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Our Loss--and the City’s

Frank Israel was beyond category.

With his passing, the world loses a man who made an extraordinary contribution to the progress of architecture and a unique tribute to the city and culture in which he lived. Equally important, we lose a marvelously sensitive individual, one who was profoundly and personally committed to the noblest ideas of architecture as revealed throughout history.

The human dimension was at the forefront of Frank’s design process and his life. Not surprisingly, therefore, the personal relationships he forged with his clients in understanding their values and concerns were as important as the theoretical and practical architectural issues at hand. “A great client makes a great building,” he said with characteristic simplicity. Thus Frank’s buildings were a bracing combination: beautiful, challenging and livable.

Frank was an idealist. Like his greatest predecessors--Schindler, Wright, Kahn and Gehry--he believed completely in the power of architecture to transform the quality of everyday life. At the same time, he was strongly pragmatic and created his buildings to solve problems. (But in true artistic fashion, posed other problems as well.) He also recognized that the most extraordinary, innovative design means nothing if it doesn’t exist in the real world, and he was a master at making sure that his projects got built.

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And so many distinguished ones did make it. These range from private homes such as the Dan House in Malibu, the Drager House in Berkeley and the Goldberg-Beam Residence in Hollywood, to corporate headquarters such as Bright and Associates in Venice, Virgin Records in Beverly Hills and Limelight Productions in Los Angeles. In all of them, he was a perfectionist--a man to whom each detail was essential to the total concept.

Although Frank grew up in New York and lived on the East Coast and Europe for many years, it was in Southern California that he found his true home. He was exquisitely atuned to the promises and limitations of Los Angeles. In this unique, schizophrenic city, he created buildings that address their particular natural settings as well as the city’s introverted urbanism.

The tragedy is that more works like these will not be experienced. Many more superb designs would have entered his studio and would have altered the landscape--projects such as Bunka Shutter, a “new industrial city” proposed for Tokyo, which will not be built. We will never know the other master works that might have come forth. Thanks to his brilliance and dedication as a beloved teacher of architecture, however, his students and colleagues will carry forward his imprint.

Working with Frank on his retrospective at MOCA this spring was a privilege, and reminded Elizabeth A.T. Smith, our co-curator, and me yet again that excellence in architecture is necessary for an ideal world. On one level, Frank designed the exhibition to introduce the public to his work through conventional media such as photographs, drawings and models. But as one might expect, he also took his project to another level by designing a highly dynamic, true architectural space that was constructed in the museum’s galleries.

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Both experiences, he believed, were crucial in enabling people to understand the process and not just the result of architecture; the response he received to the exhibition indicated that he succeeded splendidly.

His close friend and colleague Richard Weinstein, at the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design, best summed up Frank’s achievements. “It was not necessary to explain his architecture,” Weinstein said, “because it gave so much delight to the eye--even though it carried many wry, edgy and even angry meanings. In this way the work faced the anxieties of the contemporary moment we all experience, and overcame them--as he did himself--with inspiring humor and strength, in the last year of his precious life.”

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Service for Israel

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A memorial service for architect and UCLA professor Franklin D. Israel will be held Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Perloff Hall Courtyard on the UCLA campus. Parking will be available in Lot 3, with campus access through the Wyton and Hilgard entrance. Contributions to a memorial fund in Israel’s name in the university’s Department of Architecture and Urban Design can be sent to the Dean’s Office at UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture.


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