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Wayne Williams, SoCal Modernist, Dies at 88

December 28, 2007

By Tony Illia

  Wayne R. Williams, FAIA
Wayne R. Williams, FAIA
Photo courtesy Communi-k Inc.

Wayne R. Williams, FAIA, an award-winning Southern California Modernist architect, died on November 27. He was 88 years old and had been in poor health for many months. Williams is best known for designing private residences, schools, community buildings, and recreational facilities with his business partner Whitney R. Smith. The two began working together in 1946 and, three years later, formed a partnership that lasted nearly three decades.

A native of Los Angeles, Williams studied architecture at the University of Southern California before serving in World War II, during which he designed hangars and other facilities for the U.S. Army. After the war, he completed a bachelor’s degree at USC, where he studied under Smith before the two went into business together.

Williams and Smith blurred the line between indoors and outdoors by using post-and-beam construction with thin supporting members and large swaths of glass for airy, light-filled spaces. They often extended roof beams and flooring beyond entryways, fusing a building with its environment, while allowing exposed structural components to act as design elements. Many of their projects were photographed by Julius Schulman, who helped define Southern California Modernism with his iconic images.

Williams and Smith’s design for floating gardens.
Image courtesy the University of California Santa Barbara’s Architecture and Design Collection
Williams and Smith’s design for floating gardens as part of the Port Holiday project in Lake Mead, Nevada. Though unbuilt, the 1959 project illustrates the architects’ take on Modernism.
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The pair’s office at 1414 S. Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena showcased their distinctive design ethos with clean lines, large glass windows, and exposed steel beams. The American Institute of Architects’ Southern California chapter described the building one of the most significant examples of Los Angeles architecture constructed between 1947 and 1967.

The firm’s commercial designs included the Blaisdell Medical Building, in Pasadena. Writing in its April 1952 issue, RECORD said of this concrete and glass structure that it avoids a “‘cold, clinical look’ ... despite the fact that the entire building was planned for the efficient use of the latest developments in medical equipment and technique.” Additionally, Williams and Smith prepared master plans for San Diego’s Mission Bay Park and Kern County’s California City, and designed residences for the Mutual Housing Association Community in Brentwood, where they worked with architects such as A. Quincy Jones, Edgardo Contini, and James Charlton. Smith left the firm in 1973 and retired in 1998; he now lives in Northern California.

Williams continued practicing and in recent years designed large-scale commercial and residential projects for Giuseppe Cecchi’s International Developers throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Paula, moved to Virginia in 2003. Williams is survived by her as well as sons Garth, Rhys, and Keith.

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