Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Ariz.
Bill Timmerman Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Ariz.

“Our houses influence our other projects and vice-versa,” says Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, founding partner of Los Angeles–based Ehrlich Architects. “There is definitely a cross-fertilization of thinking, materiality, and details.”

Established in 1979 as a small residential studio, Ehrlich Architects now boasts 40 employees and a diverse portfolio of courthouses, libraries, university centers, and corporate work. But the firm’s growth hasn’t much changed its philosophy, says Mathew Chaney, AIA. “The detailing is very focused, and the relationship that you form with the client is also very intimate and personal,” he says of the firm’s residential work. But, he adds, “We bring that same approach regardless of the scale.”

In 2013, Chaney was named a partner at the firm, along with two other long-time employees, Takashi Yanai, AIA, and Patricia Rhee, AIA. Yanai oversees residential work, and Chaney and Rhee manage commercial and large institutional work, as well as design/build projects. “In the last decade there has been a big change—identifying new partners and mentoring them,” Ehrlich says.

9378 Wilshire Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
Juergen Nogai 9378 Wilshire Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills

Many of the Ehrlich’s lessons remain rooted in his formative experiences right out of college in the 1970s, when he spent six years in North and West Africa traveling, teaching, and studying indigenous vernacular architecture. The moniker for Ehrlich Architects—“Multicultural Modernism”—calls for an open-minded perspective to understanding the particular culture, climate, and environment associated with each project. “The person and the place is very much an equal collaborator in the design process,” says Ehrlich. “We want that dialogue, that flow.”

Though the firm has expanded its geographic reach well beyond Los Angeles, a review of projects around its home city reveal this sensitive approach to the genius loci: an aesthetic and environmental sensibility that is deeply rooted in Southern California Modernism.

Addition to Richard Neutra Beach House in Santa Monica
Tim Street-Porter Addition to Richard Neutra Beach House in Santa Monica
Addition to Richard Neutra Beach House in Santa Monica
Julius Schulman + David Glomb Addition to Richard Neutra Beach House in Santa Monica


Addition to Neutra Beach House, Santa Monica. Calif., 1998
This “adaptive re-imagination” project, as Ehrlich calls it, was centered around the Albert Lewin House, built in 1938 by the grandfather of California Modernism, Richard Neutra. The owners asked Ehrlich to restore the historic house. But they also purchased the adjacent lot and asked for an addition. The architects used industrial materials such as concrete, stainless steel, and glass to convey lightness and transparency. And, mimicking the curved living room of the original house, they designed a cycloidal arch atop the outdoor pavilion that connects the main house to the new addition. For Yanai, the addition becomes a way to “understand the historical part of the house in a whole new perspective.”

William J. Clinton Middle School in Los Angeles
Tom Bonner William J. Clinton Middle School in Los Angeles
William J. Clinton Middle School in Los Angeles
Tom Bonner William J. Clinton Middle School in Los Angeles

William J Clinton Middle School, Los Angeles, Calif, 2003
Located just south of downtown L.A. in an isolated pocket of light manufacturing and vacant buildings, the 150,000-square-foot campus is designed around an interior courtyard that provides secure social and recreational spaces for more than 1,500 students. The courtyard is bounded by a U-shaped building made of corrugated steel and concrete masonry. A pedestrian bridge connects the classrooms to the gymnasium, playing field, track and parking facility. The architects also employ large-scale shade canopies, tilted at an optimal angle to enhance the performance of photovoltaics. 


Westwood Branch Library in Los Angeles
Tom Bonner Westwood Branch Library in Los Angeles

Westwood Branch Library in Los Angeles
Tom Bonner Westwood Branch Library in Los Angeles


Westwood Branch Library, Los Angeles, 2005
Ehrlich brought “a more residential-type scale” to its commission for the Westwood Branch Library, says Chaney. “We couldn’t help but make it cozy.” The 14,000-square-foot library serves as a bridge between the surrounding residential and commercial zones. An open plaza encourages visitors and passersby to linger in the California sun, creating a kind of public living room. Architecturally this is reinforced by the manipulation of scale and materials. Copper, burnished concrete block, channel glass, and Parklex (resin-impregnated wood) help establish a dialogue between the commercial and residential sections of Westwood.

Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Ariz.
Bill Timmerman Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, Ariz.

Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Phoenix, Ariz., 2008
ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism had to reflect journalistic principles of truth and honesty. The metal-clad facade was designed based on the Federal Communications Commission's United States Frequency Allocation Chart. Using glass, masonry, and metal panels in three colors that drew from the local mountains, the architects modeled the design of the façade’s pattern on the spectrum of radio frequencies used by highway patrols, the United States Coast Guard, and others.


331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
RMA Photography Inc. 331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
RMA Photography Inc. 331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
RMA Photography Inc. 331 Foothill Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills


331 Foothill Retail and Office Building, Beverly Hills, Calif., 2010
“We like to unlock the potential of a site,” Ehrlich says. That’s certainly true of this four-story building, which houses a local television network as well as leasable office space. The overall form, a classic modern glass box on pilotis, is punctuated with projecting volumes of earth-toned masonry that harken back to an earlier California vernacular. Steel louvers on the façades of both the office block and its parking garage hint at a broader set of sustainability strategies, as the architects have designed 331 Foothill to meet LEED Silver certification requirements.

9378 Wilshire Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills
Juergen Nogai 9378 Wilshire Retail and Office Building in Beverly Hills

9378 Wilshire Retail + Office Building, 
Beverly Hills, Calif., 2010
The concept for this 78,602-square–foot building—a pair of interlocking glass boxes, one on top of the other—reflects the structure’s two separate functions: high-end retail (located on the ground floor) and leasable office space (located on the second and third floors). On the Wilshire Boulevard side, the retail facade steps back under the cover of the office box above. While on the Canon Street side, the office box steps back to emphasize the retail volume below, in the process creating space on the second-floor for an outdoor terrace for the building’s tenants. The design relied on an innovative construction system—the floors are hung from steel cables rather than supported by heavy external columns—which helps create the seamless interplay between extruded glass volumes.


Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine
Lawrence Anderson/Esto Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine
Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine
Lawrence Anderson/Esto Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine


Contemporary Arts Center at the University of California, Irvine, 2011
This project, a five-story, 60,000-square-foot complex, was realized through a design/build competition. A large experimental theater and an art gallery dominate the core of the building, which is surrounded by naturally ventilated studios, classrooms, and offices. “The architecture is a very transparent diagram of what’s going on inside the building,” says Rhee. “Based on the massing of the solids and voids,” she says, it’s easy to figure out which “spaces are naturally ventilated, versus not.” The end result is a very porous building with multiple terraces, landscaped courtyards, balconies, and a colonnade that reinforces the interdisciplinary nature of the school.

McElroy Residence in Laguna Beach
Miranda Brackett McElroy Residence in Laguna Beach
McElroy Residence in Laguna Beach
Roger Davies McElroy Residence in Laguna Beach

McElroy Residence, Laguna Beach, Calif., 2013
“Residential architecture resonates with us because [it captures] the personalities of everybody we work with,” says Ehrlich. Indeed, the McElroy House reflects the spirit of owners Sarah and Thom McElroy, who, according to Ehrlich, “are committed to surfing and the good life.” After meeting Ehrlich during a 2007 retrospective of his firm’s work at the Palm Springs Art Museum, the couple realized that they had found the architect of their dream home. According to Ehrlich, “They had in their minds that we were going to build a house together.” Constrained by an 11-foot height restriction imposed by the local homeowners association, the architect designed the house with living spaces organized as expansive one-story volumes. Topped by a series of floating horizontal roofs, the house features panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.