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Los Angeles architect and long-time SCI-Arc Faculty member Robert Mangurian has passed away.
He is survived by his life, teaching, and work partner, Mary-Ann Ray, an older brother David, and a son Tony from his first marriage.
This interview with Robert and his early Studioworks collaborator Craig Hodgetts was included in an exhibition catalog I co-edited in 2005.
I have added some thoughts about Robert and a short poem for him with some images not included in the original exhibition catalog.
Like others, I have/had a complicated reading of (and relationship with) Robert Mangurian.
When I first met Robert in the fall of 1999, I immediately disliked him.
I was the then-incoming and, I will readily admit now, very arrogant and snotty thesis coordinator at SCI-Arc.
I crossed Robert at the mid-review by preventing one of his students from moving their work on the wall a few hours before the review.
The student was upset and exhausted, and I stupidly said there was no more time or room to make any more changes and that it was just the mid-review and to let it go.
That upset the student some more, and by the time Robert got wind of it, he didn’t like my decision or me, and he made that terrifyingly clear.
Initially, I didn’t respond well to Robert’s approach to handling me, and me being my younger and more unstable hothead self, I yelled back at him.
It escalated quickly, and I stupidly threatened a physical altercation in the parking lot of the Marina campus.
In retrospect, I am not at all proud of how I behaved on our first encounter, it was rude and childish.
I can’t even fathom my mindset then, but Robert seemed to appreciate the shouty, and quickly unhinged side of me, and perhaps for that reason alone, he started to like me.
A few years later, after I was unceremoniously booted out of SCI-Arc for bad behavior and then came back with my tail between my legs, Robert and Mary-Ann graciously lent some beautiful drawings and a model to an exhibition I co-curated at SCI-Arc.
After that, I always enjoyed attending the studio reviews Mary-Ann and Robert elaborately staged.
There was always delicious food and some of their excellent olive oil to go around. Like their teachers, the students’ work was always oddly profound and strong, and vulnerable.
Over time I came to value Robert for his humanity, warts and all, and I grew very fond of Robert and Mary-Ann as a couple.
Their presence at SCI-Arc reminded me of what I loved about the school when I first arrived in LA: its earnestness, the unapologetic rough edges, a collective commitment to making things in the world as a natural extension to talking about them, and there was SCI-Arc’s rotating cast of rowdy misfits, weirdos, and strong characters.
Robert and Mary-Ann’s reviews always had a festive quality, suggesting that architectural education is more than just checking off the boxes on a syllabus or mastering software. The way Mary-Ann and Robert taught was special and unique, like their few but influential and idiosyncratic buildings.
Robert’s way of teaching and being an architect is almost impossible to reproduce now. It doesn't seem like there's much room in the world, our profession, or the academy for his personality type anymore.
That is too bad, or maybe it is for the better. Hard to tell.
I admire Robert for what he believed in as an architect, his brilliance as a designer, and most importantly, what he stood for as a teacher.
Robert always put his students’ growth and personal development first, never seeing teaching as a means to an end but an end in itself.
This weekend, like many others, I mourn Robert Mangurian.
Vale Robert Mangurian, 1941-2023.
Robert was fierce.
Robert was kind.
Robert was generous.
Robert was impossible.
Robert was brilliant.
Robert was imprudent.
Robert was outrageous.
Robert was subtle.
Robert was kind-hearted.
Robert was unreasonable.
Robert was a mensch.
Robert was injudicious.
Robert was an innocent.
Robert was hardly innocent.
Robert was hard (or easy) to appreciate.
Robert needed to be understood.
Robert was an antagonist.
Robert was a protagonist.
Robert loved the world.
Robert was beloved.
Interview with Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts from Whatever Happened to LA?
Studioworks / On the prospects of urbanism in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s:
Only the larger offices did urban work, meaning large corporate work. They were doing Downtown Bunker Hill, but that was it. We basically said that the city is formed by a kind of consensus and discussion- what it was about, what its feel was, what its aesthetic was.
But the idea was that each person did individual buildings and these just accumulated, and that is how the large scale got done. You get to urbanism through architecture- that was the nature of the approach.
The Venice Inter Arts Center was a funny attempt to intercede in the city in a more impressive way. It broke some rules, but it eventually didn't happen. You could say de facto that idea of speculating on the city didn't happen.
But thinking about the city, about urbanism found its way into teaching, I would say much more so with Craig.
Our projects at the time, like Gagosian-were not oblivious to their surroundings, but the focus was not on urbanism.
The Gilcrest project, however, was much more about the geometry of the land and the geometry of the city in a much broader sense.
Studioworks / On the legacy of architecture and urbanism in LA 1970-1990:
CRAIG HODGETTS: It is important to re-write the romantic history of that period with the pragmatic, real history of that era because, viewed backward, it looks pretty different than viewed contemporaneously. Viewed contemporaneously, the architecture culture of Los Angeles was non-existent, with the exception of the larger corporate firms that delivered things like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That was not a particularly self-conscious architectural practice.
There was an enormous gap between those offices and the few individuals- like Ray Kappe-who had made a crack in that, in any meaningful way, with larger commissions. And then there was this sort of spattering of entrepreneurial guys like Mayne and Moss etc. But there was such a deep divide at that time in LA between architects thinking about architecture with a capital "A" and architects thinking about architecture as a professional practice.
There was a sort of forced innocence because there was no hope of doing any substantive work--the Venice Inter Arts debacle being a prime example of that -where a project won a PA Design Award, and there was absolutely no conscious reception of that whatsoever in this city at all it simply didn't have any effect. So the sense of experimentation was such that individuals were doing their work as best they could but with no expectation that projects could be realized.
In this environment, at least on the West Coast, LA is unique in the sense that it has no urbanism of an organized sort. That is what draws us now to China, Beijing especially.
Beijing is a flat city- -you can't say it is like LA because the buildings are all like ten stories high. But it started out like LA-just a flattened mass with lots of courtyards.
They always say Beijing is huge, but it’s not; it could fit in greater LA.
But there are a lot of conditions and situations-density, island-like podium buildings, tree farms--that when we talk about L.A., urbanism-we could see opportunities for here.
Studioworks / On NY vs. LA:
I used to say to people on the East Coast that the difference between LA and New York was that in LA at the time, there were no institutions that supported the arts or architecture, and that that was a double-edged sword.
Because when there are institutions, there is a strong editorial process, and everybody is straining to fit the mold of the institution the mold of the Museum of Modern Art, the mold of the Architecture League- because those things are beckoning to you with the promise of patronage.
In L.A., there was no mold at all-it did not exist. So you didn't have the institutional support, but you also didn't have the filter on the work.
So, there was no framework.
It was a complete free for all.
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