About RoTo Architects
RoTo Architects was founded in January 1992.
It was an outgrowth of another practice, Morphosis, that I had started with
a friend, Thom Mayne, in 1975 as a continuation of our 15 year working
relationship in practice. We continued working together until the end of 1991.
The body of work produced during that period is well published. Several years
prior, 1972, along with 50 others, we co-founded a school in Southern
California, SCI-ARC. It was a very creative and period, in many ways,
exchanging ideas at high velocity, researching, testing ideas with our hands
and minds, designing, and building. The projects, commissioned or invented,
were a medium to test the limits of our own imagination and that of the
discipline of Architecture. Our broad interests focused on the special
evolutionary problems the city, the landscape, and the human enterprise. We
worked in all available media and at all scales modeling, drawing, and
constructing a resynthesized collective imagination.
It was a time when universal values and protocols were diminishing as they
confronted more personal and idiosyncratic points of view. Our practice was
established with a belief that creativity emerges in a social context through
a unique personal lens. Architecture has been our medium for a new synthesis,
aspiring to equilibrium between personal rights and collective responsibilities.
RoTo’s mission has been to sustain continuity from past to present while
expanding the definition and field of practice.
Our open-minded outlook and approach integrates a teacher-practitioner’s ever
expanding field of trans-disciplinary interests, within and beyond architecture.
RoTo can work in any context with anyone’s ideas and on any type of problem,
constrained by any limits. We know from experience that this will lead to
outcomes as unique as the mixture of people involved and the context. Our task
is to create coherent and purpose driven solutions with an economy of means.
Our research and our works are framed by the dynamic relationships of
conservation and change (cultural mediation and sustainability), social,
cultural, and material evolution of the city, (urban design and civic
architecture) and the symbiotic coupling of society, environment, and economy.
Since our founding, we have developed collaborative working relationships with
a wide range of clients who operate at the frontiers of their particular fields,
including Civic, Business, Education, Government, Religious/Spiritual, Science,
and Culture Production. The unique interests of, and relationships with these
clients have led to large and diverse body of work. Different ways of solving
problems, managing resources, or re-defining long-term strategic objectives
focused on immediate needs are explored with confidence and compassion. This
leads to solutions that are unique and inevitable. We have a signature process
but do not have a signature style nor do we specialize in project types although
we have the knowledge and experience of experts with a wide range of types.
This allows us to be open minded to new ways of thinking about site challenges,
diverse demographics, changing market forces, diminishing resources, and
conservation and change. We approach all that we do with a profound belief
prerequisite that Humans are inherently good, optimism is the basis of
creativity, and creativity is an evolutionary imperative.
How we work
We begin each project sitting around a 5m long table covered with
a continuous scroll of paper, talking and drawing until a coherent approach
emerges in a diagrammatic ‘collective mind map.’ We then develop the ideas into alternative schemes using all media. Working with staff and clients at the table is conducive to more ‘horizontal’ creative collaborations and ongoing research, analysis and critique of the work. This eventually leads us to unique and optimum solutions that are inevitable and expressive with an economy of means. Projects are then developed in precise ways functionally and technically. This is the
basis for implementation. In practice and teaching we have discovered that
listening is the most effective, efficient, and enabling process for everyone involved. In our own ways, we can all be teachers. This is the way of Aikido. We learn in proportion to our capacity to listen, as if you are hearing something for the first time. This is a precondition and the essence of creative dialogue. Since its founding in 1992 RoTo has envisioned and built a wide range of project types of varying scope and complexity. In addition to architectural design, one of a kind, and city scale works, and urban design, services include strategic consulting to commercial clients, non-profit organizations, education and campus planning, planning and design of rural communities, and cultural conservation and regeneration. earing something for the first time. This is a precondition and the essence of creative dialogue. Since its founding in 1992 RoTo has envisioned and built a wide range of project types of varying scope and complexity. In addition to architectural design, one of a kind, and city scale works, and urban design, services include strategic consulting to commercial clients, non-profit organizations, education and campus planning, planning and design of rural communities, and cultural conservation and regeneration.
