Category Archives: Associates

Duncan Nicholson Remembered

Duncan Nicholson Architect
Duncan on table he designed for Sheats-Goldstein residence. Photograph courtesy of Nicholson Architects.

(Click on photos to see larger versions)

The announcement of Duncan Nicholson’s death in January 2015 left many of us shocked and saddened.  A valued associate of John Lautner for the last five years of Lautner’s life, Duncan worked on many Lautner projects and his work on the Sheats-Goldstein residence continued until Nicholson’s own death. In addition to designing many original projects for many clients, Duncan worked with owner James Goldstein to improve and enhance Goldstein’s remarkable residence and to bring to life the private nightclub on the site, essentially a Lautner-Nicholson joint collaboration.

Duncan was a passionate co-founder of The John Lautner Foundation, and served on its board for several years.  His insight, integrity, and hard work made him a valuable contributor to the  Foundation’s work as well as a close, trusted friend.

Here, in memory of this great, honorable, and creative man are words from a few of his many friends and colleagues that only begin to explain the value of the man and his work to the world of architecture:

Bette Jane Cohen:

I never got to say goodbye to you Duncan. What a loss for Real Architecture with your passing… I know you loved working on Real Architecture! You made a difference! I am honored I got to know you and grateful for all your hard work! You are an inspiration!

Thank you for all the support you gave me while I was making the film, “The Spirit In Architecture: John Lautner.” Thank you for helping me coordinate all the screenings and exhibitions with John.

What beautiful work you’ve done throughout your lifetime…and the amazing people that you’ve worked with. You are continuing the legacy of Frank Furness, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John Lautner…

I remember how inspiring it was for you while you were working with Eric Lloyd Wright, then your amazing time with John Lautner.

I’ve kept my eye on your wonderful work up at the Sheats-Goldstein residence for years. I know you loved working with James Turrell and loved working on all those Skyspaces…Great job!

I know how much it meant to you to pass on your knowledge in your office and all those wonderful tours to the students! You will continue to make an impact Duncan!

Jessica Trent:

I met Duncan while working together on a fundraiser for the MAK Center at the Sheats-Goldstein House. From the very start, I was impressed by his honesty and enthusiasm. We instantly became friends talking not just about architecture, but also surfing, his lovely wife, and his great outlook on life. His smile lit up the world. Duncan was one of the most generous, honest, humble, kind, and talented people I’ve ever met.

Jon Yoder:

I think something architect Hans Hollein wrote about John Lautner also applies well to Duncan:

Hollein called his work “significant of Angelenos’ exuberance and generosity, of their undoubted and purposeful seizing and reaching out for the new, fantastic, and unconventional and their longing for built manifestations of freedom.” Naturally, Duncan had incredible respect for John Lautner. But it wasn’t the typical cold posthumous reverence we often display for important architects. Instead, it reflected a shared love for pleasurable sensation and provocation, a contagious affection for life richly lived. Duncan’s generosity and talent are irreplaceable, and architecture has suffered another tragic loss.

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Photograph by James Perry, courtesy of Nicholson Architects.







Karol Lautner Peterson:

Life is too short. We never know what will happen. Losing Duncan at such an early age is just unbelievable. He turned out to be an amazing architect designing many beautiful buildings and furniture. We have lost a faithful friend,companion, steward, and boss.

I will always be indebted to Duncan for agreeing to be a founding member of the John Lautner Foundation. His dedication was enormous. He was a loyal supporter.

Matthew Miller:

I am very sad to hear of Duncan’s passing. I last spoke with Duncan at the inaugural tennis tournament at the Sheats/Goldstein Residence. I was acting as a docent for a MAK center tour and Duncan passed by, so I asked if he would speak about John Lautner. Even after knowing and working with Duncan, he still brought new insight as he spoke of John, the Residence, and ideas being built on the surrounding properties. Duncan was very direct, even to the point of telling me that “my architecture career would not start until l went to work on-site for a contractor”. I took his advice and for me I think that he was right. I have many good memories of my time spent with Duncan, Michael Wirts, and Roban Poirier. When I was studying architecture in school I imagined architectural teams with creativity and ingenuity that I witnessed in this group. Architecture has changed dramatically in the past decades, but maybe as Duncan Nicholson showed through his life, many of the guiding principles may stay the same.

Patricia Parinejad:

I am deeply saddened by duncan’s unexpected departure.
a great architect.

