Morphosis, the name of Thom Mayne’s firm, means “to be in formation,” and is a particularly apt description of this architect’s professional career journey and struggle. Until the mid-80s he was a largely unknown, revolutionary young West Coast architect with an Architecture degree from the University of Southern California, a Master’s degree from Harvard, and a great deal of promise. The firm was known primarily to aficionados and students of architecture for a few exceptional small projects—two pace-setting restaurants, a residence, and a medical clinic. All that was destined to change. Having survived a dearth of projects in the early 90s, Mayne stormed into the new century with a vengeance and began to win competitions and commissions for ever more important projects, all noted for their audacious character, bold designs, and originality—both in their form and in their use of materials. Mayne’s distinguished honors include the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy of Design in Rome (1987), Member Elect from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1992), the 2000 American Institute of Architects/Los Angeles Gold Medal in Architecture, and the Chrysler Design Award of Excellence (2001).
Thom Mayne is a product of the turbulent 60s who has carried that rebellious attitude and fervent desire for change into his practice, the fruits of which are only now becoming visible in a group of large scale projects including the Student Recreation Center at the University of Cincinnati, a federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, a new art and engineering building for the venerable Cooper Union in Manhattan, and the mammoth headquarters building for California’s Department of Transportation (District 7) in Los Angeles.
Mayne’s approach toward architecture and his philosophy is not derived from European modernism, Asian influences, or even from American precedents of the last century. He has sought throughout his career to create an original architecture, one that is truly representative of the unique, somewhat rootless, culture of Southern California, especially the architecturally rich city of Los Angeles. Like the Eameses, Neutra, Schindler, and Gehry before him, Thom Mayne is an authentic addition to the tradition of innovative, exciting architectural talent that flourishes on the West Coast. Following the firm’s early projects and his role in founding an unorthodox school of architecture, “SCI-ARC,” he and his partner in Morphosis, Michael Rotondi, separated and Mayne entered a period of few built projects, which tested his mettle, determination and passion for his chosen profession. Gradually, however, clients both public and private began to acknowledge and be attracted to Mayne’s bold forms, original palette of materials and design authenticity.