News of the July 2 death of Stephen H. Kanner, FAIA, from pancreatic cancer, shocked and saddened the Los Angeles architecture world. “We’ve lost a very kind person, a very strong person, who was important to the L.A. community in many ways,” says Ray Kappe, FAIA.

Kanner, 54, was a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a third-generation principal of Kanner Architects in Santa Monica, Calif. His grandfather, I. Herman Kanner, founded the firm in 1946 and passed it down to Stephen’s father, Charles G. “Chuck” Kanner, who ran the company until his death in 1998. The widely respected firm has designed Modernist homes, multifamily buildings, and commercial spaces, among other project types. 

Some of Stephen Kanner’s best-known designs include the exuberant United Oil gas station in Los Angeles; 26th Street Affordable Housing in Santa Monica, which won a residential architect design award in 2008; and many award-winning private houses. (Kanner Architects has received several residential architect design awards; links to these and other stories on the firm are listed at the end of this article.)

Kanner’s work blended classic Modernism with an optimistic spirit, often bringing color and pattern into the mix. “There’s a sort of sunniness to California Modernism that I think really attracted him,” says Frances Anderton, host of the radio program DnA: Design & Architecture and the L.A. editor for Dwell. “He had a very graphic kind of sensibility.”

Many observers of Kanner’s architecture noted its particular maturity in recent years. Others especially admired his skill in designing multifamily housing. “Southern California has been going through a rethinking of the multiple-family residence,” says John Chase, urban designer for the city of West Hollywood, Calif. “He was participating in that and helped define it.”

Although he led a busy firm and by all accounts was very close with his family, the energetic Kanner also found time to start the A+D Architecture and Design Museum > Los Angeles, for which he served as president and co-founder. (Click here to read our recent interview with Kanner and museum director Tibbie Dunbar.)

He enjoyed encouraging and mentoring other architects, through the museum and through his longtime involvement with the AIA’s L.A. chapter. “He was a generous man,” recalls Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA. “He was very committed to architecture in L.A.”

Kanner’s success stemmed from an unusual combination of strong artistic gifts with a savvy business sense and a talent for working with people. Unabashed enthusiasm infused both his work and his life. “He was very collaborative and very open to ideas,” says builder Tom Hinerfeld. Adds A+D Museum co-founder, architect Joe Addo: “At his core he believed that what matters at the end of the day is what you personally contribute, and that you must have a lot of fun doing it. He was happy, focused, responsible. He had a lot of fun doing what he believed in.”

In accordance with Kanner’s wishes, his firm will continue to operate. “He has many, many talented people” to carry on the work, says design publicist and editor Ann Videriksen, Hon. AIA/L.A. The A+D Museum, too, will go on in his absence. “We’re even more determined now,” Dunbar says.

Kanner is survived by his wife, Cynthia Kanner, their daughters, Caroline and Charlotte, his mother, Judith Kanner, and his sister, Catherine Kanner, and her family. Donations can be made in his name to the A+D Museum, which will hold a memorial service (and the opening of a retrospective exhibition on his work) on Nov. 4*.

(*This article was updated on July 28, 2010: the memorial service date has been changed.)

Read more:

Frances Anderton’s DnA blog posting on Stephen Kanner

L.A. Times obituary

AIA/L.A. chapter obituary  

residential architect articles on Stephen Kanner and Kanner Architects:

2008 rada Affordable / Grand winner

2006 rada Outbuilding winner

April 2007 On The Boards

2005 rada Custom / More than 3,500 square feet / Merit winner

2005 rada Custom / More than 3,500 square feet / Merit winner