Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee profiled in the Los Angeles Times: “Buildings that make you say, ‘Huh?,’ then ‘Wow!'”

Johnston Marklee’s interior redesign for Honor Fraser gallery transformed the space into a sequence of art galleries framed by a dramatic entrance. Photo: Eric Staudenmaier

Harvard Graduate School of Design professors (and alumni) Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, and their Los Angeles-based practice Johnston Marklee, have been profiled by the Los Angeles Times in a feature entitled “The L.A. architects who design buildings that make you say, ‘Huh?,’ then ‘Wow!'” In surveying a range of Johnston and Lee’s projects–including the recently opened Menil Drawing Institute in Houston and UCLA’s Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios in Culver City–the Los Angeles Times notes the “grace” of the duo’s work, as well as the inability to assign Johnston and Lee to one, single category of architect.

“Previous generations had a signature style, and it’s easier to label,” Lee observes in the feature. “Our generation wants to escape that.”

Sharon Johnston, left, and Mark Lee, founders of the L.A. architectural firm Johnston Marklee. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times

Johnston and Lee joined the GSD faculty in 2018 as Professors in Practice of Architecture. Additionally, Lee was named Chair of the GSD’s Department of Architecture that same year. Johnston and Lee’s Los Angeles Times profile offers a look, visually and conceptually, at a series of their firm’s works, presenting thoughts and reflections from various clients for whom the duo have designed.

“The path of their career is that they have the capacity to do different kinds of projects, but with the certainty that you will get Johnston Marklee quality,” says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. “It’s a tricky thing for architects. It takes a degree of confidence.”

“All of this is the work of an architectural studio that is less preoccupied with planting Instagrammable icons than in creating structures,” writes the profile’s author Carolina Miranda, “that react to local context in deliberate ways.”

“Our generation, globally, a little older or younger, we are more interested in the fabric of cities,” Johnston tells Miranda. “Not just the monuments and icons. It’s about understanding how we relate to the things around us. Not just ourselves.”

“A good building is like a good friend,” adds Lee. “If you want to be left alone, they will leave you alone. They will let you be quiet. But if you engage, they can tell you a lot.”

Johnston Marklee has been recognized nationally and internationally with over 30 major awards. A book on the work of the firm, entitled HOUSE IS A HOUSE IS A HOUSE IS A HOUSE IS A HOUSE, was published by Birkhauser in 2016. This followed a monograph on the firm’s work, published in 2014 by 2G.

Projects undertaken by Johnston Marklee are diverse in scale and type, spanning seven countries throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. The firm’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Menil Collection, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Architecture Museum of TU Munich. Johnston and Lee were also the Artistic Directors for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.