Austin Kelly (1966–2015)

Austin Kelly on the deck at Nakahouse, Los Angeles, 2011. Photo: Steve King.

AUSTIN KELLY: He was a purveyor of a personal magic that joined the man with his fascination for architecture. I remember it first at Yale, where I encountered him when he was a student; then here in my office, where he worked; and later as he began to produce his own work. He was a Merlin type, though his magic came not from a top hat or a cape but from drawing and building. There was something rare in his personality, sometimes shared with others, sometimes belonging only to himself. Austin was an introvert first, I think, extrovert second—insular and gregarious simultaneously. And Austin’s architecture carried that duality, driven by an impetus to discover, the energy to explore. He was a searcher, a wonderer, a wanderer.

His conviction drove his production forward. Patient and impatient at the same time, he was interested in appearances but not simply for outward effect. He was always relentless in pursuit of his goal of making buildings new—a chase that always defines the architect’s architect.

XTEN Architecture, Madisonhouse, La Quinta, California. Photo: Steve King.

For Austin, architecture was never a conventional obligation, never an obligation to convention. Architecture was a way of thinking and working and living. Austin was always interrogating culture to see what it omitted, so he could fill in the gaps. No one fills them all. Austin filled his share.

Someone once described architecture as a river flowing forever from past to future. The best an architect can do is to drop an offering in the river and see if it floats. For Austin Kelly, the sailing will be smooth.

Eric Owen Moss directs Eric Owen Moss, Architects, Los Angeles.