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The Tyler Environmental Prize Pavillion in USC’s Von KleinSmid Center is reflective of the prize itself in its sensitive use of materials such as eucalyptus wood and recycled carpeting.

BEING SONS OF A.C. MARTIN, there was no question about the future of Albert C., Jr. and J. Edward Martin, who formed the second generation of the Martin firm, taking over after World War II (although A.C. stayed involved until his death in 1960). The brothers complemented each other. Ed was the management and business brains of the outfit; Al, the design genius. A client’s remark during their tenure sums up their collaboration, according to Ed: “He said, ‘These guys are so lucky to have one another. If Al didn’t have Ed, he’d be broke on his first job.’ ”
The senior Martins are still very much part of the family firm, located in the renovated Fine Arts Building on Seventh Street. With its magnificent two-story, tiled entryway, mezzanine and frescoed ceiling, the building reflects its former use as an art school. Al Martin, at 84, is there about once a week; 80-year-old Ed Martin, most afternoons. A portrait of the firm’s founder, flanked by those of his sons, dominates one wall. His presence is a constant motivator.
Albert C. Martin Jr. was a USC student in the early ’30s when Dean Arthur Clauson Weatherhead was introducing the new concepts of Bauhaus design. Al’s preference, however, has always been for a richer, more classical aesthetic. He worked summers as a carpenter’s helper on projects his father had designed and entered his father’s design department on graduation.
This was a hard period for the firm. During the lean years of the Depression, with six children to educate, A.C. Martin was struggling compared to the heady years of the ’20s.

Also part of Project Restore.

After World War II, however, with Al and Ed at the helm and a post-war building boom, things picked up again. With Al’s design talent and Ed’s head for business and knowledge of contemporary seismic systems, their success was such that in 1979 the Los Angeles Times credited the firm with “more than 50 percent of all the major buildings erected in downtown Los Angeles since World War II.”
Al Martin has been active in city and community affairs for almost five decades. Robert Harris, former dean of the USC School of Architecture and an active participant in Los Angeles’ city planning, characterizes the man he regards as his mentor as “a model of good citizenship, a booster of important things for the city all his life.
“From the 1979 Bicentennial Celebration, L.A. Beautiful and now with Project Restore, he’s been involved in all sorts of public efforts,” Harris says. “He has contributed enormously to the quality of life in Los Angeles, not just through the design of major buildings but through his ability to influence public policy.”
Al Martin was awarded the School of Architecture’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1990 and the General Alumni Association’s Asa V. Call Award in 1984.
From an early age, J. Edward Martin was drawn to the special problems of building in earthquake country. He had just graduated from high school when he heard a Caltech expert report on the Long Beach Shaker to the Structural Engineers Association, sparking his life’s study.

Ed (left) and Al Martin

One of his first jobs was as a tracer on the design of the Lincoln High School Gymnasium in 1936, the first statically indeterminate building in the LAUSD, then a unique engineering system of design. “The job really needed a computer but, of course, we didn’t have one,” he remembers.
Ed Martin cites Caltech seismologist Charles Francis Richter as the man without whom there’d be no bridges and no high-rises in the Southland.
“The first building in the world designed using a computer model incorporating Richter’s earthquake data was the Union Bank Building on Fifth and Figueroa,” he says. “Dr. Richter changed the world. All computer-designed buildings are a consequence of that building.”
Ed is proud of the firm’s seismic record. “We’ve done over 10,000 buildings and we’ve had only maybe two or three that we’ve had a call back on. That’s incredible.”
Not surprisingly, the firm pioneered the use of computers to analyze earthquake movements and the stresses they put on buildings. The Structural Engineers Association of Southern California awarded J. Edward Martin its lifetime achievement award in 1996.

LIKE THEIR FATHERS BEFORE THEM, David and Chris Martin knew from an early age that they were destined for architecture. For David, the realization came the moment he set foot in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Morris Store in San Francisco.

The Martins' Department of Water and Power Headquarters (1965) was described by Reyner Banham in Los Angeles: The Architecture of the Four Ecologies as "the only gesture of public architecture that matches the style and scale of the city."

Built in 1949 for V.C. Morris for the sale of fine crystal and china, the building has a windowless facade and a round arched entrance recessed from the sidewalk at one corner. A two-story spiraling ramp nearly fills the interior, echoing Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, which was designed in 1946 though not completed until 1959.
“It’s a wonderful building for a child, with a door that you almost fall into from the sidewalk, a sort of mousehole leading into a labyrinth – absolutely useless as a store but very exciting to be in,” recalls David, who shares with his father Al an admiration for Wright’s work.
David acknowledges his admiration for Wright in his award-garnering Sanwa Bank Building, which pays homage to Wright’s Prairie Style in the glasswork in the entryway.
Both David and Chris count Italian-born Sal Merendino, who headed the industrial design program in the USC School of Architecture, among their mentors. “He excited a whole generation of young designers,” recalls David, for whom USC in the ’60s was an exciting place to be studying architecture, with faculty of the caliber of Craig Ellwood, Carl Maston and Ralph Knowles.
Although cousins Chris and David Martin picked up a considerable baton from the second generation of Martins, it was not always an easy run. The booming ’80s were followed by the downsizing ’90s, and A.C. Martin and Associates underwent a painful overhaul. They had to lay off over 100 employees, and the firm shrunk from over 200 people to 69 over a period of four years, from 1989 to 1993.

