Randall Stout dies at 56; architect was early champion of green design

Randall Stout dies at 56; architect was early champion of green design
Los Angeles architect Randall Stout was a former associate of Frank Gehry and started his own firm in 1997. (Randall Stout Architects)

Nature gave Los Angeles architect Randall Stout a vision. Its destruction gave him a calling.

Known for buildings that curved and swooped, drawing comparisons to birds and water, Stout sought to make each of his designs "respond to its place," he once told an interviewer. He championed green buildings and green energy before they were household words.


His impulses grew from his Tennessee childhood in the Great Smoky Mountains. He loved the Smokies' soaring canopies of hemlocks and ancient, soft contours — so different from the bold, jagged ranges out West, he would say.

But those childhood idylls also made him witness to the Smokies' defilement by industrial mining and acid rain.

"He saw first-hand a lot of environmental damage done before the Clean Air and Clean Water acts," said his brother, Steve Stout. It sealed Stout's commitment to environmental stewardship from his earliest days as an architect.

The 56-year-old architect died July 11 in Los Angeles of renal cell carcinoma, his brother said.

Schooled as much by nature's ruination as its beauty, Stout designed major museums in Canada and his native South that combined green design with ardent, often quite literal, evocations of local natural features. His idea of good design was one that "belongs to the site, not some building that looked like it was dropped in by spaceship," said friend and fellow architect Rob Jernigan, managing director at Gensler Los Angeles.

For the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, for example, Stout recessed parts of a glass ceiling to hold snow. It gave visitors a sense they were outside even as they climbed interior stairs. For the youth center at L.A.'s Dockweiler State Beach, he drew rooflines that looked like heaving surf.

Stout favored designs that broke conventions, any structure that tried "to be something other than a box," he told the Edmonton Journal in 2010. His work fit squarely into the "other than" category. "He doesn't even start with the box," a museum official in Roanoke once said.

Stout designed Roanoke, Va.'s Taubman Museum of Art (2009) and the addition to the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tenn. (2005). He called the Art Gallery of Alberta (2010), with its billowy lines that imitate the Northern Lights, his most challenging project, his brother said.

Locally his projects include the Blair Graphics building in Santa Monica. His work was featured in last year's exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, "A New Scupturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California."

Born May 6, 1958, in Knoxville and raised in Halls, Tenn., Randall Paul Stout discovered architecture in a high school drafting class. Armed with an architecture degree from the University of Tennessee and a graduate degree from Rice University, he interned with the Tennessee Valley Authority and began work in the field. He eventually joined Frank O. Gehry and Associates and helped design the Walt Disney Concert Hall, working seven years with Gehry before starting his own firm in 1997.

Steve Stout said his brother learned from Gehry but didn't try to emulate him. Still, praise for his work was sometimes tempered by criticism that he produced Gehry "knockoffs," as Canada's Globe and Mail put it in 2005, writing of the Edmonton project, for which he beat out well-known architects such as Zaha Hadid.

Yet even that paper's skeptical reviewer lauded Stout's sincere approach. Alone among the competing architects, "it was Stout who took the time to hang out in the city and learn its geography as if he were a long-time resident," critic Lisa Rochon wrote.

Among Stout's lesser known projects is the conceptual design for the Montclair, Calif., police department headquarters. Although the final design was slightly modified, Stout's vision remained largely intact. It called for skylights, an airy central atrium and a profile that matched the mountains behind it.

Montclair Police Chief Michael deMoet said his officers loved the building's natural light and distinctive profile so much that they changed their badges to incorporate its image. All Montclair officers now wear the building's likeness on their shirts.


A rock climber with a quiet, gentlemanly demeanor, Stout commuted between Lake Arrowhead and an apartment in L.A. Besides his brother, Stout is survived by his wife, Joelle, and three children, Colton, Logan and Grace, of Lake Arrowhead; his mother, Gloria Mynatt Stout, of Knoxville; and a sister, Marcie Stout Wasson, of Norris, Tenn.