Waiting at the entrance of the Marciano Art Foundation, a 1960s Masonic temple that he gutted, reprogrammed, and unveiled as a museum for the Guess Jeans founders’ multimillion-dollar collection in May, architect Kulapat Yantrasast has on a cobalt-blue jumpsuit. “I have 20 of these at home in different colors,” he says. “You never have to think about them.” A devil-may-care attitude combined with a sensitivity to the proper display of art and a deliberately minimalist approach has put his Culver City–based firm, wHY Architecture, at the helm of L.A.’s art-world boom. This year it completed Christie’s gleaming white Beverly Hills flagship in April, the Marciano transformation in May, and downtown’s new Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in September. At the same time, it worked on a few residences in other parts of the world.
According to Yantrasast’s philosophy, a successful renovation “should be like acupuncture and not like plastic surgery. This approach is about precise interventions,” he told Architectural Record. He also once told L.A. gallerist David Kordansky that “a successful building is like a good salad—a fresh combination of balanced ingredients.” Kordansky, who commissioned wHY in 2014 to transform a former auto body shop into his Culver City gallery, says Yantrasast is “the opposite of the caricatured ego-driven architect.”
Before his arrival in L.A. 12 years ago, the Bangkok native worked in Osaka for venerated Pritzker winner Tadao Ando. “He was truly my mentor in every sense of the word,” says Yantrasast, who even lived in Ando’s guest room for a time. He left after eight years because “I was craving diversity,” he says. “I love Japanese culture, but it’s two-dimensional. My native Thai food is sweet, salty, and spicy. L.A. has that kind of freedom.” Up next: the expansion of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and a competition-winning design for a cultural center in Edinburgh.