Edgardo Contini, an architect, engineer and urban designer described by his colleagues as the conscience of the planning profession in Los Angeles, died Saturday of complications of cancer at his home in West Los Angeles. He was 76.
Born in Ferrara, Italy, and trained at the University of Rome, Contini was first drafted into the Italian army but then was ousted under Benito Mussolini’s “Racial Manifesto.” Contini was a member of a prominent Jewish-Italian family.
Contini emigrated to the United States in 1939 and served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Europe during World War II. After the war he settled in Los Angeles and in 1951 became a founding partner of the firm of Gruen Associates. At Gruen, Contini was responsible for planning many major Los Angeles projects, including the Pacific Design Center and the Fox Hills Mall.
In 1979 Contini was appointed president of the Urban Innovations Group, the practicing arm of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. At UIG, Contini participated in the Grand Avenue proposal for the development of California Plaza on Bunker Hill and in the planning of the expansion of the Beverly Hills Civic Center with architect Charles Moore.
Contini lectured at UCLA, the USC School of Architecture, the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the Art Center College of Design. He was active in the Urban Design Advisory Coalition and contributed articles on urban design and planning to many professional journals.
He also received numerous awards, including the Harlan Bartholomew Award and the prestigious Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, bestowed earlier this year.
In sponsoring Contini for that fellowship, architect Frank Gehry wrote: “Edgardo is a rare combination: a creative design talent who also possesses a technical, practical sensibility coupled with a gift for making people understand.”
Contini described his design philosophy as a desire “to create opportunities out of problems . . . what better challenge, what greater pleasure?”
He was a lifelong advocate of renewing and recycling urban buildings rather than continuing to erect new ones.
As long ago as 1972 he wrote that “if we should place the emphasis on recycling, no further withdrawal from our resources of open land would be required . . . and by moving on to something new, (we will) escape the responsibility for the urban litter we leave behind.”
On his retirement from UIG in 1984, friends and colleagues established the Edgardo Contini Lecture at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning in his honor.
Contini is survived by his wife, Phyllis; three children from a former marriage, John, Nora and Barbara, and a grandson.