Los Angeles' natural features—beaches, palm trees and hills—will always be its most iconic, but beautiful buildings have literally reshaped the city from the ground up. As the Downtown Los Angeles skyline grows, we're looking back at the architects who first dreamed up LA's cityscape, not necessarily through city-sculpting skyscrapers, but rather public works, historic attractions and pioneering houses. These 12 architects are responsible for shaping Los Angeles into how it looks today.
12 architects who shaped the look of Los Angeles
You may not know his name, but you’ve certainly mingled with Welton Becket’s midcentury vision of Los Angeles, whether at the Beverly Hilton, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium or the Cinerama Dome, as well as through the streets of Century City, for which he served as master planner. Though we’re partial to his design for the Music Center, by far Becket’s most iconic construction is the Capitol Records Building, which has embodied the spirit of Hollywood for six decades.
While the rest of the city was constructing ornate concrete towers, Richard Neutra instead turned to incorporating modernist aesthetics to the LA landscape. Like local contemporary Rudolph Schindler, Neutra’s clean, International style houses struck a harmony between the home, its inhabitants and nature. The hard geometric lines and light interiors in spaces like the Lovell House and his public Silver Lake studio have enchanted home builders ever since.
This father-and-son duo were responsible for some of the city's defining Art Deco structures, including Bullocks Wilshire and Los Angeles City Hall, which they co-designed. In addition, John Parkinson drafted many of the historic highrises on Spring Street. But the Parkinsons’ legacy is mostly cemented in major projects that Angelenos regularly interact with, whether watching the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, scarfing down an Eggslut sandwich on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building (home to Grand Central Market) or boarding a train at Union Station.
Greene and Greene were Pasadena’s most renowned practitioners of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Responsible for the sublime Gamble House as well as several other “ultimate bungalows,” the brothers' Craftsman creations set the standard for stunningly natural-looking, handworked houses that would sweep across Northeast LA, West Adams and more.
Architect John C. Austin became a key civic leader in the 1930s, advocating for city-beautifying monuments, water supply expansion and increased federal funding. But for Angelenos today, Austin’s legacy lies in the way he changed the horizon. His most monumental works, the Griffith Observatory and Los Angeles City Hall, have become literal beacons for the city, illuminated landmarks that inspire a sense of ambition and civic pride. Their temple-like designs are no coincidence; Austin was also responsible for the Hollywood Masonic Temple and Shrine Auditorium.
Beelman was largely responsible for populating Downtown Los Angeles with Beaux Arts and Art Deco buildings, many of which have landed on the National Register of Historic Places. By far Beelman’s most defining design from those is the exquisite, turquoise terra cotta Eastern Columbia Building. He brought similar sensibilities to the Culver Hotel, Park Plaza Hotel and Cedars of Lebanon Hospital—better known today as the big blue Scientology building.
It may sound like a stretch to pin city-shaping significance to a single private residence, but the hilltop Stahl House—or perhaps Julius Shulman’s famous photograph of it—has a dreamy, ascendant air that’s become synonymous with the Hollywood Hills. Along with the architect’s nearby Bailey House (both Case Study Houses), Koenig sparked a jet-setting ambiance that potential homeowners have pined for ever since.
Even before the Walt Disney Concert Hall was built, Frank Gehry designed Westside residences and institutions all over LA. But it’s that curling metallic concert hall that has most dramatically changed the face of the city, particularly in burgeoning Downtown Los Angeles. By all accounts, the 86-year-old Gehry isn’t done reshaping the city: his name is attached to a trio of mixed-use projects as well as the long-time-coming LA River revival.
John Lautner’s hillside homes offer sweeping views and imaginatively-engineered interiors fit for Bond villains and, in the case of the Sheats Goldstein Residence, Big Lebowski loan sharks. The Jetsons-like Chemosphere is by far Lautner’s most iconic structure; the saucer sits atop stilts, with windows on every side, and sets the bar for Space Age structures across the city.
Architecture firm Armét & Davis almost singlehandedly defined Googie architecture in Los Angeles. With cantilevered ceilings, zig-zagging rooflines and neon signage, they turned meal times into playful yet sophisticated experiences at diners like Bob’s Big Boy and the Norms on La Cienega. Helen Liu Fong, one of the firm’s designers, was a key figure in two standout designs: Pann’s and Johnie’s Coffee Shop.
The husband-and-wife duo of Charles and Ray Eames set the bar high for style and functionality with their Pacific Palisades home. One of the earliest entries in the Case Study House program, the Eames House is comfortable and warm, eclectic and colorful, but still sophisticated. It's the perfect live-work environment, and one that has resonated throughout the homes of LA-based creative types ever since.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile block houses were far from the most important works of his career, and his Mayan-inspired aesthetic never really took firm hold in Los Angeles—outside of his son Lloyd Wright, who became a respected Southern California architect in his own right. But the five houses that he designed in the 1920s—the temple-like Ennis House and public Hollyhock House among them—paved the way for Los Angeles to become an architectural playground for private residences.