Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams

Smith and Williams portraits

Smith (left) and Wiliams (right), circa 1960

“The Fifties was a great place to be an architect.” Whitney Smith

The work of Whitney Rowland Smith (1911-2002) and Smith and Williams, the architectural firm Smith founded in 1949 with Wayne Richard Williams (1919-2007), presents a portrait of mid-century modernism in postwar southern California and a mirror of the region’s unprecedented expansion during the postwar period.

“Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams” was part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., celebrating Southern California’s lasting impact on modern architecture through exhibitions and programs organized by seventeen area arts institutions from April through July 2013. The exhibit was curated by Jocelyn Gibbs, with exhibition design by Kris Miller-Fisher.

Support for this exhibition came from the Getty Foundation, Knoll, Greg Smith, the Wayne Williams family, and the AD&A Museum’s Architecture and Design Council.

The exhibition catalog, "Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams" contains essays by Anthony Denzer, Jocelyn Gibbs, Alan Hess, Debi Howell-Ardila, and Lilian Pfaff. More information about the catalog can be found here.

Smith and Williams: Smith & Williams office (Pasadena, Calif.)

Smith and Williams office, circa 1950

Julius Shulman, photographer; © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

At the end of World War II there was great optimism and certainty that growth and prosperity were coming after years of Depression and world war. The Smith and Williams archive, with more than 600 projects, includes custom and tract housing, commercial buildings and complexes, recreational facilities, churches and schools, civic centers, new towns, and master plans, and attests to the growth of the postwar period.

Based in the Pasadena area, Smith and Williams also built in San Marino, Sierra Madre, Arcadia, Azuza, Downey, Monrovia, La Cañada Flintridge, and elsewhere in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. They were architects primarily of the suburbs and small cities growing on the periphery of Los Angeles.

Whitney Smith, Wayne Williams, and their contemporaries mada contemporary architecture based on the belief that architecture is a social act. For this generation of mid-century architects, modernism was not a style but a set of tools and competencies for solving problems and creating environments for better living.

Community Facilities Planners

Smith and Williams: Community Facilities Planning office (Pasadena, Calif.)

Community Facilities Planners offices, circa 1959

Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, Wayne Williams suggested a model for collaboration with other firms of planners and landscape architects, which would keep their small architecture practice separate but ally periodically to vie for larger projects. The original group of Community Facilities Planners (CFP) included: Smith and Williams architects; Simon Eisner and Lyle Stewart planners; and Garrett Eckbo, Francis Dean, Robert Royston, and Edward Williams landscape architects. In the early 1960s, they were joined by Richard Selje and Robert Bond, industrial designers. The work of CFP included parks, master plans and studies, commercial buildings, and the planning of an entire city, California City, in their tally of forty projects from the late 1940s until the early 1970s.
The plan for the 1414 Fair Oaks office building in Pasadena was designed by Smith and Williams (with landscape by Garrett Eckbo) to house the Community Facilities Planners group. The building highlights the importance of the garden, sensitive site planning, provisions for privacy for the four separate office blocks, and skillful manipulation of light.
Smith and Williams’s sensitive regard for the individual’s experience of a building and its site was at the core of their practice. Their designs are compositions of balanced opposites: shelter and openness, private and public, restraint and exuberance, light and shadow. Smith and Williams created spaciousness in their buildings by layering inside and outside spaces. This spaciousness is a reflection of postwar optimism after ten years of Depression and six years of war, and is a quintessential expression of modern ideas about the relationship of architecture to environment, of building to site, of inside to out.