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Franklin D. Israel papers, 1967-1996

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Israel (Franklin D.) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Franklin D. Israel was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 2, 1945. He received his architectural training at Yale University and at Columbia University, where he earned his master's degree in 1971. Two years later, Israel was awarded the Rome Prize. His two year stay in Rome proved extremely important not only because of his studies of the Italian and Northern European Baroque, but also because of his introduction to the work of the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978) and his encounters with American practitioners, such as Richard Meier, and architectural historians such as James Ackerman. Israel moved to Los Angeles in 1977 to teach architecture at UCLA and start his own architectural design office. He was soon employed in the film industry, working as a set designer for several movies including Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This time spent in the film studios enabled him to secure a number of early projects from clients in the entertainment industry, including actor Joel Grey and film director Robert Altman, for whom he designed houses. He also designed office buildings for film and record production companies in Hollywood.

Israel's earliest work is decidedly postmodern. Having studied with Robert A.M. Stern and Romaldo Giurgola, two leaders of the postmodern era in New York, Israel was well trained to look at historical precedent and adopt details from buildings created in the past into his own designs. His Clark House (Hollywood, 1980, unexecuted) is probably the best example. Based on Vignola's Villa Farnese in Caprarola (1559-1573), the house is – as is the historical example – pentagonal in shape with a circular court in its center. The proportions of all rooms around the court were determined by those of the Villa Farnese. The facades, however, were loose adaptations of the 16th-century example and were designed to frame the view from each side of the building.

Israel began to study the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, and other modernists in the region soon after his arrival in Los Angeles, where Southern California modernist architecture as a whole became a rich source of inspiration for Israel's design work. Historical references to the classical architecture of Italy and France soon disappeared from his studio and a new formal language took root in which one can recognize details borrowed from architects he admired but integrated into solutions entirely his own. Engaging with the conflict between organic and tectonic architecture, he sought to combine the two, to give his buildings a solid structure and then add a skin that, rather than being no more than a wrap around the space (as was typical in the work of early 20th-century modernists), instead draws attention to the form and makes the abstract structure more intimate. His buildings always combine a smoothly surfaced concrete, steel, or hardwood structure with wood and stucco shapes painted in intense, Luis Barragán-like colors. Colorful and playful, his buildings are rendered warmer and more palatable than the sterile white, modernist architecture of the periods immediately before and after the Second World War, and it was these characteristics that increased this profile and brought him numerous clients.

Though he had moved away from the use of specific historical precedents, Israel remained interested in history, making distinctions between perpetuating traditions and creating memorable spatial patterns based on universal scenarios he saw as being used repeatedly throughout history. Placed in former industrial buildings or warehouses, offices such as those for Propaganda Films or Virgin Records are organized as small villages or, as Israel himself liked to call them, "cities within." Israel connected the various elements of an office (meeting rooms, workstations, and editing rooms) through streets and plazas. In the Propaganda Films office, there is even one meeting room that looks like a baptistery placed on a piazza next to a ship- or church-like group of executive offices. Such references to memory and historic precedents presented within a modern context are perfect examples of the architectural debate of the period, when alternatives were sought for a modernism that had lost all its glamour for a younger generation.

Frank Israel died June 10, 1996 due to complication from AIDS. At the age when most architects are still trying to find the ideal client and job, Israel had already created a substantial body of work, had had two monographic exhibitions at major art museums (the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, 1988, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, 1995), and counted the most renowned architects in the United States (including Richard Meier, Robert A.M. Stern, Richard Weinstein, and especially Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson) amongst his greatest supporters.

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