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Rene Gonzalez Ilustre, a California architect who worked for Frank Gehry, passes away at age 84

1939–2024

Rene Gonzalez Ilustre, a California architect who worked for Frank Gehry, passes away at age 84

Architect Rene Ilustre (far right) alongside colleagues at a job site, including Hak Sik Son (far left). (Courtesy Ilustre family)

Rene Gonzalez Ilustre, an architect who spent much of his career working on projects across Southern California, passed away of natural causes in Portland, Oregon, on April 21.

Ilustre’s interest in architecture can be traced to his father, Federico Ilustre, an illustrious architect in the Philippines who designed the Quezon Memorial Shrine and a number of public and civic projects in the country.

Rene Ilustre was born in Quezon City, Philippines, in 1939. He attended college at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, where he received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Architecture. He left his home country in 1962 and moved to the U.S.

As a young architect he worked as a draftsman in the offices of Charles Luckman, Victor Gruen, and William Pereira where he contributed to projects such as the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco. In the late 1970s he began working as a freelance architect for Frank Gehry Associates (now Gehry Partners) in Venice Beach, California.

portrait of Rene Ilustre
Rene Ilustre in front of U.S. Capitol building (Courtesy Ilustre family)

In unpublished writings Ilustre drafted after his retirement, he looked back on his time working under Frank Gehry. He recalled being involved on as many as seven projects at once—from the first sketches through to completion.

He fondly remembered regular communication with Gehry about projects, as well as meetings with clients and working closely with the state and contractors. Over the 15 years he spent working for Gehry, Ilustre contributed to over a dozen projects, among these the California Aerospace Museum, Loyola Law School, and Frances Howard Goldwyn Library in Hollywood.

Ilustre shared in his written work: “For most of my time with [Gehry] we were under heavy budget and time constraints. Of course, without obstacles and problems, new solutions aren’t discovered. Artists often speak of their products coming out of a process of ‘solving problems’ and that is exactly what architecture is, only the problems are not only challenges the architect sets him- or herself but come out of nature, site, the client’s wishes and the exigencies of money and materials.”

Ilustre spent an additional 15 years of his career practicing as principal architect at California-based Hak Sik Son Associates. There he contributed to numerous projects for the Los Angeles Unified School District, among these New Canoga Park Elementary School and Dennis Zine Community and Childcare Center.

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