‘Heritage of Los Angeles Is Important to Us’

Stephen Kanner, 42, is a third-generation architect whose work with Kanner Architects in West Los Angeles reflects the past and anticipates the future. “The heritage of Los Angeles is important to us,” he says.

Both his work and his related activities, such as serving on design review boards, promote his design philosophy of creating a user-friendly, contemporary environment that pays homage to the optimistic Southern California Modernism of the postwar years.

He says “the great retro phase” of his father’s and grandfather’s architecture inspired him, blending with his contemporary ideas to form a forward-looking style he calls “retro-futurism.”

His grandfather, the late Herman Kanner, started the firm in 1953. Stephen, who attended UC Berkeley and toyed with the idea of becoming an artist, joined his father, Charles, in 1982 to collaborate on such projects as the International Style Seacliff homes in Malibu. “We design buildings for people who are going to use them, and we want them to be light and airy and playful, but still be serious architecture.”


Typical of his evocative buildings that combine function with visual wit is the In-N-Out Burger in Westwood, a sculptural composition derived from the bright boomerang-shaped company logo that vibrantly bespeaks the building’s purpose. His concept sketches for future cities combine swooping people movers with canopies covering indoor-outdoor areas. “So far we’ve been taking small steps, waiting for an opportunity to pull out all the stops,” he says.

He thinks Los Angeles, with its wealth of experimental architecture, is receptive. “It’s an incredibly good place to be if you want to break new ground, because the clients are more open.”