Duncan with Harry Ernst amidst recessed lights. Photograph by James Perry, courtesy of Nicholson Architects.






Warren Lawson:

I didn’t know Duncan personally. Although we had both worked with John at different times, our paths only crossed once, years later at an open house at the Goldstein residence, where we talked about his unusual work there.

His untimely exit finds me thinking of those sun-dappled clearings discovered unexpectedly by hikers when exploring forest trails. Experienced by only a few, the chance visitor finds their life brought sharply into focus. The moment remains indelibly etched in memory. Making those moments is what certain architects strive to accomplish. Duncan was one of them. I think he had many more to offer. His absence is our loss.

This sad loss also has me reflecting on the ever dwindling number of those who passed through Lautner’s orbit. It’s like the tail of that comet growing dimmer over time.

For us the living, Duncan’s passing is a moment to reflect on what’s still possible in life.

Roberta Leighton:

Duncan, come ‘round the office once more!
The exquisite office you created with your talents.
Regale me with stories while Glady patiently wags and waits for her Dad.
Have a scotch with me Dunc…
Talk to me of your visions and the integrity of fine design…
Tell me how much you love your lovely Lee…
Laugh on the phone with me until we both gasp…
Share never heard stories of you and John…
Come ‘round to me Duncan, once more come round
Duncan with Erik rettedal, electrician. Photograph by Kris Conner, courtesy of Nicholson Architects.







Howard Rodman:

Only just this instant learned of Duncan’s death. He was such a source of light. This scarcely seems possible. My thoughts are with his family and those who loved him. The loss is immense.

Robin Poirier:

I first met Duncan at john Lautner’s office when he first started working there approx. 1988. We mutually disliked each other immediately. He was the new kid on the block in Lautner’s office, and he did have something to prove. I had already been working for Mr. Lautner for 14 years, and had seen Draftsmen and Project Architects come and go. Only the ones who were meant to be there and work and learn from Mr. Lautner stayed, the rest blipped into the Architectural cosmos. Duncan stayed. He did all the low man on the totem pole jobs, and bitched about it. He was arrogant, and almost sometimes too much to take, but he grew on you. He did have talent. A lot of talent. It showed. Mr. Lautner started giving him better jobs to do. He was a great Architect in the making, and learning his craft from the Master. It was not until John Lautner’s funeral that Duncan and I started to bond, having cocktails at the Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. We started doing projects together, and worked well together. I always enjoyed visiting him at his office at the Airport and checking out his latest designs. His work at Sheats-Goldstein is epic, and the rest of his work yet to be built, but in the oven and getting built or getting ready to be built will also be timelessly awesome. I hope to build some of his unbuilt designs myself. He left way too soon. You are seriously missed. Un-replaceable. Goodbye old friend.

Laura Massino:

Duncan was always happy to talk about John Lautner’s Sheats/Goldstein house whenever I brought visitors there. He was very proud of the house and proud to be a part of its future. He will always have a place there and in our hearts. On a lighter note…. he got me wearing clogs again after I hadn’t worn them since the 70s!!

Photograph by Kris Conner, courtesy of Nicholson Architects.


Barbara Bestor:

I knew Duncan for almost thirty years as a friend and fellow architect and he was truly one of a kind. Duncan was a wonderful spokesman for organicism in architecture, and an embodiment of the western, modernist pioneering spirit of Architecture that has created many of our greatest buildings in California. He was very generous with his time and his knowledge, regularly speaking to and touring through his projects with my graduate students and other architecture-seekers from around the world. It is a great loss to us all and he will be sorely missed, we send much love to his family and office from our camp in silverlake.

Julia Strickland:

Duncan and I worked together in John Lautner’s office and then, after John died, collaborated for a couple of years on the development of Lautner’s designs for the Goldstein House. Professionally, Duncan was confident, energetic and inventive; unafraid to try anything once and willing to make it himself if necessary. He was funny and wildly opinionated; a political person who would guerrilla edit Robbie Conal posters in the middle of the night (this was the mid 90’s). I remember him best for his kindness; he was a generous and loyal friend ready to take care of your dog when you went to Europe or bring soup when you were ill.

