Story Alumni

Building California Cool

Ryan ZumMallen


 The Altamira Residence, in Palos Verdes, California, designed and built by Marmol Radziner. Photo courtesy of Benny Chan/Fotoworks


​​​​California has always served as a site of inspiration and experimentation for some of the most creative architects ever to work at a drafting board. Now, those trained at the California State University are finding ever new and innovative ways to continue that tradition, often with breathtaking results.

"More than ever, and certainly in California, there's a really strong trend connecting indoor and outdoor spaces," says Ron Radziner, design principal of Los Angeles architecture firm Marmol Radziner. "I think people really want to connect to nature, to the garden: spaces that open."

Radziner has made that link one of his calling cards in the buildings he designs. Since graduating in 1983 from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo — where he met future business partner Leo Marmol, now managing principal, when both were students in the architecture program — Radziner's trademark style has been called "stylish, yet approachable" by Architectural Digest. Many associate the look with neomodernism, set against the backdrop of, and often incorporating, California's stunning natural environment.

More than ever, there's a strong trend connecting indoor and outdoor spaces. People really want to connect to nature." –-Ron Radziner, design principal of L.A. architecture firm Marmol Radziner

Roots in Modernism

Though Marmol Radziner, founded in 1989, has been honored for pushing boundaries, its philosophy remains rooted in pillars of modernism, established by the likes of architect Richard Neutra in the 1950s and 1960s. Marmol Radziner, in fact, drew early acclaim for its restoration of a classic Neutra property, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs.

Neutra shares another common thread with the CSU: In 1980, his widow, Dione Neutra, donated one of his most celebrated properties, the Van der Leeuw (VDL) Research House, in Silver Lake, to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

"It's one of the most significant architectural achievements in Los Angeles," says Sarah Lorenzen, professor and chair of the architecture department, and resident director of the Neutra VDL Studio and Residence at Cal Poly Pomona. Thousands of visitors come to the house each year, which draws attention to the rigorous and renowned Pomona architecture school as well.

"The house is a great representative of the school," Lorenzen says. Just as important, she adds, "the students that are giving the tours [of the house] are amazing representatives of the kind of quality education that we have here."

Former students of the Pomona architecture school are doing their part to reshape skylines across California and beyond. Some of the school's most prominent alumni include:

  • Frank Clementi ('83), principal of Los Angeles firm Rios Clementi Hale; his recent projects include the Warner Bros. Day Care Center in Burbank. Clementi returns frequently to Pomona to work with students.
  • Stephen Nieto ('08), an associate at AECOM Design + Planning, was instrumental in designing the grounds for Los Angeles' bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.
  • Allyn Polancic ('12), a professional services consultant at Gehry Technologies, completed several large-scale projects in Los Angeles and is currently working on Mexico City's airport renovation.


"A Design Needs to Be Real"

One thing Radziner cherishes about his time at San Luis Obispo is the unique approach instilled in him there.

"Even then, the reputation was one of a place where design was certainly emphasized, but also a place where you learned about how to build as well," he remembers. It was in fact the firm's design-build skillset that quickly set Marmol Radziner apart in its early days; being able to both draw and build is something Radziner and Marmol still look for when hiring new employees.

"[A design] needs to be real," stresses Radziner. "We should be able to walk through it at the end. People should be able to experience it beyond a piece of paper."

Former classmates of Marmol and Radziner at San Luis Obispo who have gone on to establish their own impressive portfolios include Mark Jensen in San Francisco and Jim Gates in San Diego. Marmol Radziner senior design associate Stephanie Hobbs also holds a degree in architecture from the school.


Leading California

If there's one certainty about the future of architecture it's that our built environment must become more sustainable — a focus of Pomona's architecture program in particular, says Lorenzen.

"California is always at the forefront of sustainability and has been worldwide," she says, noting that architects today must understand not only design and construction, but environmental regulations, energy-saving practices and sustainable materials.

"We've had to address those issues for much longer than a lot of other places," she says.​

For more of Marmol Radziner’s ground-breaking work, click on the gallery below.

Sustainability; Hospitality Industry; Impact; Facilities