Anthony J. Lumsden, 1928-2011

Anthony J. Lumsden, 1928-2011

With the September 27 passing of Anthony J. Lumsden, FAIA, we have lost one of the twentieth century’s best but most unsung architects.

Born in England and raised in Australia, Lumsden earned a B.Arch from the University of Sydney School of Architecture in 1951. After a travel period, in 1954 Eero Saarinen hired Lumsden to work at his Michigan office.

Ten years later LA’s large, multi-service architectural and engineering firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM) offered Cesar Pelli, who had also worked at Saarinen, a position as their director of design. Shortly thereafter, Pelli persuaded Lumsden to join him as an assistant director of design. On his reasons for selecting Lumsden, Pelli recently stated, “It was very important to have somebody to hear you. Tony would be ideal…he was very bright, very thoughtful, he thinks originally. That was most important for me. Also he was a very good designer and a fantastic draftsman.”

DMJM had hired Pelli and Lumsden to break with orthodox Modernism, but keeping in mind stringent time and money constraints, and working for many clients who were ambivalent about architectural design. Pelli and Lumsden still delivered. One of their first collaborations, Sunset Mountain Park (1966), was a hyper-tech megastructure proposed for the Santa Monica Mountains with an urban nucleus and housing for 7,200 that somehow still acknowledged City of Los Angeles open space ordinances. The project won the Progressive Architecture First Design Award in 1966.

Said Pelli, “We used to discuss architecture endlessly. Our primary moment was during lunch. We would go somewhere and just discuss architecture– how to do things, what the possibilities were within a firm like DMJM, etc. That was part of it. Unquestionably many of the forms and ideas we developed came out of those discussions.”   Perhaps their most enduring design legacy of this time, Pelli and Lumsden first formulated the reversed mullion glass skin. The Century City Medical Plaza (1969), a straightforward 19-story black box, was the first building to incorporate the new design system. Pelli took the initial lead in designing the Medical Plaza, which was done while Lumsden was assigned to rapid transit work at a separate office within DMJM. However, the design concept is theirs together. Its vertical and horizontal mullions only protrude 3/8 of an inch and are applied continuously with solar performance glass across the entire building.

The reversed mullion was an idea that Lumsden had initially wanted to apply to Saarinen’s Holmdel, New Jersey Bell Labs project (1962), on which he was design manager, but the idea was rejected at the time. Lumsden called the new design system, “non-directional, non-gravitational,” and it undid the tripartite stacking seen on towers since the time of Louis Sullivan. Their mirrored skin FAA building (1973) in Hawthorne, CA was atmospheric, anti-monumental, and like aerospace and electronic objects, was encased. The FAA building was also the first designed with a mirrored glass skin, though not the first completed. Admittedly informed by design approaches and technical innovations developed at the Saarinen—later Roche-Dinkeloo—office, Pelli and Lumsden’s reversed mullion glass skin was pragmatic but distinct, and the oft-copied design system would become a global corporate vernacular through the 1970s and into the mid-1980s.

In 1968 Pelli left DMJM and Lumsden became the new director of design. Between 1969 and 1971 Lumsden designed three Wilshire Boulevard Solarbronze-clad towers (One Park Plaza, Century Bank Building, Manufacturer’s Bank Building) earning him international acclaim by applying the glass skin and form “mutations” to break apart the box. Lumsden followed this with horizontally extruded buildings based off distinct functional sections, repeated and therefore standardized and cost efficient. Many remained unbuilt, including the Beverly Hills Hotel (1973), whose renderings depict full-length cylinders articulating various interior functions rolling out of an extended horizontal tower, everything within a silver mirrored skin.

The Sepulveda Water Reclamation Facility could illustrate the bittersweet aspects of Lumsden’s working for a massive company like DMJM for so long. The program was for a drab institutional use and was not built until eight years after it was initially designed in 1982. Lumsden has no design credit on the on-site plaque. Nonetheless, the extruded section is just as equally considered as it is for the Beverly Hills Hotel. It is only the clearest of minds unencumbered by presumptions that could co-opt a sewage treatment plant into a techno-poetic masterpiece.

Lumsden left DMJM in 1993 and began his own practice, Anthony J. Lumsden Associates that completed projects in Korea and institutional buildings across Southern California.

In 2004 I completed a Masters Thesis about Cesar and Tony’s early glass skin work. Tony was ever responsive and generous in sharing abundant time and information. The following year I invited Tony to the California Preservation Foundation annual conference. Stating that he was not a preservation architect, the invite baffled him. Tony designed preservation-worthy recent past architecture, and he was the session’s subject. Once he processed that and settled in, we conducted an intense 30-minute interview focused on his work and philosophies. Our small audience, virtually all of whom had never heard of Anthony Lumsden, was spellbound.