George Bissell, Noted California Architect, Dies

February 19, 2010

By Suzanne Stephens with Therese Bissell

George Bissell
Photo courtesy Therese Bisell
George Bissell

George Bissell, FAIA, a Newport Beach, California architect who, in 2000, received the American Institute of Architects California Council Lifetime Achievement Award, died at 82 on January 2 of complications from lymphoma.

Born in Los Angeles, Bissell was a 1953 graduate of the University of Southern California School of Architecture, where he later sat on the Dean’s Board of Councilors. He also served as president of AIA Orange County and of the AIA California Council, and was a director of the AIA National Board. 

A Fellow of the AIA since 1974, Bissell received over 60 design awards during his five decades of practice, including various AIA Honor Awards, such as one in 1998 for the San Francisco Solano Catholic Church in Rancho Santa Margarita. Under the firm name Bissell/August (from 1972 to 1979), Bissell received a Progressive Architecture Award in 1974 for the Mustang Island Resort in Corpus Christi, Texas.

In 1980, the firm became Bissell Architects, and closed when Bissell fell ill in 2009. Ray Kappe, FAIA, came to know Bissell by judging one of the awards programs: As he recalls, “I admired George’s architecture and that began a relationship.”

In 1978, Bissell founded what became the Monterey Design Conference.  He held the first statewide design symposium at his own office in Newport Beach under the aegis of the Orange County AIA, of which Bissell was president at the time. The large attendance precipitated its move the following year to Asilomar in Pacific Grove, where the internationally recognized biennial event continues today.

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Thom Mayne, FAIA, says about Bissell, “ I divide architects in two categories: those who investigate and those who are just in business. He was one of the former: a contributor.” 

While maintaining an active practice, Bissell found time to devote to sailing, including long-distance ocean racing, the Newport Bermuda Race, the Transatlantic Race (Bermuda to Cork), the Transpacific Yacht Race, and the China Sea Race (Hong Kong to Manila).

In addition to his wife of 62 years, Lauren, Bissell is survived by five children: Therese, Thomas, William, Robert, and Catherine Hazen; seven grandchildren; ten nieces and twelve nephews.

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