceiling windows and cantilevered balconies. His family is donating his meticulously organized papers, which his son, Marco Greenberg, preserved, to the University of Southern California. The staff there is now sifting through photographs, models, plans and sketches related to Greenberg’s own works as well as to buildings he admired.

Gail Borden, an associate dean at the university, described the recent gifts as “an amazing cross-section” that sheds light on the evolution of California modernism.

In the 1970s, David and Gary Greenberg helped run Environmental Communications, a somewhat chaotic collaborative of architects, planners, artists and academics. They traveled in a motor home nicknamed Big Mama, taking photographs of mundane streetscapes and off-kilter attractions. The company marketed its slides in batches with titles as inscrutable as “Human Territoriality in the City” and “Ultimate Crisis.”

A catalog for a slide collection included in “Environmental Communications: Contact High” at Columbia.
Environmental Communications
Researchers have sorted through the archive for an exhibition, “Environmental Communications: Contact High,” through Wednesday at Columbia University’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery. The gallery walls are strung with photos of bus stops, policemen, demonstrators, nude commune dwellers, tract houses, billboards, motels, highway ramps, airport runways, driftwood, diners, graffiti, neon and smog. Correspondence on view shows that the company’s client roster included university libraries and the C.I.A.

David Greenberg, who later became a specialist in treehouse design, will give a talk on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Columbia gallery. In an interview, he reminisced about the childhood thrill of living near Schindler’s experimental house. His own parents had a white colonial. “It was a little embarrassing,” he said, “not only to Schindler but to anybody with good taste.”

Next fall, an expanded version of “Contact High” will be shown at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Gary Greenberg, who is now an inventor and scientist in the field of microscope photography, said in an interview that upon seeing the ephemeral collection partly reassembled at Columbia, “I was just enthralled by the fact that it’s coming back to life.”

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