Ehrlich Architects Receives 2015 AIA Architecture Firm Award
Firm noted for its Multicultural Modernism projects

The Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted today for Ehrlich Architects to receive the 2015 AIA Architecture Firm Award.   The firm will be honored at the 2015 AIA National Convention in Atlanta.  Ehrlich Architects is renowned for fluidly melding classic California Modernist style with multicultural and vernacular design elements by including marginalized design languages and traditions.    

The AIA Architecture Firm Award, given annually, is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm and recognizes a practice that consistently has produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years. 

The work of Ehrlich Architects covers a wide variety of program types (residential, commercial, institutional, educational) and uses a much richer palette of materials and textures than the typical California Modernist-influenced firm.  However, they are most distinguished by the subtle and complex way they blend Modernist and multicultural design elements.

Before founding his Los Angeles-based firm in 1979, Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, spent time working with the Peace Corps in Africa.  There Ehrlich gained an appreciation for simple, natural materials and vernacular solutions to energy, sustainability, and building performance challenges.  Back in Southern California, Ehrlich found opportunities to renovate properties designed by architects high up in the California Modernist canon (like Richard Neutra, FAIA), which helped him to develop a confident, loose-limbed, but still traditional Modernist aesthetic.  But his experiences in Africa with building traditions created years before Modernism demanded a total rupture with the past pushed him to develop an architecture that was more inclusive, responsible, and responsive than pure Modernism.

Hence, “Multicultural Modernism,” the firm’s name for their deep-seated design philosophy.  Ehrlich and his firm define four elements to this manifesto: 

  • A populist approach to design that prizes sensing place and listening to people
  • Inserting quasi-public space in many building types with courtyards, which act as an antidote to density and stress
  • An openness to change and technical innovation as embodied by Los Angeles
  • Cross-cultural fusion that simultaneously embraces the global and the local. 
To fulfill these goals, Ehrlich sees himself as an “architectural anthropologist”—exploring ancient, developing-world building traditions and situating them in contemporary buildings to solve contemporary problems.  Japanese-style courtyards, Middle Eastern lattice screens, and vernacular mud construction have all been ways Ehrlich enriches contemporary architecture with age-old multicultural building elements.

Steven and his associates create architecture that is vital and forward looking—yet at the same time rooted in a sense of place,” wrote Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell, FAIA, in a letter of recommendation.

A few of their most notable projects include: 

  • The Ahmadu Bello University Theater in Zaria, Nigeria.  One of Ehrlich’s most vernacular and sustainable buildings, this 500-seat venue is composed of a ring of mud-walled pavilions, decorated with traditional bas-relief ornamentation.  Local craftsmen helped with its construction, and it can be arragned in both proscenium and theater-in-the-round configurations. 
  • The Helal “New Moon” Residence in Dubai, which combines modern building technology with traditional Islamic culture through an aluminum lattice screen (which casts abstracted Islamic shadow patterns across the house), and its crescent-shaped roof, meant to suggest a Bedouin tent. 
  • The 700 Palms Residence in Los Angeles, which uses Corten steel, copper, and stucco to create a strong, rugged approach to California Modernism, dissolving barriers between indoors and outdoors with glass, alternately boxy and brawny, light and open. 
  • The Robertson Branch Library in Los Angeles is bisected by a V-shaped vertical circulation atrium. The library’s greenish-blue, pre-weathered copper cladding and ship’s hull massing gives a whimsical, otherworldly presence.
  • The John Roll U.S. Courthouse in Yuma, Ariz., an unbuilt project that takes the Neo-Classical, symmetrical massing of a typical 19th-century courthouse and flattens it into a Modernist desert sandstone box, adding generous public space with a massive canopy-shaded “front porch” covered in PV panels.
Ehrlich Architects is the 52nd AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient. Previous recipients of the AIA Firm Award include, Eskew + Dumez + Ripple (2013), VJAA (2012), BNIM (2011), Pugh + Scarpa (2010), Kieran Timberlake (2008), Muphy/Jahn (2005), Polshek Partnership (1992), Venturi, Raunch, and Scott Brown (1985), I.M. Pei and Partners (1968), and SOM (1962).

About The American Institute of Architects
Founded in 1857, members of the American Institute of Architects consistently work to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through nearly 300 state and local chapters, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public well being.  Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders, and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit

Last updated: 10-Dec-2014 12:58 PM
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