Architect Stout was known for museum designs

By Joseph Giovannini / New York Times News Service

Published Jul 17, 2014 at 12:01AM

Randall Stout, an environmentally sensitive architect who earned a national reputation for designing dynamically shaped regional museums, mostly in his native South, died Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 56.

His brother, Steven, said the cause was renal cell cancer.

Stout, an associate in Frank Gehry’s office before establishing his own firm in 1996 in Los Angeles, explored the relationship between architecture and energy in holistic designs that were no less sculptural and humane for being ecologically responsible. Sustainability helped shape form.

He started his firm with a series of internationally admired commissions for energy plants, fire stations and sports centers in Germany. The structures — turbulent forms and canyonesque spaces, with sculptural solids juxtaposed against light-filled voids — were often built on tight budgets using inexpensive, matter-of-fact, energy-smart materials.

In the United States he specialized in cultural projects, especially midsize museums. His portfolio includes the clifflike Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee, perched on a bluff along the Tennessee River; the glacierlike Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia; and the strikingly cantilevered Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts in Birmingham, Alabama.

His museums project a strong civic presence, inviting visitors inside with welcoming architectural gestures and quiet, luminous galleries. The designs helped put the museums on the national cultural map, lifted local economies and saved energy.

Besides museums, his commissions included vigorously angled, improbably avant-garde police stations in Southern California and rugged, ecologically friendly houses in the mountains. With inexpensive materials — wood framing, standing-seam roofs and common stucco — he made one modest commission, the low-cost Dockweiler Beach Youth Center at Dockweiler State Beach in the Playa del Rey section of Los Angeles, into an informal monument whose turbulent roofscape of broken planes evokes the crashing waves just beyond it.

The complexity of his geysers of space, eruptions of form and collages of disparate materials was not just for the sake of complexity, Stout made clear. His open system of design reflected the client’s input, the site, the budget Stout had to work with and the project’s physical and historical context.

“He believed, as many great architects do, in architecture as a spiritual calling, not just a profession,” said Marcy Goodwin of M. Goodwin Museum Planning, a Los Angeles consulting firm. Stout worked with her on a dozen large-scale museum planning projects, including the master plan of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.