Los Angeles was known in the past as something of an architectural desert.


While great and controversial buildings were put up in Chicago and New York and other great cities of the world, L.A. had to be satisfied with few architectural gems along with a modest collection of historical buildings, some of which met the wrecking ball.


But all that's changed. The opening of the Getty Center 10 years ago, co-designed by Pritzker Prize-award winning architect Richard Meier, ushered in a new era for Los Angeles, drawing pedigree architects from around the world who committed to designing high-end and equally high-minded buildings.


The Getty was followed by the massive, built-for-the-ages Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. A short time later there was Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by local phenom Frank Gehry, arguably the most celebrated architect in the world today. Indeed, a spate of other breathtaking architectural wonders have popped up in the last 10 years. If anything, with forthcoming projects such as the Red Building at the Pacific Design Center, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and ultra high end condo projects such as the Century, the trend has picked up.


Suddenly L.A. is becoming known as a welcoming home for daring architects.


But these great architects don't exist in a vacuum they must draw on the abilities of builders, engineers, landscape artists and the like. They all have not just the experience but the talent to handle the complex task of realizing masterpieces.


With all that in mind, the Business Journal has compiled a group of 10 notable architectural projects from the last decade commercial and public buildings that capture the essence of the city's new design spirit.


What follows are profiles of people who were key in building those notable structures. These are the go-to people when an architectural gem is to be built in Los Angeles. And there's a fair number of them.


"There is such a creative business community here that is looking to do something," said Douglas Hanson, design principal at DeStefano and Partners Ltd. "With all of the different cultures here and the ambitions of people who are willing to explore new ideas, it is pretty refreshing here as opposed to older cities."


Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, also believes the city's star is rising as an architectural center.


"The pedigree building concept is relatively new," Dishman said. "I think rock star architect is a good description."


Checkered history


Of course, great, or at least, notable architecture existed in Los Angeles long before the massive Getty Center opened in 1997. Indeed, the original Getty Villa, a replica of a Roman country estate, was something of a phenomenon when it opened in Malibu in 1974.


Ten years before that, pioneering L.A. architect Welton Becket designed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the space-age LAX "Theme Building," the striking spider-like structure that houses a restaurant, now closed for renovation.


And in 1920s and 1930s there was the father-son architectural team of John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson, remembered for iconic buildings such as Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles City Hall, Bullocks Wilshire and Union Station.


But those buildings, still on the scene today, failed to budge L.A.'s reputation as a place of so-so commercial architecture with a willingness to forget its past.


The 1960s was dominated by the construction of a cavalcade of International Style commercial buildings that dot main thoroughfares such as Wilshire Boulevard. Today, ironically, many of these structures are still functional office buildings; functioning less well is their reputation.


"We've gone through waves where we've gone through changing preferences and styles," said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's Office of Historic Resources. "It is always very difficult to have the appropriate sense of perspective about the most recent past and that has been the case in every era."


More so than its commercial buildings, Los Angeles has been known for its landmark residential projects and the architects who made them possible. Luminaries such as Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright came here to design and build some of their most enduring works, many of which still stand today.


"The tradition of the & #233;migr & #233; architect looking to Los Angeles as a source of creativity to develop new cutting edge architecture is apparent," Bernstein said. "We have a decades-long tradition of architectural innovation."


That tradition of innovation was boosted by the current movement toward pedigree or rock star architecture, which mirrored an international trend that also began in 1997 with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.


Hanson, of DeStefano and Partners, was the project architect for the Guggenheim in Bilbao. He recognizes that the museum which was designed by Gehry and created a worldwide stir has played a role in changing the international architecture scene.


"It changed Bilbao from a sleepy little shipbuilding town to a world destination," said Hanson, who is designing the Concerto condo towers downtown. "It was the first building I had been involved in that had that kind of impact."


Locally, there are several projects chiefly Meier's Getty Center and Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall that have had a similarly catalytic effect.


Though the Getty Center has a commanding presence atop a Brentwood hilltop, many of the current landmark commercial projects and those of the last century are located in or near downtown Los Angeles a place that Hanson said is tailor-made for leading architecture because it is at the nexus of transportation services and other infrastructure.


"It has got the diversity of businesses and it is a bit of a frontier for the creative class and business people, and they are all coming together," Hanson said. "That is what L.A. needs."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.