SFMA, MoMA and the Codification of Bay Region Architecture (1935-1953)





Bay Region architecture, SFMA & MoMA exhibitions, Morley-Bauer-Mock connections, California and Eastern criticism, East Coast-West Coast cultural conflicts


This paper addresses the under-recognized implications of SFMA’s early architectural exhibition program. Conceived under founding director Grace Morley, a series of pioneering events first presented Bay Area architects’ work as interdependent with the region’s rich geographical and cultural context, offering new lens through which Eastern critics prompted to re-evaluate California modernism. Among these shows, the 1949 landmark exhibition Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region would epitomize the postwar discussions upon the autonomy of American modern architecture. Correspondingly, by exploring SFMA-MoMA exchanges during Elizabeth Mock’s curatorship, this essay aims to examine the conflict of perceptions and intentions between the country’s two Coasts that brought about the 1949 show as part of a well-orchestrated campaign that had begun years before Lewis Mumford’s 1947 New Yorker piece triggered a controversy over the existence of a “Bay Region Style.” Contrary to prevailing assumptions that this exhibition was a delayed reaction to the 1948 MoMA symposium organized by Philip Johnson to refute Mumford’s arguments, it was the consequence of an effective regionalist agenda whose success was, precisely, that many influential actors in the United States were exposed, indoctrinated and/or seduced by the so-called Bay Region School’s emphasis on social, political and ecological concerns.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

José Parra-Martínez, University of Alicante

Ph. D. Architect

Senior Lecturer, Theory and History of Architecture

Department of Graphic Expression, Architectural Theory and Design

John Crosse, Independent Scholar

Environmental Engineer & Architectural Historian


“AIA Exhibit of Architecture, San Francisco.” Architectural Forum 69, no. 6 (December 1938): 468-469.

Anderson, Stanford. “The New Empiricism-Bay Region-Axis: Kay Fisker and Postwar Debates on Functionalism, Regionalism, and Monumentality.” Journal of Architectural Education 50, no. 3 (1997): 197-207. https://doi.org/10.1080/10464883.1997.10734722

Andrews, Wayne. Architecture, Ambitions and Americans. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.

“Bay Region Domestic.” Architectural Review 104 (October 1948): 164-170.

Blake, Peter. No Place Like Utopia: Modern Architecture and the Company We Kept. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Bletter, Rosemarie H., and Joan Ockman, with Nancy E. Later, eds. The Modern Architecture Symposia, 1962-1966: A Critical Edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Canizaro, Vincent B. Architectural Regionalism. Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity and Tradition. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Castle, Jane. “Vernacular and Modern: Lewis Mumford’s Bay Region Style and the Architecture of William Wurster.” PhD diss., The University of New South Wales, 2006.

Cheek, Lesley. “Bay Region Homes.” Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Members’ Bulletin 11 (September 1950).

Cheney, Sheldon. The New World Architecture. London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1930

Colquhoun, Alan. “The Concept of Regionalism.” In Postcolonial Space(s), edited by Gulsum Baydar Nalbantoglu and Wong Chong Thai, 13-23. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997.

Creighton, Thomas. “Architecture not Style.” Progressive Architecture 29 (December 1948): 49, 120, 122, 138.

Fenske, Gail. “Lewis Mumford, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and the Bay Region Style.” In The Education of the Architect. Historiography, Urbanism, and the Growth of Architectural Knowledge, edited by Martha Pollack, 37-85. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997.

Frampton, Kenneth. “Prospects for a Critical Regionalism.” Perspecta 20 (1983): 147-162. https://doi.org/10.2307/1567071

Gebhard, David. “Introduction: The Bay Area Tradition.” In Bay Area Houses, edited by Sally Woodbridge, 3-22. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Gebhard, David. “William Wurster and His California Contemporaries. The Idea of Regionalism and Soft Modernism.” In An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, edited by Marc Treib, 164-183. Berkeley and Los Angeles: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and University of California Press, 1999.

Hamlin, Talbot. “The Architectural League Exhibition. Reviewing Contemporary American Architecture.” Pencil Points 19, no. 6 (June 1938): 343-355.

Hamlin, Talbot. “The Trend of American Architecture.” Harper’s 184 (January 1942): 164-171.

Harris, Harwell Hamilton. “Regionalism and Nationalism in Architecture.” Texas Quarterly 1 (February 1958): 115-124.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. “An Eastern Critic Looks at Western Architecture.” California Arts & Architecture 57 (December 1940): 21-23, 40-41.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. “The International Style Twenty Years After.” Architectural Record 110 (August 1951): 89-97.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, and Arthur Drexler, eds. Built in USA: Post-war Architecture (exhibition catalogue). New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1952.

