As the opening credits to Visual Acoustics roll to a close, a voice, which we later realize is that of Julius Shulman, advocates for architecture's importance: “Every part of a person's life is based upon an architect's presence.” Enveloping us, architecture provides spatial, formal, and textural coordinates for much of human existence. Yet only a few seconds later, the film's narrator, the actor Dustin Hoffman, complicates the equation. “Architects,” we hear, “live and die by the images taken of their work, as these images alone are what most people see.” Despite the fact that buildings surround us, the most famous among them can be elusive. That is especially true in Southern California, where Julius Shulman photographed for more than half a century. On mountain ridges and alongside desert washes, detached houses embody the region's leading architectural response—the desire of affluent Californians to dwell within a private yet probing architectural landscape,...

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