Their backgrounds couldn't be more diverse. Born in Cardiff, Wales, Gwynne Pugh was raised in Greece and Turkey, earned an engineering degree at the University of Leeds, and made his way to UCLA to study architecture. "I was hoping to dispel typical prejudices about the U.S.," he says. In 1984, he set up shop in the garage of his L.A. house, doing everything from bridges to residential remodels and a Disneyland hotel. All-American Lawrence Scarpa was born in Rockaway Beach, New York, grew up in Florida, and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture from the University of Florida. In between, he worked for Paul Rudolph in New York. L.A. came courtesy of his wife Angela Brooks, also an architect. The couple had been living in San Francisco when she opted for a masters at SCI-Arc. "I needed a job," says Scarpa. So he answered a newspaper ad placed by Pugh and got the job. That was 1988. It was 1991 when Pugh + Scarpa Architects opened in a Santa Monica former creamery. The Southern California landscape hasn't been the same since.
The nascent firm plugged into the town's defining business. The entertainment industry provided immediate success. "In the early '90's, a lot of directors and producers hated being on the studio lots," Scarpa explains. "So the studio heads said ‘Find a space, we'll give you money, and, say, a three-picture deal.'" Their first production company, Bedford Falls, was a 5,000-square-foot build out in 10 weeks. "It opened the flood gates," says Pugh. Next came Reactor Films. The 15-week renovation of a 1930's masonry building sported a shipping-container conference room at its core. Pugh and Scarpa claim authorship of the novel treatment, one quickly adapted by East and West Coast peers for cutting-edge cred.
Click 3X, a digital animation studio, is at Bergamot Station, in one of the complex's industrial warehouses, all of which were renovated by Pugh + Scarpa and made into production facilities, galleries, artist lofts, and the architects' own office. Now bold forms like a round conference room with jutting walls and luminescent offices of corrugated fiberglass order the former wasteland.
"We went from being busy to ridiculously busy," Scarpa notes. The slew of industry-related projects enabled the partners to pursue their passions for adaptive reuse and unusual materials, such as ping-pong balls: Pugh and Scarpa found their translucency ideal as an editing-bay enclosure in the bow-truss warehouse offices of Jigsaw, a post-production company. At Creative Domain, a marketing firm, Dixie cup sconces enliven a corridor wall.
The architects have ties to the arts, too. Individually, Scarpa makes it in the form of large-scale sculpture; Pugh has collaborated on installations with Chris Burden and Manfred Muller. Firm-wise, projects on the boards are the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Fine Arts + Education Center at Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis. The duo also hopes to increase the number of college and civic buildings on its commissions list.
Housing projects, however, have been and are a significant chunk of Pugh + Scarpa work. Colorado Court, a low-income residential complex completed in 1998, was one of the firm's firsts. It was also the first in the country to achieve LEED Gold status as well as garner seven design awards. Pugh and Scarpa were designing green when everyone else thought it was just a color, not a sustainability concept.
Colorado Court led to lofts, both conversions and ground-up endeavors. It sparked Solar Umbrella, the Venice residence Scarpa and wife Brooks (also a firm partner) share with their young son Calder. The renovation project is as green as can be with photovoltaics providing nearly 100 percent of the house's energy.
But perhaps the most noteworthy residence is yet to be built. Pugh + Scarpa is one of 12 firms selected by the Make It Right foundation to design affordable housing in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina victims.