Directed by Gavin Froome, Michael Bernard. STC. 56 min. Screening July 6–12 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
A succinct primer on the architectural school known as West Coast Modernism, Coast Modern is a worthy addition to the burgeoning documentary subgenre of design porn. Other recent examples include Eames: The Architect & the Painter, My Architect, and Schindler’s Houses, though this effort by the team of Gavin Froome and Michael Bernard fits most comfortably next to director Gary Hustwit’s popular films on aspects of contemporary design.
Like Hustwit’s docs, Coast Modern is replete with elegantly composed shots of instantly covetable buildings and furniture. The thesis here is that while the post–World War II boom for modernist design may have led to an excess of harsh and inhospitable buildings elsewhere in the world, the school’s adherents on the west coast of Canada and in the U.S. created structures that were more responsive to the region’s rugged and dramatic landscapes. Serenely situated amid rocks, slopes, and trees, the houses by designers like John Yeon and Richard and Dion Neutra would answer Frank Lloyd Wright’s call for a more organic style of architecture.
Stunning views of the homes in question are well complemented by smart comments from interview subjects such as Douglas Coupland, architect George Suyama, and New York Times design blogger Allison Arieff. It’s all enough to make most viewers regard their own domiciles as shoddy, hideously cluttered hovels, but at least movies like Coast Modern allow us to dream of what it’d be like to live a better-designed existence.