Christopher Carr:

It’s all very sad. Duncan’s friendship and talent was forthright, yet personal… loyal to John’s creations and vision, yet expressive and insightful. His work truly exhibited that energy. He was one of our founding board members, a tireless supporter of JLF’s main mission… to protect and care for John’s archives. So committed to continuing John’s vision, one only needs to walk around at Sheats-Goldstein since John’s passing to see this… in that all he has designed, with great respect to John’s master plan, while presenting his own strength as an architect possessing great creativity… a master of concrete finishes… beautiful details and forms, and above all he had great ingenuity and an persistence to keep the projects moving and get them built.

Mike Vail, Michael Wirts, Harry Ernst, Don Voorheis, Duncan Nicholson, Bruce Ostermann. Photograph by James Perry
Mike Vail, Michael Wirts, Harry Ernst, Don Voorheis, Duncan Nicholson, Bruce Ostermann. Photograph by James Perry, courtesy of Nicholson Architects.







Frank Escher:

Duncan Nicholson was rightly proud of having been ‘the last man hired by John Lautner’. He understood this lineage and the responsibility this brought. Having worked with John for the last five years of Lautner’s life – on projects large and small – Duncan was also intimately involved in caring for his mentor, when the office and his trusted staff did everything to keep Lautner working.

Following Lautner’s death, Duncan became a founding – and central – board member of The John Lautner Foundation. Among other projects he, with Christopher Carr, oversaw the dismantling of the Goldstein Office and its transfer to LACMA. More importantly, Duncan continued the work on the Sheats/Goldstein House, following first Lautner’s designs and plans, but slowly and steadily leaving these behind to put his own mark on this important project. One only needs to compare Lautner’s original intentions, shown in a model at the Goldstein House, to the extraordinary project that was actually built. This building will exist for a long time. And with it, Duncan Nicholson’s name.

Tycho Saariste:

During our extensive John Lautner research we visited and interviewed most of Lautner’s former employees. The first time we met Duncan he was a bit distant to us, but when he noticed the detail of our research he changed entirely into a very friendly and open person. On our next visit to LA we had the chance to meet him again and had a lovely dinner in a restaurant. That night we became friends for life. Over a lot of wine he told us the greatest stories about Lautner and the work at his office, which we will never forget. He also impressed us with a very clear vision about how organic architecture should be made. He was extremely passionate about this. His work shows his love for architecture from the overall idea to the finest detail. I would have been so curious to see all his work in the next twenty years or so. However I was shocked to hear that he suddenly passed away and that the last addition of the Sheats-Goldstein house would remain his project for life. This is not fair, I am sure he had many more stories to tell. It is very sad we will not be able to hear them.

James Perry:

I feel very blessed to have been an apprentice under Duncan Nicholson. He took the time to mentor me over the years that I worked under his tutelage. He had the attributes that every man and architect should strive for. He was honorable in every aspect of his work and life, and he taught me that, like in life, one’s architecture should strive to be honest, original, and innovative.

 The first time meeting Duncan I quickly realized that he was immersed in historic knowledge, bringing forth references on ancient truths. He was always articulate in his thoughts, on point in his writings, and exact in his drawings. Duncan was a one of a kind Architect and an artist in his own right. He took every chance to design as a profound opportunity to bring something beautiful into the world. No matter how small or how large he would make a lasting design that was unique in its form and true in its function. He was an individual who would rather struggle for commissions than compromise his integrity.

 When he drew, I knew it was always an informed thought with a deep understanding and significance. I knew this because he taught me that I could hone that same skill to form and develop a design, and by controlling and training my mind I could quickly imagine, iterate, and then solve the idea. And only then was the complete idea worthy to be put down on to paper. This was just a glimpse of the love that he put into his work as he continued a long legacy of great design.

 Duncan enjoyed surfing and rode countless waves at his favorite spot at Topanga, where it is only fitting as the place he would first meet his wonderful wife Lee. He had an amazing laugh and was youthful in his ability to get the joys out of the everyday. He was generous, and loyal, and always playful in his natural zest for life.

And above all of this he was also my friend, and I will miss you.

 He was never short of words of wisdom, and I would like to share a few of Duncan’s sayings:

 -The answer is always to be found in the problem.

-The first answer to a problem is often not the best answer.

-Only a Jackass assumes.

-Fact follows fiction.

-If God had a partner the world may not have been as beautiful.

