Despite its considerable architectural and
cultural impact that endures today, “there
never has been an exhibition about Sea
Ranch,” says architecture and design curator
Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, who with co-curator
Joseph Becker ferreted out rarely seen archival
drawings by Halprin and Esherick and photographs by Morley Baer for the exhibition. Also
included are works by graphic designer Barbara
Stauffacher, who designed the Sea Ranch logo
and created supergraphics for home interiors.
“The role of branding was significant,”
Fletcher says. “They had astute ways of com-
municating with the world.”
Through archival documentary videos and drawings, the exhibi-
tion brings to life Esherick’s Hedgerow Houses, whose roofs emu-
late the windswept angle of nearby hedgerows and cypress trees. A
full-scale sectional model of Moore’s Condominium One allows
visitors to literally step inside one of the structures and understand
its atmospheric appeal.
“People can hang out on the daybeds, and the model demonstrates the efficiency of the spaces designed with sleeping lofts and
small footprints,” Fletcher says.
The developers had the foresight to recognize that retreating from
the world to a suburban bubble was not sustainable, and their break
with that concept is the theme at the heart of the exhibition. They
created architecture that settles into an unspoiled environment for a
true indoor-outdoor experience while also linking modernism with
communal social progress.
“I know that Boeke was interested in postwar ‘new town’ developments in Europe and their relationship to land for agriculture,
and he saw a similar financial potential in terms of aligning with
land stewardship here,” Fletcher says.
That kind of thinking is popular again, and we may see more of
it in contemporary developments. As Fletcher observes: “Despite
Sea Ranch’s strict design guidelines, which appear static, the rules
do allow for contemporary solutions.” A relatively recent newcomer
called the Ramirez House is one example.
For the exhibition, however, curators focused on the earliest Sea
Ranch proposals and the still-relevant idealism behind those concepts. The 100-plus drawings and ephemera describe the “impetus
and the development, the synergies between the players and how it
all came to be,” Becker says.
“It was all transformative,” he adds, but in hindsight not surprising at all. “During the 1940s there was much discussion about
what was modern even in Northern California, which was more
receptive to natural materials and indoor-outdoor living,” Becker
says. “The Sea Ranch collective was a natural progression of what
happened piecemeal before.” n
Developed by Al Boeke, who worked for Richard Neutra in Los Angeles and
later for Oceanic Properties, the eco-conscious Sea Ranch involved many
others. Clockwise from top left: The MLTW team including Richard Whitaker, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore and William Turnbull; interior of Turnbull’s Rush House; architect Joe Esherick in 1960; master-planner landscape
architect Lawrence Halprin and Daria Halprin at a workshop; ocean views
from Rush House; students at an environmental workshop build a driftwood
city; Sea Ranch sketch by Halprin; 1968 “Ecoscore” by Halprin.