Paul Bockhorst Productions is pleased to announce the release of the documentary Pursuing Beauty: The Architecture of Bernard Maybeck. The feature-length widescreen production chronicles the long and fruitful life of one of America’s great architects.
Bernard Maybeck was a 19th-century romantic who used 20th-century materials to create buildings that speak across time. The rich body of work that he bequeathed to the world is remarkably diverse—by turns rustic and refined, theatrical and sublime. His projects reveal an original vision, a reverence for nature, a commitment to community, and a deep and abiding love of beauty.
Although Maybeck is best known as a California architect, he carried out his largest project in the river town of Elsah, Illinois. There, on a magnificent limestone bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, he designed the master plan and thirteen buildings for Principia College. For Maybeck, the chance to plan an entire college campus was exhilarating. Through the force of his design, he was able to create a comprehensive learning environment, one that supported human development on all levels—body, mind, and spirit. Later, Maybeck called the Principia project his “favorite child.”
The scenographic framework that Maybeck chose for the Principia campus was English Tudor—the medieval English village in particular. He thought the English country village was a model that afforded variety within an overarching unity. The design would acknowledge the individuality of the students, while affirming the larger community to which they belonged. At the same time, the residential buildings would have an intimate, home-like atmosphere, easing the transition from home to college.
The only exception to the English Tudor plan was the College Chapel, which is in a New England Colonial Revival style. This was at the request of Principia students, who asked for a church that would evoke the New England roots of Christian Science. Although he had not worked in that style before, Maybeck welcomed the opportunity to broaden his architectural vocabulary. The site he chose for the chapel, on a high point overlooking the broad Mississippi, makes it the crowning jewel of his campus plan.
Although he viewed the buildings at Principia as an ensemble, Maybeck treated each one as an individual work of art. Having been given wide latitude in the design process, he built the residence halls to high standards, both structurally and aesthetically. The level of craftsmanship is very high, and there is a feeling of naturalness at every turn. The subtle colors and textures of the materials chosen by Maybeck—stone, brick, tile, glass block, and other materials—enhance the character of the campus and help the buildings fit comfortably into the native landscape.
At Principia Maybeck also experimented freely, especially with concrete. The beautifully sculpted ceiling trusses in the living room at Anderson Hall appear to be wood but are, in fact, concrete. The concrete stairway in Buck House shows the beauty of the material when used for artistic as well as functional purposes.
The story of Bernard Maybeck’s work at Principia College is but one chapter in the architect’s long and distinguished career. Pursuing Beauty: The Architecture of Bernard Maybeck chronicles the wide sweep of that career, examining over twenty of Maybeck’s most important projects. Featured projects include the famous Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, designed for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, and Wyntoon, the spectacular Germanic castle that Maybeck designed for the philanthropist Phoebe Hearst on the McCloud River in Northern California.
Other significant works seen in the documentary include the Albert Schneider House in Berkeley, which had a great influence on the novelist Ursula K. LeGuin, who spent her childhood years in the rustic house; the all-concrete Andrew Lawson House, also in Berkeley, which has been a lifelong source of inspiration for the artist Nancy Genn; the highly eccentric Samuel Goslinsky and Leon Roos houses in San Francisco; and First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Berkeley, widely regarded as a masterpiece of American architecture. The latter has been admired by a host of major architects, including Louis Kahn and Philip Johnson.
Throughout the film, noted historians and other insightful observers share their perspectives on the life and work of Bernard Maybeck. The commentators include the historians Robert Judson Clark, Richard Longstreth, Kenneth Cardwell, Gray Brechin, Robert Craig, and Colette Collester; architecture critic Allan Temko; architectural writer Leslie Freudenheim; novelist Ursula K. LeGuin; artist Nancy Genn; and Bernard Maybeck’s granddaughters, Cherry Nittler and Sheila Bathurst.
Pursuing Beauty can be described as a labor of love for the man who produced it, the Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Paul Bockhorst. As a boy, Mr. Bockhorst lived in the Berkeley Hills, in what is known as Maybeck Country. “Memories of inventive and inviting hillside homes designed by Maybeck have stayed with me over the years,” he says. “These houses have kindled within me a deep appreciation for building in harmony with nature and for designing environments that engage us on all levels—body, mind, and spirit. For me, this documentary is a tribute to a master artist who understood the deeper aspects of architecture.”
Pursuing Beauty was produced in cooperation with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. The documentary is narrated by Richard Doyle. Principal photography is by John Rogers. Paul Morehouse composed the original music. Major funding was provided by The Windgate Charitable Foundation, the Gensler Foundation, Fred and Judy Porta, Colette Collester, Willard Hanzlik, and the family of Charles Hosmer, a scholar at Principia College who helped preserve Maybeck’s architectural legacy there. The running time is 86 minutes. For more information, please visit www.bockhorstproductions.com.
Pursuing Beauty is one in a series of four documentaries by Paul Bockhorst Productions chronicling Arts and Crafts architecture in California. The series includes:
- Beautiful Simplicity: Arts & Crafts Architecture in Southern California
- Designing with Nature: Arts & Crafts Architecture in Northern California
- Greene & Greene: The Art of Architecture
- Pursuing Beauty: The Architecture of Bernard Maybeck
The television premiere of Pursuing Beauty took place in the Saint Louis area on KETC 9 on Sunday, November 11, 2012.