Robert Mangurian (1941-2023): A Personal Reflection

The architect Robert Mangurian, who left this world July 5, 2023, was a legendary teacher at SCI-Arch in Los Angeles as well as a provocative architect. I first met Robert in 1980 at a dinner organized by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams to celebrate the 1980 Progressive Architecture publication of our first built projects. A few years later, he invited me to lecture at SCI-Arc. I arrived on an economy New York-LA flight and Robert picked me up in an old Chevrolet station wagon, driving me to the lecture, after which I slept on the concrete floor of a storefront studio of Gary Page. Together with Mark Mack, Thom Mayne, and Michael Rotondi, we were forging an angry rebuttal to then predominant corporate and postmodern works. Mark Mack wrote an article in The Harvard Review in 1984 entitled “Other Architecture”:

“Their [Hodgetts/Mangurian] buildings create an architecture culture expressing popular and refined values alike… not through prissy application of architectural motifs and styles but through the creation of enduring buildings standing on their own feet… addressing the issues of context with restrained articulation, celebrating architecture in an elemental, archetypical, understated and silent way.”

Mark Mack, Yoko Ono, Robert Mangurian, 1982.

Mark Mack had recently started Archetype Magazine and I had recently started the magazine Pamphlet Architecture with William Stout. (Robert’s partner Mary-Ann Ray would author Pamphlet Architecture 20: Seven partly underground rooms and buildings for water, ice, and midgets).

The 1980s was a heady time full of enthusiasm for change in architecture culture. My first wife, Janet Cross, worked at Studio Works Architects, Robert’s Los Angeles atelier, where she worked on huge models for James Turrell’s Roden Crater. She remembers Robert’s old white Cadillac was parked in front of the garage door when Turrell came one night to see progress on the model. (Robert was away in Rome with Mary-Ann Ray). Janet had to slide the model out under the Cadillac for Turrell.

Gagosian Gallery in Venice, California, 1980.

A realization of the spectacular central circular void court of the Gagosian Gallery and House in Venice, California (1980-81) was widely published, setting Studio Works Architects in the forefront of inspiring new urban architecture. Its huge blank frame street facade stood as an index of the secret void within.

Years later, Robert and Mary-Ann created an amazing teaching program and studio in Beijing called B.A.S.E. I had just been invited to do my first buildings in China in Nanjing and Beijing, so I would often visit them, giving lectures at B.A.S.E. and enjoying symposium-like dinners with enthusiastic students. There was a surreal mystique to the way Robert taught architecture. Architecture and art were an entangled continuum mixed with his strange sense of humor. Values and ideals were the serious focus.

Robert Mangurian was a rare architect and individual—a provocateur, a dedicated fabricator, and a deeply poetic teacher. We will miss his spiritual presence.

– Steven Holl