Modern. Precise yet soulfully human. Sensible, colorful and perhaps a bit unexpected. The descriptions could apply as much to Mark Mack the man as to his body of architectural work. A sprightly, culturally inquisitive Austrian with a subtly mischievous mien, Mack, 61, seems as passionate about avant-garde music, political philosophy, fine art and sharply casual, bold-colored attire as he is the art, craft and science of architecture.
"I arrived in America with big hopes for equality and people dynamics," the longtime Venice resident says. "These hopes were eroded, and I found myself serving anew the societal goals where architecture is intrinsically tied to the most conservative mechanism, such as capitalism and resistance to change."
If pushed to label his style, Mack prefers "So-called California Modernism," or "Easy Living."
"It's less dogmatic and more colorful," he explains, "and it is infused with the appreciation of bringing the outside spaces in and pushing the inside spaces out into the open. It utilizes a more eclectic material choice and a more utilitarian, uncluttered definition of space."
While he has designed a wide array of work internationally, Mack is proudest of his housing projects in Austria, South Korea and right here on Abbot Kinney. "They provide a more measured and equality-based environment to the inhabitants of an urban environment," he explains.
Mack clearly infuses ideas of social theory, democratization and, dare one say, social justice into his architectural formulations. "Soon, more than 60 percent of the world population will be living in cities. We need to prepare to cozy up to each other without rubbing up too closely. High-density housing is constantly fought by the 'community activist' on the left and right alike in Venice, and yet it has provided a more vital urban environment and has offered more choices of living for young and old."
In Mack's estimation, most architects dream of doing the huge, grandiose "star projects." He feels greater public benefit can be found in concentrating on the ubiquitous "everyday" buildings.
"Ninety-five percent of all architecture is mercantile and utilitarian in nature," he says. "Los Angeles is a soup of dingbats, low-rise apartment buildings and insignificant single-family buildings interrupted by the occasional cultural or municipal temple, swimming like alphabet noodles among an exotic collection of private foliage."
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As an architecture professor at UCLA, Mack gets to right the "wrongs" he has been forced to make in his own career.
"I have made it a healthy diversion to proselytize different values in my capacity as a teacher, where I try to instill uncertainty, doubt and cultural misbehavior to architects-in-training."
A self-described lifelong Mothers of Invention "groupie," Mack finds inspiration in the lyrics: "What's the dirtiest part of your body? Some say it's your nose, some say it's your toes ... but I think it's your mind."
And when he is asked for a major public misconception about those in his field, he answers quickly: "Not all architects wear black."