Chris (left) and David Martin

Recent years, however, have seen an improvement, as the firm has focused on government-related and international assignments, and on master plans for universities and city centers (with, of course, a special interest in their hometown). They have also seen a return to the firm’s roots with the seismic restoration of Los Angeles City Hall.
In the current firm, AC Martin Partners, the cousins’ roles parallel those of their fathers in the generation before.
David, partner-in-charge of design, is the artistic one, the design talent. At 54, slim and fit, an accomplished musician, he has been known to work out of his home office in a classic Airstream trailer.
Managing partner Chris, at 46, has a head for business and teamwork. “I enjoy working with clients, identifying and meeting their needs,” says Chris, who sees the firm as a catalyst for the City of Los Angeles in the 21st century.
More at home with 3-D computer models and drafting programs with names like Form Z and Microstation than with the ink-on-linen drawings of their grandfather, both admit to being “gearheads.”
In their high-tech design studio, young architects such as recent USC graduate Tammy Jow no longer sweat over scale drawings on drafting boards. Form Z can whip up a three-dimensional figure with the touch of a few selection keys. Tap for coordinates, tap for cone, box or cylinder, tap for height and voilá, a structure appears, ready to be overlaid with steel frame, wired for sound and megabits. Even the lengthening shadows of a summer’s eve can be s

The current generation of Martins isfocusing on master plans for univer-sities and city centers (with, of course, a special interest in their hometown). The entryway of their Sanwa Bank Building (1990) is an homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style.

imulated by choosing the appropriate longitude and latitude of your global location, the time of year and hour of day. Hence a new building in Singapore can be made to exist on computer screen long before a shovel of dirt is moved.
Computers have altered the business of architecture, allowing designers to visualize rapidly and facilitating a consolidation of the disparate facets of design and construction by means of an electronic database. Hence, the dialogue between designer, civil engineer and client is no longer encumbered by how long it takes to do a set of drawings. When the firm submitted their design ideas to USC Marshall School of Business, for example, “we plugged right into their equipment to show them what we had in mind,” David says.
Robert Timme, dean of the School of Architecture, acknowledges the firm as being at the forefront of the use of computers in the design process.
“The Martins discovered and used Form Z visualization design software very early on,” he says. “We educate the students they hire, and we are now training students in CAD (Computer Aided Design) because that’s what the marketplace requires.”
The Martins maintain a close relationship with their alma mater. David Martin taught at the School of Architecture in the fall of 1996 and has been part of the school’s Visiting Critic studio. When the school recently asked the Martins to demonstrate their use of computers in design, the cousins put on such a successful show that other universities have requested it.
“The Martins don’t do anything halfway,” Timme says. “If you ask them to go a mile, they go 200!
“And,” he adds, “they did it for us pro bono.”

IN THE LIGHT OF THE MANY SIGNIFICANT architectural projects going on in Los Angeles – from Exposition Park to City Hall, including the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Disney Hall, the new Colburn School of Performing Arts, the Convention Center Sports Arena, and so on – the Martins are

USC’s 55,000-square-foot Jane Hoffman Popovich and J. Kristoffer Popovich Hall for the Marshall School of Business, which is due to be completed in late 1998.

optimistic about the city’s future. “If you combine those kind of high-profile projects with an economic recovery and the expansion of the transportation system, you’ve got the beginnings of an interesting city,” says David.
Chris is equally enthusiastic. “Los Angeles is at an interesting turning point,” he says. “Southern California is the Ellis Island of the next century. With immigration into the area, the changing ethnicity of the city and the dynamic business environment, the question is, ‘how does the city evolve to reflect and to serve this population?’
“I find it awe-inspiring to be playing a part in this,” he adds. “We are able to achieve change. Atlas does shrug! As architects, engineers and planners, our role and mission is to build a better environment.
“That’s the real measure of our contribution. Have we made the world a better place?”

Author Linda Arntzenius is a Los Angeles freelance writer and a regular contributor to USC Trojan Family Magazine who is working on her master’s thesis in the Professional Writing Program at USC and researching a book on Los Angeles City Hall.

Related Links

AC Martin Partners

St. Vincent de Paul Church 1925

Arco Plaza 1972

Security Pacific National Bank Headquarters 1975

444 South Flower (formerly Wells Fargo Building)1982

Sanwa Bank Building 1990

Photographs courtesy of AC Martin Partners

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