It is a gift to be an architect, and it is a gift to be a teacher.
I have done both for an equal number of years so they have equal standing.
They are two symbiotic parts of one practice.
The teaching is for pure and applied research and the practice is the laboratory for taking the ideas into the world to test them ‘full size in real time.’ In a teaching venue we can speculate on what we think would be beneficial to the evolution of society, the city, and Architecture.
Understanding the implications of time scales and structures is important. “Is it possible to set long term strategies in a short cycle world?” What may seem best for investors, reacting to the short cycles of finance, may not necessarily be beneficial for the longer life cycles buildings and cities. Endurance has value.
The unique interests of our clients may require different ways of conceptualizing and solving problems, managing resources, and making architecture. An open minded approach often leads to solutions that are both inevitable, functionally, economically, and aesthetically.
As young architects, we had more ideas than buildings, so as teachers, we invented projects to test these ideas and to teach the students. The City was our laboratory and Architecture was the subject of our experiments. The complexity of the problems we invented, were in proportion to the depth of our imaginations, the range of our knowledge, and our confidence. We were fearless.
These projects always incorporated the core principles that were ‘on the table for discussion’ in the 70’s and 80’s, society, environment, and economy (of means.) We worked on our selves, our projects, and the school simultaneously. We began to realize who we were and what we made were one and the same. ‘It was all one thing’ Architecture was searching for a new identity in the 70’s and so were we, individually and as a school. Los Angeles, with it’s unorthodox hybrid culture seemed to be the place to experiment with making and meaning, materials and technology, and the phenomenology of experience. Architecture would be our window into ‘wonderland.’
We also wanted to bring Architecture to people and organizations who often had to accept less. We became social entrepreneurs. We began working with non-profits with a vision. One’s that served society, focusing on the arts, the humanities, education, spiritual insight, and environment. We also began working with private foundations searching for the most appropriate place to leverage their financial capital to yield greater social capital. This is a significant part of our practice. So our practice extends for commerce to the contemplative.
Life gives Form to Architecture
We believe that it is possible to create an architecture that is both practical
and poetic, both unique and inevitable, familiar to the body and unfamiliar to
the eyes. Spaces created have the potential of being inspiring and a trigger to
integrate memory and imagination. Specific projects in our diverse body of work,
has taught us how to do this. The Native Americans taught us how to listen with
all of our senses, the Buddhists taught us how to see with a ‘beginners mind’
young social entrepreneurs have reaffirmed the benefits of ‘doing well and good’,
and the students have continued to remind me that ‘anything imaginable is possible’.
Conservationists have taught us the essence of conservation and change.
Entrepreneurs have taught were to find hidden value and unpack it. Artists
helped us the see the role poetry plays in the Human enterprise. Spiritual
Teachers have taught us how to see, with an open mind and heart. Pragmatists
have proven to us the necessity of limits. Visionaries have helped us
understand the immediate impact of timescales of history.
RoTo has developed collaborative working relationships with clients who operate at the frontiers of their particular fields focusing on both conservation and change, searching alternative to create contemporary forms for traditional practices. The list of diverse clients include Native Americans, Civic, Business, and Political Leaders in America and Asia, Creative Culture- Performers and Educators, University Presidents, Non-Profit Leaders, and Spiritual Teachers. The unique interests of, and relationships with our clients have led to a body of work where different ways of re-conceptualizing and solving conventional and idiosyncratic problems, managing resources, and making architecture is explored, leading to solutions that are inevitable and unique, functionally, economically, and aesthetically.
