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Architecture alum pledges $500,000 for overseas study

Allison Engelby Allison Engel
Warren Lortie decided that giving more students the chance to study abroad would be a goal worth supporting. (Photo/Sheri Geoffreys, Orange County Community Foundation)
Photo: Warren Lortie decided that giving more students the chance to study abroad would be a goal worth supporting. (Photo/Sheri Geoffreys, Orange County Community Foundation)

The USC School of Architecture has announced a $500,000 pledge from architect Warren Lortie ’66 to establish the Thom Mayne Full Study Abroad Scholarship Funded by Warren Lortie.

Mayne, who graduated from the school in 1969, received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honor, in 2005. The scholarship will pay all expenses for selected fourth- or fifth-year undergraduate students to study abroad for a semester in the school’s Global Studies Program.

Dean Qingyun Ma said the donation was particularly significant this year.

“As the school celebrates its 100 years of classes, this gift, pledged by Warren Lortie, will foster student interest, enhance our pursuit of excellence and our global agenda,” Ma said. “It is also a celebration of Thom Mayne as an alumnus of our program and his innovation in design, which crystallizes the role architecture plays in the global discourse on art, technology and urbanism.”

Lortie, currently of Newport Beach, Calif., began his career as an architect in Los Angeles, but he moved to Orange County as his practice evolved into development and eventually focused on real estate investment. His relationship with Mayne began at USC and continued into their salad days as young architects, when the two were neighbors in South Pasadena. Their families were close, but in later years as both moved from South Pasadena and followed different careers, their paths rarely crossed.

In recent discussions with Ma about possible donations to the school, Lortie decided that giving more students the chance to study abroad would be a goal worth supporting.

“To give students a semester with all expenses paid to study at a university in Spain, Italy, China or Brazil would result in them becoming architects with a better understanding of the global marketplace,” Lortie said.

Lortie also noted that naming the endowed fund after Mayne would not only inspire students to come to USC, but also give them incentive to excel in order to achieve this award.

“Thom has skyrocketed in notoriety since we were neighbors,” Lortie said, “and his name will mean much more than mine. I am grateful that he has accepted my offer to fund this scholarship, and I have accepted his request to be included in the formal name, although it is funded on his behalf as a tribute to his accomplishments and as an acknowledgement of the part USC has played in his experience.”

Lortie previously donated funds for the Graduate Study in Architecture Conference Room on Watt Hall’s third floor, he is active in the USC Architectural Guild and was recently appointed to the school’s board of councilors.

“USC Architecture is a more international program now, and the student body reflects that,” he said. “I’m hoping this scholarship is one more way to enhance the school’s international identification and outlook.”

The School of Architecture currently has 33 countries represented among its student body. Its Global Studies Program awards academic credit for study in several countries, including Italy, Malaysia, Spain and China. The school also has smaller travel fellowships to support student projects all over the world.

Although Lortie ostensibly retired after selling his real estate management and investment company in 2004, he has had a hard time staying out of the business.

In the past few years, he has been using his architecture and real estate skills on projects such as a shared-space office complex in Orange County, known as The Village, reconfigured for nonprofits. Working under the Orange County Community Foundation, he and project partner Bill Podlich have established a nonprofit entity to rehab the 1970s office building with shared space designed for small nonprofits, including a training room, board room, employee lounge and open spaces for common usage.

The reaction from local nonprofits has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he said, and he hopes the building is a model that can be duplicated elsewhere in Southern California.

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