“Human dignity and beauty don’t know class boundaries,” said Michael Lehrer.
The adjunct associate professor of architecture was explaining the philosophy behind the strikingly attractive homeless drop-in center he recently designed for Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
But he might as well have been describing a value he shares with two other USC faculty who – like him – were honored recently by the American Institute of Architects’ Los Angeles chapter.
Like Lehrer, Pierre Koenig, a University Professor and legendary modern architect, and John Mutlow, a professor of architecture who specializes in affordable housing, have attracted attention for providing beauty and dignity for those who are less than affluent.
Koenig, renowned for economical and environmentally friendly residential designs, received the AIA/LA’s Gold Medal Award. The group’s highest honor, the medal recognizes “a serious and compelling body of work that has had a major impact on Los Angeles and throughout the world.” During a four-decade-plus career, Koenig has designed numerous commercial and residential projects, including Case Study House No. 21 and 22. The latter, which was built high in the Hollywood Hills in 1960, is reputed to be the most-often-published example of modernist residential design.
“You are honored for your life’s work, your pursuit of truth and excellence, which is expressed in an architecture that captures the spirit of simple optimism in the California landscape and culture,” Lehrer, AIA/LA’s president, told Koenig at the Oct. 28 award ceremony.
Meanwhile, Lehrer and Mutlow nabbed two of the group’s eight annual design awards. Each award recognizes excellence in a recently completed project.
Mutlow was honored for his design of Villa Flores, a 75-unit affordable housing complex for the elderly in downtown L.A. Financed with federal and city funds and sponsored by the First United Methodist Church, the cheery and avant-garde facility that opened in the fall of 1998 looks more like a collection of artists’ lofts than a rest home. Capitalizing on natural light, every unit has a balcony and a wall-to-wall window in the living room; the whole complex surrounds a Xeriscaped courtyard with a drywash, pedestrian bridge and trees. It was the second year in a row that Mutlow had won an AIA/LA design award. Last year, he won the prize for a Crenshaw District housing complex for low-income families.
Lehrer was honored for a 15,000-square-foot city-sponsored facility that targets members of the homeless population who are least likely to seek services. Now used by up to 1,500 people daily, the center includes an infirmary, beds, shower facilities and a “clubhouse” organized around a courtyard. The center makes abundant use of natural light and its crisp, white exterior is more reminiscent of a chic Westside recording studio than a homeless shelter. Lehrer’s firm, Lehrer Architects, collaborated with Farooq Ameen & Associates on the project.