Since its founding in 1991, RoTo Architects has envisioned and built a wide range of projects of varying type, scope and complexity. As a body of work, it represents an open mindedness in challenging conventions with an expertise in solving any problem with economy and invention. The portfolio includes almost every project type –
contemplative (spiritual retreats, temples, monasteries) to
institutional (education, theaters, health care),
environmental (restoration-land planning), and
commercial (retail, hospitality, entertainment, re-purposing industry and malls).
cultural (Native American, Tibetan)
RoTo services include Architecture, Urban Design, Campus Planning, Strategic Consulting to commercial clients with an evolving vision or under performing assets, non-profit organizations anticipating the need to grow their institution, expand their mission, or in need of new facilities conducive to their own interactions and aspirations, and the planning and design of Rural Communities.
The work has been published locally and internationally and has received many awards. 50+ from the AIA, 20+ from Progressive Architecture Magazine, 35 industry and Trades, and 20+ Civic Organizations. Although awards serve a purpose and are an index of qualitative peer review, we have decided to not pursue them as part of our life practice.
Professor Rotondi received the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Architecture Award for his body of work in 1992 and in 2009, the AIA/LA Gold Medal for his contributions as a Practitioner and a Teacher, and in 2013 he was elected by his peers as one of the 30 most admired Design Educators in America. He has lectured and taught locally, nationally, and internationally for many years.
Why I became an Architect.
I love to imagine new ‘worlds’ and new ways to enter them.
I love to let others into my world and so they can make it theirs.
I love to make things.
I love to solve problems.
I love the creative process—either talking, drawing, or building.
I love working with other people and
I love to contribute to the problem of humanity.
I was so proud to be an architect, (I still am,)
I wanted everyone to know,
-not to get work, but to talk about everything on my mind, and
-how architecture could make our world better.
I believed this then—and now.
Our curiosity was unbounded,
we wanted to know everything about everything,
how did anything we focused on become what it was?.............................process
what were the inter-relationships of all of the parts within the whole?........order
what brought these parts together and kept them so?............................unity
what was the architectural equivalent these ideas?.............................conversion
we would think, talk, and draw for hours on end. We still do.
We learned to use our hands before we knew what we were doing..................intuition
We believed that anything imaginable is possible – (still do)..................beginners mind
We believed that the ultimate test of an idea was to build it and..............evolution
We were fortunate from an early age to build...................................grace
We learned how to talk people into doing more than they expected
or sometimes more than they thought they wanted to do,
but in the end they were pleased. We were irrepressible.
We would say—“if others could see what we see, they would always agree”
this was said mostly out of a sincere belief in our role in the evolutionary
scheme of life with a bit of youthful arrogance, we believed in the promise
We wanted to make things, wanted to see and inhabit the imaginary worlds we conjured in our minds and unequivocally believed that downloading ideas made room for the next one—
We learned that creativity exists in a context and it unfolds. We paid attention so we did not miss any of the ‘mysteries that may be revealed. The higher our state of concentration, the more we saw.
Doing Architecture is not easy. Different opinions, impatience, political opposition, it is a gauntlet, but I’ve always been positive and seen the ‘glass half full’ — Now I can say that it is a pilgrimage that is worth the wait and compared to geologic time, the time it takes to make Architecture—is no time at all—my impatience sometimes gets in the way but my love of people and my love of teaching, is my leverage to overcome almost any type of resistance there is.
I came into the world sooner and smaller than my mother expected—so I spent the first 3 months of life in a glass bubble—an incubator, a space within a space.
I was both a participant and an observer. I realized some years later that this was an excellent way to transition from the unconditional universe of floating, almost weightlessly, in my mother’s womb, tied with an umbilical to another, in what is a perfect relationship, into a world,
regulated by gravity and resistance – and in the case of my family, lots of noise,
that I landed well the first time and many times since then.
I believe I have been most fortunate to have spent quality time with some others, doing quality work
-clients who became friends,
-friends who became collaborators and
-collaborators who became (even the younger ones) my teachers.
I’ve learned a lot from the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met and who have cared to let me become a part of their world.
Architecture can be a pretext for generating and sustaining relationships.
Architecture is a maximum act of resistance to entropy.
Architecture is the third skin.
Architecture is a medium for teaching and learning
Architecture’s medium is space and spatial intelligence is born out of spatial not verbal experience