In a city with a reputation for exporting its design talent to distant cities, Los Angeles native Michael Lehrer, with his firm Lehrer Architects, is one of a handful of homegrown architects whose distinct style is visible all over Southern California. Asked to explain how his firm has produced so many highly visible public projects in the region, Lehrer credits “working hard like a dog for several decades.”
A key question of his firm’s work, according to Lehrer: “How do you leverage every project into a larger cultural idea?” The firm’s recent string of public projects have answered that question by expanding the impact of small but deeply valued corners of the city beyond traditional or jurisdictional boundaries, no matter how modest the budget.
Also visible in all of Lehrer Architect’s public projects is a Southern Californian ethos of light, color, and opening buildings to the outdoors. “Making things that bring joy is serious and profound,” said Lehrer of his connection to the Southern California design tradition. “That’s the gift of Los Angeles.”
When AN visited the Lehrer Architects studio in Silver Lake, the building’s large sliding doors were wide open, allowing cool breezes and the sounds of playing children to drift inside. The studio’s walls displayed the work of an artist in residence and the collected sketches of a monthly figure drawing class. “The ability to offer a place of one’s making is a delicious thing,” said Lehrer of the studio’s role in the community as a cultural and artistic center.
Potrero Heights Park Community and Senior Services Center
To add a building to a park without subsequently destroying the park, Lehrer Architects located this new community center on the street, doubling the building’s role as a gateway and a flexible pavilion space. Blending indoor and outdoor spaces, the building opens on all sides and uses curtains to allow flexible interior reprogramming. Vibrant colors and seating built into the building are popular in the community. “80 percent of urban design is the narrative you give to a place,” said Lehrer. “I’m interested in making that story palpable.”
Los Angeles, California
The trick of the Reseda Pool project is to transform fencing into iconic community architecture. Built for the Bureau of Engineering in the city of Los Angeles, requirements for parking and fencing further constrained a modest $3 million budget. To achieve visual impact, the firm designed 30-foot-tall towers and hung art by Jane Tsong on their dense chain link and vinyl surfaces. Lighting the towers at night creates a beacon in the community. “The challenge for the designer is to make something memorable, special, iconic, and celebratory,” said Lehrer Since the pool’s completion, the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering has hired Lehrer to restore and renovate Central Pool in South Los Angeles.
Spring Street Park
Los Angeles, California
Since Spring Street Park opened in the summer of 2013 it has been a welcome gift to the exploding Downtown Los Angeles residential scene. Designed in a collaboration between Lehrer Architects and the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Engineering, the park contains a lot in its .7 acres. Its nooks and open spaces are designed to accommodate groups ranging in size from one to more than a hundred, while walking paths, children’s play equipment, and custom-designed seating provide many ways to enjoy the space.
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, California
With this multi-phased project, which includes a new visitor’s center, a re-orientation of the site, and new landscaping, the firm worked to integrate the garden into the campus and to invite the public into the garden. In so doing, the project extends the west edge of the garden beyond Tiverton Drive, making the street a promenade to bring visitors in and out. “Our gift is finding beauty where others don’t,” said Lehrer.