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L.A. gallery opens a door to 'The New American Porch'

August 6, 2010 |  1:24 pm
New-American-Porch

Architect Davida Rochlin only started to think about the new American porch after devoting much of her life to pondering the old American porch. She spent her childhood in a Craftsman house that had "all kinds of porches," she said. As a graduate student in architecture at UC Berkeley, Rochlin traveled across the country studying verandas, balconies, stoops, back porches, front porches, sleeping porches, screened porches, wrap-around porches, you-name-it porches -- all for her master's thesis. If you saw a study on American porches, whether in Charles Moore’s 1983 "Home Sweet Home: American Domestic Vernacular Architecture"  or in a Fine Homebuilding book, the chances are good that it was by Rochlin.

Fittingly for high summer, Rochlin has returned to the subject with the just-opened exhibit "The New American Porch" in a pop-up gallery in the Barry Building, a Brentwood Midcentury landmark.

Porch-Davida-Rochlin One wall is devoted to Rochlin’s drawings of historical porches. Another wall features porches that she has designed in a modern vernacular.

Sentimentalists should be warned: They are different.

"The porch will never be what it was in the past," she said. "We have such new needs."

However, as Rochlin sees it, change may save the porch, and a changed porch may help to save us as we adapt to climate change. "Depending on where you orient a porch, it can be a profound insulator in winter and source of shade in summer," she said.

The social function of the porch is changing too, she argued. For most Americans, the days of idle afternoons in the rocking chair died with the advent of air conditioning.

That said, she also thinks that the transitional role of the porch is undiminished. Anyone who has ever been drawn to pass through a free-standing Japanese torii gate instead of walking around it is tacitly aware of the kinetics of what Rochlin calls "portology." To her, a barkeeper who she met in Madison, Ga., while studying Civil War-era porches summed up the emotional import when he told her, "Land is God-given, a house is man-made and the porch is what ties the man-made to the God-given."

The New American Porch" exhibit will run at the pop-up L.A. Archive Gallery through Aug. 28. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday at 11973 San Vicente Blvd., No. 101, Los Angeles.

-- Emily Green

Photo: Illustration from Davida Rochlin. Credit: Robert Landau

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