Levin & Associates Architects
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The Elizabeth Hubert Malott Commons, Scripps College
The Elizabeth Hubert Malott Commons, Scripps College
Frances Anderton
Freelance Writer specializing in Los Angeles and its architecture
Writer for The New York Times
Producer of "Which Way, L.A.?", a current affairs program for public radio

In the lower courtyard of the campus commons at Scripps College in Claremont, California, is a pool with a statue of a young deer in front of a mosaic panel on which are inscribed the words, "A Little Faun Drank Lightly, Sweetly of the Water And Was Gone." These words, which memorialize a former Scripps student, also bring to mind Brenda Levin's architecture. There is a lightness of touch in the way Levin has integrated old and new, color and pattern in the new student commons and in many of her new and renovated buildings.

But there is more to Levin's projects than just sweetness and light, and Levin is certainly no timid faun. On the contrary, her projects are the manifestation of a set of skills unusual among architects: political ability, the art of collaboration, and respect and high expectations for the builder.

"Her attitude is redolent of an era when architects saw themselves as problem-solvers and city-builders, rather than as auteurs."

Levin, whose resume includes a stint in the office of iconoclastic residential architect John Lautner, says she learned from him the importance of craftsmanship and detail. This was reinforced when she undertook the preservation of a string of historic Los Angeles landmarks that were built at a time when ornamentation was not a crime. In working on these projects, she admits that she learned a lot from contractors. These lessons are borne out in substantial, solidly-crafted new works ranging from a center for homeless women in downtown Los Angeles to a school in North Hollywood to sensitive adaptive re-uses of buildings by California architects Gordon Kaufmann and Myron Hunt at Scripps and Occidental Colleges.

Levin's early experience also taught her how to navigate the planning and regulatory process, a craft that serves her well today. Over and over again, clients of Levin emphasize her skill in collaborating, her artfulness and warmth in dealing with all players in the process, and in acting as a partner in a project, not a hired consultant. Levin " always knows when she needs to talk and when she needs to listen and to learn...you feel like you are in this partnership with somebody who doesn't just think about but embodies the place," enthuses Dr. James Astman, Headmaster at Oakwood School in North Hollywood where Levin & Associates has masterplanned and designed several buildings since 1992. "Not only does she have all the refinements of a deeply-experienced and skillful architect, but also she has political savvy," observes Harold Hewitt, Vice President of Administration and Finance at Occidental College, where Levin's firm has renovated and expanded several buildings in the last decade, among them Thorne Hall, Samuelson Pavilion and Johnson Student Center. Nancy Bekavac, President of Scripps College, echoes Hewitt's words, and praises Levin for such rare talents as engaging with the donors, and her strategic use of charrettes to make all in the process feel involved and to tease out the appropriate solution.

At a time when a trademark style is considered essential for architects seeking to make a name for themselves, Levin confidently declares that she does not design in a particular style. This attitude is redolent of an era when architects saw themselves as problem-solvers and city-builders rather than auteurs. It imbues her work with a timelessness and wide appeal to clients and users, who are captivated by the clarity and substance in Levin's design and design process.

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