Obit> Randall Stout, 1958–2014

Obit> Randall Stout, 1958–2014

Noted Los Angeles architect Randall Stout has died of cancer. He was 56. Stout served long tenures at SOM in Houston and at Gehry Partners in Los Angeles, then went on to found Randall Stout Architects in 1997. The office, which gained large commissions in the United States and Europe, became known for contortions of polished steel and raw stone, and for large, luminous interior spaces intimately connected to their surroundings. Despite these unusual forms, Stout’s buildings were regarded as people friendly and practical.

“Randall was a true architect,” Richard Keating, who worked with Stout at SOM from 1978 to 1986, said. “He understood materials and budgets and made excellent buildings.” Keating attributed this combination to his extended time with SOM and Gehry. “His approach to buildings was to be artful as well as responsible.” 

Stout’s own firm set out by putting together raw—and striking—industrial-scale public buildings in Germany—such as the Bunde Fire Station and the Rehme Water Station—which he soon parlayed into high profile museum commissions in the U.S. and Canada. Perhaps Stout’s most famous project, the Hunter Museum of Art, is located atop a limestone bluff in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The structure, showing off stainless steel curves and weathered zinc masses, takes its cues from the jagged landforms beneath it. It contrasts powerfully with the institution’s adjacent Southern Colonial mansion. His Art Gallery of Alberta takes its inspiration from a cosmic storm, energetically threading large spans of reflective metal through an angular gridded glass facade.

Stout, an associate professor at UNLV School of Architecture, became a nationally-known advocate and practitioner of sustainable architecture. He continued to land prestigious—and green—cultural work, like the Taubman Art Museum in Roanoke, Virginia and the Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts in Birmingham, Alabama. His later designs, while still adventurous, were heading in a more subtle, orthogonal direction.

Ashi Martin, a young associate at RSA, remembered Stout’s obsession with crafting buildings for their users, an art he perfected through physical models. “He would bend down and look at the model and look at the correct perspective to see how it would look in human scale,” she noted. “It was most about the experience.”

While Stout spent much of his life in California, his gentlemanly southern charm still moved clients and friends alike. “He was a lovely human being,” said Cliff Pearson, an editor at Architectural Record who got to know Stout while covering the Hunter Museum. Pearson pointed to Stout’s variety of professional experiences, from his native Knoxville, Tennessee to Texas to California. “These were incredible influences mixing together,” said Pearson. Still, following in Gehry’s footsteps, and maintaining some of his formal language, often invited comparisons to his old boss’ work. “Getting out from under that shadow was a big challenge, and I’m not certain he ever totally did,” said Pearson. It’s a trial that many Los Angeles architects of Stout’s generation have faced.

“I don’t think his work was well enough respected within the Los Angeles architecture community,” said LA architect John Kaliski, a colleague of Stout’s at SOM. “Obviously he worked for Frank, learned much from the master, and in many ways his work grew from the master. In the future, when people look at this era, I think his work will grow in stature and always be observed and respected in the same way that Walter Burley Griffin’s and Marion Mahoney’s is in relationship to Frank Lloyd Wright’s. That is an amazing achievement.”

Gensler Managing Principal Rob Jernigan has known Stout since their days together at the University of Tennessee in the 1970s. He called his friend’s work “world class architecture, and laments that his still-developing career was halted so soon. “He was at the height of his potential and it was taken away,” he said. Jernigan acknowledged that Stout’s work took on some of Gehry’s “freedom of expression,” but noted that it was very much his own.

“He really understood the nature of the site and that the architecture derived from the site. His work was organic but free. The buildings come up out of the site but then they take flight. They sort of liberate themselves from the site,” said Jernigan.

Stout’s office, located on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, has only four employees. The firm will finish work on active projects, but it is unclear if it will remain open after that, said Sabina Lira, a senior associate at RSA, and its longest tenured employee. RSA did not have a strict hierarchy—there were no principals outside of Stout—which could prove challenging moving ahead.

Stout, who had been sick for almost three years prior to his passing, did not inform his workers of the severity of his condition until about a month ago. “He kept going with every aspect of the office until the last day,” said Lira. Even then Stout was still asking questions about assignments, designs, and models, she added. “It shows how much he loved his work. It was his life.” She added: “He asked that we not be sad about his death. That we celebrate our accomplishments. That we celebrate our designs as a reflection of his life.”

Stout is survived by his wife Joelle and their their three children.