Jim Goldstein:

Duncan and I worked together for 25 years on the completion of my house, the James Turrell sky space, and the adjacent tennis court/night club/office complex. There was never a project that was too big or too small for Duncan to tackle. He had tremendous vision along with great attention to details. If there was ever any problem on my property, I knew that a quick call to Duncan would get it solved. His years of working under John Lautner served him well, so that Duncan and I were always on the same wavelength when it came to the goal of designing every project in the way that John would have done it. I will miss Duncan very much.

For information on the memorial service for Duncan Nicholson, see this article. If you would like to contribute your memories of Duncan to this article, please send them to


Memorial Service for Duncan Nicholson Set

D. NICHOLSON - ARCHITECTDuncan Nicholson, founding member of The John Lautner Foundation and fine architect in his own right, died this month after a short illness.  Duncan was always a good friend and valuable contributor to the Foundation as well as a dedicated architect in service to the truth.  Duncan’s office and family have consented to our sharing their information on a memorial service for Duncan:

A memorial service will be held for Duncan at St. Martin Catholic Church on Saturday, February 7th at 11:00 am.

Church website:

Google maps: In lieu of flowers or gifts, donation may be made to the John Lautner Foundation in Duncan’s memory at the following web site. John Lautner Foundation web site:

Or by mail:
The John Lautner Foundation
P.O. Box 29517
Los Angeles, CA 90029-0517

We hope to see you there to honor the life of a great man, architect, and friend.

We will publish a tribute to Duncan in this space next week. If you would like to contribute your own memories or thoughts on this great man, please send them to Judith Lautner at by Sunday, February 1. Later submissions may be added to the tribute.

Bio of Edgardo Contini Written by Italian Engineer

Fausto Giovannardi, one of the founders of the Italian architectural and engineering firm Studio Giovannardi e Rontini, has completed a 52-page illustrated paper on Edgardo Contini. Contini worked with John Lautner on a number of projects in the 1940s, notably the trio of Jacobsen, Polin, and Carling, all of which use the same hexagonal steel horizontal frame supported on three tapered steel trusses.

You can download the paper. Note that it is written in Italian.

Remembering Andrea Simoncelli

Andrea Simoncelli, an Italian architect who worked in John Lautner’s office from November 1971 until October 1975, died in Rome August 16, 2010.

He worked on many projects in Lautner’s office, among them the Hope residence in Palm Springs, for which he drew the presentation drawings. When he first came to Los Angeles his command of English was limited, but by the time he left for home he could converse easily in this new language. Andrea lit up the small crew with his sense of humor and passion. John Caldwell, also in the office then, writes:

I will always remember Andrea as a dedicated and challenging architect. We had lots of laughs together and sometimes we thought “trouble” was his middle name. It is funny what you remember about people. I went home with him once for lunch and was surprised when I went into the bathroom and found almost every object labeled with a note: “faucet”, “water closet”, etc. He was preparing for his California licensing exam and was brushing up on his English technical terms. In the end it was the use of an “English” word that was his demise at the exam. The exam’s design problem was a bank with a drive-up teller with stacking for 6 cars. Someone finally explained “stacking” to him in this context during a toilet break but it was too late for him to successfully complete that phase of the exam.

He was a great architect and a wonderful warm person who never did anything half way. We will miss you.

As a thank you to Lautner, who helped him gain visa extensions, allowing him a longer time to work in the U.S., Andrea offered to share his Rome with Lautner’s daughter Judith, who was also working in the office then. The two left for Rome in December 1974. Judy stayed in Andrea’s mother’s apartment for a month, trying desperately to pick up a bit of Italian (she took hope from Andrea’s progress in English) and making forays around Rome and to other cities in Italy on her own. From time to time she would go places with Andrea, to his friends’ apartments or to parties given by other friends, and to meet his former architect employer, but for the most part Andrea was involved in a whirlwind of activity of his own, trying to catch up with his left-behind life. Judy met two of Andrea’s three sons at some (long, beautifully-cooked) meals. They were about five at the time and hard-working well-behaved little schoolboys. His youngest son, Oliver Manzi, had this to say about his father:

My father was always drawing.

Whether on the phone, at a restaurant, or discussing alimony with my mother, he always had a pencil that he’d slip out of his breast pocket, and while his interlocutor would speak, he would draw on any surface at hand.

He had tremendous energy and no patience. He would speak his mind even if it would land him in trouble, and would gobble up life as fast as he could eat a plate of spaghetti, which believe me was shockingly fast.

When it came to art and life, he had a craving for immediacy. Immediate emotions.

