Michael Rotondi

Principal, RoTo Architects

Downtown Los Angeles

Specialty: Residences, restaurants, schools, cultural arts facilities

Notable projects: Kate Mantelini restaurant

Michael Rotondi says he looks for work "that has a high aesthetic component and a clear social agenda."

Three current projects exemplify that principle: The Lula Washington Contemporary Dance Foundation's teaching and performance facility on West Adams Boulevard, a campus in South Dakota for the nation's first tribal university, and a camp for inner-city youth in the Angeles National Forest.

Rotondi not only designs buildings, but often helps clients secure financing. "Architecture has a profound effect on our psyche, and people who can't afford architects have to live in environments that are not real imaginative or interesting," he said.

In 1976, long before his recent focus on serving those who can't afford architects, Rotondi co-founded Morphosis with Thom Mayne. He continued there until 1991, when he and Morphosis colleague Clark Stevens formed RoTo Architects.

Besides making his mark as a practitioner, Rotondi has earned a reputation as an influential educator. He was in the first graduating class of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), the avant-garde school in the Marina del Rey area. Rotondi returned to SCI-Arc as a member of the graduate faculty three years later, in 1976, and has taught there ever since, also serving as director from 1987 to 1997.

SCI-Arc founder Ray Kappe said Rotondi brought a more craft-oriented bent to the architecture program. "There was a great amount of hands-on during that period," Kappe said.

Projects from his Morphosis days include the restaurants Kate Mantelini in Beverly Hills, 72 Market Street in Venice and Angeli in L.A., as well as the cancer center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and numerous residences.

Two years ago, Rotondi transformed an old power-generator factory near a railyard (and his own studio) downtown into a home and studio for art collector Kathy Reges and her husband, industrial demolition contractor Richard Carlson.

"Michael's work is always surprising," said Robin Donaldson, an architect who was a student of Rotondi's and used to work at Morphosis. "He's willing to explore on each project."

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