Johnson, Philip. “Architecture in 1941.” In Writings, 56-60. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Johnson, Philip, and Peter Blake. “Architectural Freedom and Order: An Answer to Robert W. Kennedy.” Magazine of Art 41 (October 1948): 228-231.

Kaufmann, Edgar, Jr. “What is Happening to Modern Architecture.” Arts & Architecture 66 (September 1949): 26-29.

Kennedy, Robert W. “The Small House in New England.” Magazine of Art 41 (April 1948): 123-128.

Kirk, Kara. “Grace McCann Morley and the Modern Museum.” In San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward, edited by Janet Bishop, Corey Keller, and Sarah Roberts, 71-77. San Francisco: SFMOMA, 2009.

Lefaivre, Liane, and Alexander Tzonis. Architecture of Regionalism in the Age of Globalization. London: Routledge, 2012. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203720806

Mock, Elizabeth. Built in USA: 1932-1944 (exhibition catalogue). New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1944.

Mock, Elizabeth. “Where the Credit is Due in the America Builds Exhibition.” Letter to the editor. Pencil Points 25, no. 10 (October 1944): 8

“More Replies to ‘Architecture not Style’.” Progressive Architecture 30 (February 1949): 8, 10, 12.

Morley, Grace L. M. “Art, Artists, Museums and the San Francisco Museum of Art.” Interview conducted by Suzanne Reiss. Regional Cultural History Project. The Bancroft Library. Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, 1960.

Morley, Grace L. M. Oral History. Interview conducted by Porter McCray. Archives of American Art. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1982.

Morley, Grace L. M. “Western Living. 6 Architects in Exhibition.” California Arts & Architecture 59 (March 1942): 24.

Morrow Ford, Katherine. “Modern is Regional.” House and Garden, March 1941, 35-37.

Mumford, Lewis. “The Architecture of the Bay Region.” In Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region (exhibition catalogue). San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1949.

Mumford, Lewis. “Monumentalism, Symbolism and Style.” Architectural Review 105 (April 1949): 174-180.

Mumford, Lewis. “The Sky Line: Status Quo.” The New Yorker, September 11, 1947, 106-109.

Mumford, Lewis. “The Sky Line: The Golden Age in the West and the South.” The New Yorker, April 30, 1938, 50-51.

Mumford, Lewis. The South in Architecture (The Dancy Lectures, Alabama College). New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1941.

“New California Architecture.” Time, April 20, 1942, 23. https://doi.org/10.2307/3535618

Olsberg, Nicholas. Architects and Artists: The Work of Ernest and Esther Born. San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 2015.

Postal, Mathew A. “‘Toward a Democratic Esthetic’? The Modern House in America, 1932-1955.” PhD diss., The City University of New York, 1998.

“Replies to ‘Architecture Not Style’.” Progressive Architecture 30 (January 1949): 8, 10, 12.

Rodríguez García, Raúl. “La aportación regionalista en EE. UU. Génesis bibliográfica de una ‘nueva filosofía’ arquitectónica.” Cuaderno de notas, no. 16 (July 2015): 54-72. https://doi.org/10.20868/ cn.2015.3118

Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson. Life and Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Searing, Helen. “Henry-Russell Hitchcock: The Architectural Historian as Critic and Connoisseur.” Studies in the History of Art 35. Symposium Papers XIX: The Architectural Historian in America (1990): 251-263.

Serraino, Pierluigi. NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006.

Thompson, Elizabeth. K. “The Early Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 10 (October 1951): 15-21. https://doi.org/10.2307/987446

Thompson, Elizabeth. K. “Is There a Bay Area Style?” Architectural Record 105 (May, 1949): 92-97.

Tobias, Jennifer. “The Museum of Modern Art’s What is Modern? Series 1938-1969.” PhD diss., The City University of New York, 2012.

Tobias, Jennifer. “Elizabeth Mock at the Museum of Modern Art, 1938-1946” (unpublished manuscript). Archives of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2003.

Treib, Marc. “The Social Art of Landscape Design.” In Garret Eckbo. Modern Landscapes for Living, edited by Marc Treib, and Dorothée Imbert, 1-105. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005.

Treib, Marc. “William Wilson Wurster: The Feeling of Function.” In An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, edited by Marc Treib, 12-83. Berkeley and Los Angeles: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art & University of California Press, 1999.

“What is Happening to Modern Architecture? A Symposium at the Museum of Modern Art.” Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 15, no. 3 (1948): 4-20. https://doi.org/10.2307/4058109






Research articles
Received 2018-11-09
Accepted 2019-10-10
Published 2019-10-31