He used to tell me: “I like painters that paint with their arm.”
I believe this applied to architects as well, including John, whom my father adored.

I will always be indebted to my father for instilling in me a love for the arts.

In his last 15 years his illness confined him to his house in Rome, but despite this he remained fun, impulsive and charming to the end. My two older brothers, Cesare and Oscar Simoncelli, and I will miss him dearly.

Perhaps no more needs to be said about this man, who was so full of energy, humor, generosity, and creativity. If you remember Andrea, however, please feel free to send your thoughts to us at comments (at) johnlautner (dot) org and we may find a way to expand this article to include them.

Thank you, Oliver Manzi, for the photographs of Andrea

Calling all Lautner associates

An open letter to persons who worked for John Lautner:

We know who some of you are (see the Associates page). We don’t know all of you. And we’d like to. We’d also like to know what projects you worked on while in the office. This information is especially useful for obtaining accuracy in our records and for future applications for cultural heritage monument status.

Thus we ask each of you to write to us at associates (at) johnlautner (dot) org. Tell us, please:

* Your name
* Your present contact information: mailing address, telephone, company, email address
* When you worked for or with John Lautner (range of years or months)
* What projects you worked on during that time. What was your role? What do you remember about them?

If you have particular memories about that time we’d love to hear them.

Associates of John Lautner

The following architects worked in John Lautner’s offices for the number of years indicated. Many others worked for Mr. Lautner over the years, but it is difficult to verify the time spent in every case. The Board of Directors has confirmed these names and years, and from time to time may amend the list when more information is available.

Architect Address Notes
Helena Arahuete (23 years) Lautner Associates
8055 W. Manchester Ave. suite 705
Playa del Rey CA 90293
Tel 1 310 577-7783/Fax 1 310 577-7793
 Worked on Arango, Franklyn, Rumney, Fiorentino, Crippled Children’s Center, Familian, Curtiss, Cavalier Motel, Goldsmith, Hope, Elrod-Maloney, Walter remodel, Boli, Miles Davis swim lake and studio, Townsend, Marina Fine Arts,, addition to Bell-Worchell, Zahn remodel, Jordan remodel, Arango ranch house, J. Kirk Wood, Remodel Goldstein, Whiting, Lueck, JOrdan, Hurd, Beyer, Wolff cabin
Vaughan Trammell (12 years) Vaughan Trammell, Architect
1912 Benecia Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel 1 310-277-1656/Fax 1 310-277-1699
Guy Zebert (12 years) Guy Zebert
Box 9483
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Tel 1 310-823-8158
Julia Strickland (8 years) Julia Strickland and Jack Burnett-Stuart, Architect
1648 N. Coronado Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tel 1 213-483-4948/Fax 1 213-413-8481
Andrew Nolan (7 years:
Jan 82 – Feb 89)
P.O. Box 557
Avalon Beach
NSW 2107
Tel 02-9973-4355/Fax 02-9973-4366
Duncan Nicholson (5 years)


Nicholson Architects
3200 Airport Avenue, Suite 12
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Tel 1 310 313-1928/Fax 1 310 313-1906website:
 Died January 2015
Warren Lawson (4 years) Warren Lawson
25612 Isle of View Place
Calabasas, CA 91302
Tel 1 818-591-0646
email: warrenlawson@mac.comwebsite:
 Worked on Segel, Rawlins, Schwimmer.
Lynn Call (4 years) Lynn Call, Architect
7717 Hollywood Blvd., Suite #2
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tel 1 323 876 0430
fax 1 323 876 7163
Andrea Simoncelli (4 years: Nov 71-Oct 75) ANDREA SIMONCELLI  Died August 16, 2010
Kay Marshall Henryson (4 years) Kay M. Henryson, AIA
7607 Eastmark Drive, Suite 245
College Station, Texas 77840
David Hertz (3-1/2 years) David Randall Hertz FAIA
S.E.A. 1920 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica , California 90404
John Caldwell (2 years: 1972 – 74) 3107 Washington Bl.
Marina del Rey, CA 90292email:
 Worked on Nature Center, Hurd residence
Louis Wiehle (1 yr, 7 mos) 2225a Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
1-323-668-2225 Fax: 1-323-668-2228
Roger Bennett, Architect (1 year +/-) 453 S. Spring Street
Suite 639
Los Angeles, CA 90013