Iconic Los Angeles house designer Harry Gesner has handed away on the age of 97 | Information
Architect Harry Gesner (1925-2022). Image still from “HARRY GESNER : ARCHITECT, ENVIRONMENTALIST, VISIONARY” a flim by Eric Minh Swenson.
Los Angeles’ architectural community is mourning the death of a legendary figure in its storied history of residential design after reports that Wave House architect Harry Gesner passed away Friday, June 10 at his Malibu home following a battle with cancer.
Best-known as the designer of several important residential commissions such as the Cole House, the Hollywood Boathouses, and Eagle’s Watch which helped create a more nuanced visual culture for Southern California.
Gesner was a headstrong modernist who broke with certain midcentury conventions in pursuit of his own vision of landscape-derived naturalistic “nests” that were deliberately more responsive to both environmental elements and the local character.
An image of Gesner’s Eagle Watch home from its current Airbnb listing. Image courtesy of Airbnb via super host Katherine VandeVoort
An avid surfer and gregarious regular in Hollywood circles, Gesner rubbed elbows with celebrities like Errol Flynn and is said to have learned to fly planes by the time of his graduation from Santa Monica High School in the early 1940s.
Gesner credited his time and experience serving in major battles in Europe during World War II as the reason why he became an architect. After the war, he eventually eschewed formal education and license altogether after briefly pursuing archeology in Ecuador and then moving to New York so that he could attend some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s late lectures at Yale School of Architecture. Genser then returned home to Los Angeles to pick up carpentry and other building trades, reportedly refusing the Wright’s offer to continue his study at Taliesin (now known as The School of Architecture TSOA) on the ground’s that he “didn’t want to be a Wright followers.”
Gesner’s Wave Home in Malibu, CA. Image still from “HARRY GESNER: ARCHITECT, ENVIRONMENTALIST, VISIONARY” a film by Eric Minh Swenson.
“I think that we have a great responsibility as architects to consider especially the environment, and I can’t think of a house that I have done that hasn’t been in total compatibility with the environment,” he said of his approach to building . This philosophy was perhaps best embodied in his 1970s design for his personal residence called “the Sandcastle.” Gesner drew inspiration from a surfboard as a marriage promise to his late wife, actress Nan Martin. In an obituary published by LA Times’ Carolina A. Miranda, Gesner’s son Zen described growing up in the home as “the stuff of fairy tale books.”
Below is a short film by Eric Ming Swenson showing Gesner’s work and design ideologies.
Gesner is survived by his daughter Tara, sons Jason and Zen, and stepson Casey Dolan from a previous marriage. Harry Gesner was 97 years old.
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