The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism
Joseph Becker, Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher
SFMOMA & Delmonico Books/Prestel, December 2018
Hardcover | 9-1/2 x 11 inches | 176 pages | 126 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3791357843 | $60.00
Situated on a ten-mile stretch of rugged Northern California coastline, The Sea Ranch was conceived as a retreat from urban living with connection to nature as a guiding principle. This striking book examines the development of the site’s master plan and iconic early designs through sketches, drawings, and contemporary and archival photographs of its astonishing landscapes and distinctive timber-framed structures. A collection of essays that consider The Sea Ranch in relation to popular leisure destinations and within the context of the architectural history of California are accompanied by conversations with designers and others associated with the project from its inception. This book showcases the exemplary balance between land stewardship and modernist architecture that has made The Sea Ranch a model for living in harmony with nature.
Including Sea Ranch in my 2017 book 100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs was a no-brainer. Although I’ve yet to go there (it’s on my must-see list), it’s such an important and influential project for the way it integrated buildings and landscapes, retained the character of the place (ten miles of Pacific coastline in Northern California), and developed guidelines for the evolution of the place after its 1965 establishment. The main force behind the creation of Sea Ranch was Al Boeke of Oceanic Properties, which bought the large Del Mar Ranch and then hired landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to master plan the community. Coming less than a decade after the Highway Act of 1956 enabled sprawl and cookie-cutter residential developments across the United States, Sea Ranch was radical: sparsely populated, greatly informed by place and climate, serene, and littered with condos, not just houses.
Sea Ranch has been the subject of a few books — including Halprin’s own, hard-to-find Sea Ranch…Diary of an Idea, which I read parts of at the library when writing 100 Years — and most recent is this one accompanying the The Sea Ranch exhibition now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Like Sea Ranch itself, I haven’t seen the exhibition, but the book (and this 12-minute film from SFMOMA that is worth watching, especially in regard to the project’s evolution over time) reveals to a good degree what curators Joseph Becker and Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher have assembled: Halprin’s distinctive sketches; drawings of the condominiums and houses designed by Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, Joseph Esherick, and others; photographs of the place in the mid-1960s and some in recent years (the latter by Iwan Baan and Leslie Williamson); and, most importantly, the voices of people involved, such as Lyndon, Halprin’s widow Anna, and graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, who developed Sea Ranch’s recognizable logo and designed bright supergraphics inside the wind-battered wood buildings.
Joseph Becker is Associate Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His previous books include Allied Works Architecture: Dwelling and Lebbeus Woods, Architect. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher is Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her previous books include Lebbeus Woods, Architect and A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living.