“It’s a good thing midcentury design is back because I am midcentury,” joked architect Miller Fong ’64. A force in both furniture design and residential architecture, Fong has been a lecturer at the USC School of Architecture for the past decade, instilling a love of hand drawing to students who primarily create with pixels.
“I have been given the gift of design, drawing and visualizing, and hope that I can share this gift as a tool for young architects,” he said.
This spring marks the 50th anniversary of Fong’s graduation. He’s the oldest licensed architect on the faculty, he noted, but don’t jump to the conclusion that his age and fondness for sketching point to fossilized thinking. He is known for his positive enthusiasm for life, and his designs are as fresh as tomorrow.
He was the principal designer for Fong Brothers Co. in Los Angeles, a leading manufacturer of rattan and wicker furniture. The company was started by his parents, Danny Ho Fong and Muey Fong, in 1953, and it became well known across the country for its sleek, nontraditional designs. The Wave chaise, designed by his father in 1966, is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art. Miller Fong’s Zen-inspired Lotus chair (1968) is in the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
His parents emigrated from Canton, China in 1936. Their first business was a Chinese curio store in downtown Los Angeles at Seventh and Figueroa streets. The family lived in back of the store, which is where Miller was born. His parents told him he started drawing at the age of 2, drawing on anything he could reach, such as the undersides of stools and the exposed framework of walls. He watched the city grow up around him. The Statler Hilton being built across the street mesmerized a 9-year-old Fong, an inkling of his future as an architect.
His father, who never finished junior high school, was adamant that his three children be educated.
“His dream was to be an architect, and I had the gift of drawing, so I headed to USC,” Fong said. He took classes from some of the icons of the architecture school — Conrad Buff, Donald Hensman, Randell Makinson, A. Quincy Jones, Thornton Abell — and started his own practice after graduation. That same year he married his wife, Jetty, and the two will celebrate their golden anniversary in June.
He has remained a loyal Trojan, proud to wear a letterman jacket that marks his accomplishments as a freshman tennis player. His daughter, Courtney Evans ’90, graduated from USC with a communications degree. Her daughter, Brynn Evans, is a third-generation Trojan, here in her first year at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Brynn and her grandfather regularly go to lunch together when he’s on campus teaching.
Miller is in his 11th year teaching the class known as “Architect’s Sketchbook.” The class attracts all levels of architecture students, as well as students from the USC School of Dramatic Arts, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the USC Roski School of Fine Arts, planners from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and even students in business and accounting.
Although designers and architects rarely create drawings by hand these days, the ability to do so is invaluable, Fong said.
“The journey from head to hand to paper is a very different journey than through the computer,” he said. “I want to give students a tool to put their vision on paper without the computer.”