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Anthony J. Lumsden dies at 83; Southern California architect

The prolific Lumsden helped develop new ways of wrapping buildings in smooth glass skins, accelerating a shift that reshaped skylines around the world.

October 10, 2011|Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times

Closely studied and later widely copied by other architects, these projects linked late-modern Southern California architecture to the latest experiments in minimalist art and sculpture. Still, Lumsden's designs, produced for a successful corporate firm, were the work of a pragmatist, and put a premium on efficiency. As Daniel Paul puts it, "the reversed mullion saved money on aluminum and used standardized, inexpensive components."

In a tremendously creative period in the early 1970s, Lumsden produced a series of designs that replaced placid, unbroken skins for more complex cylindrical and rolled shapes. Lumsden referred to the technique as "extrusion." It found its purest expression in designs for a convention center in the Swiss city of Lugano and a proposed addition to the Beverly Hills Hotel. Neither project was built.

Lumsden was soon directing the firm's design work on a series of large industrial commissions, including the sprawling Hyperion wastewater treatment plant in El Segundo and the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys, finished in 1985. Both projects rank among the most underrated designs in post-war Southern California architecture, in large part because so few members of the public have seen them in person.

Not all of Lumsden's work from this period was acclaimed. The Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco, completed in 1989, was a rare and widely criticized turn toward historicism in Lumsden's body of work. It stacks a jumble of Art D├ęco forms into a 39-story tower, quickly nicknamed the "jukebox" by San Franciscans.

In 1994 Lumsden founded his own independent practice in Los Angeles. In recent years he designed a number of large-scale projects in Asia, as well as a public library in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles.

But it was those earlier glass office buildings that provide Lumsden's clearest legacy, even as young architects continue to mine his more fanciful later work for inspiration. The finest of the reversed-mullion buildings, avoiding overt historical or contextual references, seem to float free of time, space and even gravity.

This made Lumsden, paradoxically enough, a true L.A. architect: The spirit of his midcareer buildings almost perfectly matches that of the Southern California of the time. They are buoyant, forward-looking and unburdened by the weight of history -- placeless landmarks for a placeless city.

In addition to his son, John, Lumsden is survived by his wife, Anne; a son, Thomas; a daughter, Fiona Blankenship; and three grandchildren.

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