November 1, 2010 - From the October, 2010 issue

AIA/LA Gold Medal Awarded to Brenda Levin for Contributions to Los Angeles' Revitalization

On October 27th, the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIA, along with related professionals, gathered at LACMA to honor the highest achievements in design in 2010. Receiving the AIA/LA's highest award, the Gold Medal, was Brenda Levin, FAIA, principal of Levin & Associates. What follows are AIA/LA President (and AECOM principal) Paul Danna's introduction of Brenda Levin, followed by her brief comments chronicling her three decade architectural practice, which materially contributed to and coincide with the maturation of the city of Los Angeles' urban form.


Brenda Levin

Paul Danna, AIA|LA president, AECOM principal: The Griffith Observatory, Chapman Market, the Bradbury Building, Grand Central Market, the Oviatt Building, the Fine Arts Building, the Wiltern, City Hall, the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, campus buildings at Scripps, Santa Barbara and Occidental. This is only the beginning of the list of projects that our Gold Medal Honoree has graced us with.

Many people have been behind the creation or renovation of these landmark buildings, some of the most loved in our city: engineers, craftspeople, developers, other architects. One woman has been behind them all: Brenda Levin.

Through her quiet but forceful ways, working in a man's world, Brenda Levin pioneered the preservation and revitalization movement in Los Angeles, a city that not too long ago, had little appreciation of its past. Maybe it took a somewhat unwilling east coast transplant to help us recognize what a gift the past can be.

As Jon Jerde said, "She taught everyone how to give life back to things that were, at first glance, hopelessly lifeless." In doing so, Brenda not only revived buildings, but entire neighborhoods. Francis Anderton said that Brenda's projects, "precipitated an interest in the future potential of the past." They also gained the attention of the public and even politicians, leading to the passage of the adaptive reuse ordinance in Los Angeles, fueling the future of the LA Conservancy and a whole new awareness of the built environment.

Brenda's designs for campuses and cultural institutions have benefitted our region through their thoughtfulness, beauty, and demonstration that architecture done well serves many responsibilities-to its clients, its users and its community. We are all very fortunate that Brenda Levin was willing to give Los Angeles a chance.

In recognition of your significant and lasting influence on the City of Los Angeles, I am honored to present the 2010 AIA/LA Gold Medal to Brenda Levin, FAIA.

Brenda Levin: I am truly honored to receive the AIA/LA Gold Medal tonight and to have my name added to those extraordinary architects who have preceded me in receiving this award.

It is particularly meaningful to me because the first recipient was John Lautner, my first employer in Los Angeles. He was a brilliant architect and an inspiring mentor.

Tonight's ceremony causes me to flash back 34 years, to when I first arrived in Los Angeles from the East Coast, with the ink and seal on my GSD diploma barely dry.

It is noteworthy, that my East Coast classmates-nourished by Woody Allen films-were quite skeptical about my move-with my husband-to-be–-to Los Angeles. I, too, had absorbed every stereotype of L.A. Frankly, I was more than a bit apprehensive about becoming a "movie-extra," resident architect in sprawling and suburban, sun drenched and season-less, Southern California.

For me, great cities were Eurocentric constructs of 19th and 20th Century architecture-built upon an organized pattern of streets, with pedestrian scale sidewalks, large public parks, navigable public transit, and water that defined the urban edge.

A Downtown was "downtown" and the neighborhoods within the city boundaries were identifiable, yet felt interconnected rather than separate.

In stark contrast, in 1976, downtown's historic core had long been abandoned for Bunker Hill high rises, and Broadway's Grand Central Market, unlike comparable markets in Europe and the East Coast, was neither vibrant nor valued.

Advertisement

It is professionally ironic, then, that my firm's practice over the past 30 years, has been in large part shaped by the positive evolution of Los Angeles, particularly the revitalization of our downtown.

Once in practice, it did not take me long to realize, that Los Angeles is actually a petri dish for dreams and unafraid dreamers-unusually open to experimentation, receptive to change, self invention, "the new, new thing," including a young female architect from Boston.

With each successive architectural commission, I grew to appreciate how other immigrant transplants like myself, were embraced based on merit, and given opportunities that were often beyond the reach of women professionals in more tradition-bound cities.

For perspective, over 100 years ago Julia Morgan became the first woman admitted to the architectural program at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Returning to California, she formed her own active and prosperous practice, designing upward of 700 buildings in her career. While I am indirectly the beneficiary of her success, there are still too few women in senior positions within architecture firms and firms headed solely by women.

We at Levin & Associates have strived for three decades-whether engaged with new construction or the revival of an existing structure, to create buildings that build on the existing context, whether that context is physical or something less tangible: buildings that sit well with their neighbors, embrace the user with comfort and functionality, that create spaces and places that add life to the urban environment.

Architecture is a romantic profession in that we seek opportunities to help shape and renew a part of the city, a neighborhood, a campus, or a beloved icon. We are very much in awe when these spaces emerge from the drawings and lift spirits, foster interaction and encourage a sense of community and civic pride.

Yes, Los Angeles has become my home. I now fully appreciate the amazing creative forces within this city-its cultural openness and unfettered ambition. More so than any other city in America, Los Angeles offers an evolving metropolitan laboratory from which we can learn critical lessons about how to build a livable, sustainable and multi-centered 21st century city. Although we currently face a sluggish economy, tonight's design awardees certainly prove that the immense talent in Los Angeles has neither succumbed nor been compromised.

In that spirit, I would like to publicly recognize and thank the dedicated and gifted members of my firm, both past and present, who have contributed their talent for the last three decades to all that Levin & Associates has achieved.

They along with my family, especially my husband David Abel, and son Eliot-and my mentors and first clients, Wayne Ratkovich, and Ira Yellin-and my close community of colleagues and friends-together, confirm the wisdom of my making Los Angeles HOME.

Julia Morgan had it right when she said, "Architecture is a visual art... the buildings speak for themselves."

Nevertheless: Thank you AIA and all of you who are here today, for this deeply appreciated Gold Medal recognition of our firm's body of work.

© 2014 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.