writings + texts
Remembering Robert Mangurian: Once Upon A Time
MICHAEL ROTONDI / OCTOBER 2023
My talk will of course be focused on Robert,
but to me his full name is Robert and Mary-Ann.
This is a solemn affair, but also a lively commemoration of
our departed friend Robert.
Once again, even in absentia,
Robert has brought many people together today,
as he has in the past.
He invented so many ways, so many times,
one-of-a-kind or longer-term projects
that would bring a diverse group of individuals together
In ways that afforded everyone the opportunity
to be and do more than we ever imagined,
or expected to be or do,
but most importantly, To find a common a ground of being through the creative curiosities, explorations, and constructions of an architectural mind.
Being here today - listening to everyone -
and feeling the joy that circumscribes the embedded sadness
of a friend's passing,
brings to mind two long-ago conversations with indigenous elders of 'earth-based cultures' with cosmologies
that define the infinite presence of their departed ancestors.
Or as they would say more precisely, "seven generations past and future."
One, an Igbo from West Africa,
explained that after a communal life on earth,
one happily gathers with his forefathers
in the soil, in the earth.
Another, a Lakota Elder of the Dakotas,
described a continuum of spirits moving above and through the Tribe, guiding their seasonal migrations -
simultaneously geographical and spiritual
(as accurately as any GPS).
Both said, emphatically,
"Our ancestors are present, re-entering our world
each time their name is spoken."
Robert is certainly present here today,
and likely for the duration of each our lives,
every time we do any one of the many things that remind us
of our time together with him.
So, this is a reflection on the life of a friend,
in the best of times, which outweigh other times.
We began working closely together in 1987,
when, as SCI-Arc's Director
I asked him to run the graduate program.
As many of you here today will attest -
it was one of my most excellent decisions.
I knew him as a friend,
an academic collaborator, as
an architectural hero, and
a comedian. He could make me laugh with words and antics.
Many times unintentionally.
His life's work as a teacher and architect
defined him as
a healer, and
A great teacher,
and working closely with him for a decade, I would add,
A Teacher's Teacher -
One of the great gifts of being here all these years has been observing, listening, and learning from my peers.
I have had a few great Mentors here at SCI-Arc,
Or simply speaking in silence,
He said things that would augment my own thoughts,
or set my mind on an unexpected journey.
No meeting with Robert was easy, quick, or casual,
in my experience,
But always consequential and usually fun.
Something was always brewing that he wanted me to know about or take action in support of.
If I was paying attention with an open mind,
what was most evident was a significant aspirational trait
of a Warrior, unyielding creative passion.
Especially important these days,
a time of so many great distractions and challenges.
Passion can be a powerful motivator, driving exploration,
a fundamental aspect of creativity.
Also, it is contagious.
Your life is your work and
your work is your life.
Coming to LA
Once upon a time, a city was coming of age in ways
that attracted many young creatives.
Los Angeles was at an inflection point in 1970.
After the darkness that consumed us throughout the 1960s, light was beginning to return.
Three new design schools emerged around the same time, actually, within a few years of each other,
Cal Arts 1969,
UCLA SAUP 1970, and
With the quality of people arriving in LA,
the city was now leveling up, coming of age.
These schools served as great attractors for a wide array
of cross-disciplinary talents -
artists, designers, and architects among them,
all humanists who intuited that teaching was a research discipline essential to an expanded notion of practice.
Robert Mangurian was an exemplary practitioner
among this 'fifth wave' of extraordinary talent,
as the great historian Esther McCoy would describe them.
And the rest is history,
as we say.
Finally, I will leave you with a poem
by the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi.
This poem gives me perspective and lightens a heavy heart.
I lived for thousands and thousands of years as a mineral,
And then I died
and became a plant,
And I lived for thousands and thousands of years as a plant,
And then I died
and I became an animal,
And I lived for thousands and thousands of years as an animal,
And then I died
and became a human being
And I lived for thousands and thousands of years
as a human being,
And then I died
and became a bird and took flight.
what have I ever lost by dying?
love to you all
october 28 2023
la / sci-arc