From a portfolio of high-concept art spaces to affordable housing, Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architects welcomes people into his designs.

In the past five years, one architect has become the art world’s go-to designer. He is, of course, Kulapat Yantrasast, founder and creative director of the design firm wHY in Culver City. His practice, opened in 2003, is responsible for the ICA LA remodel in the Arts District, the Marciano Arts Foundation’s transformation from a Masonic temple in the Wilshire corridor, Christie’s dazzling showroom in Beverly Hills, David Kordansky Gallery on La Brea, and even the tent that sheltered the inaugural Frieze Los Angeles from biblical storms on Paramount’s backlot last February.

“I love art and I love people, and I would like a wonderful encounter to happen between the two,” Yantrasast tells L.A. Weekly. “In designing spaces for art, I think about how the art should feel natural and confident in that context, and at the same time allow people to feel comfortable and confident in that space, too. They meet on their own terms. A museum is not just a storage space for art. Now it is a site for creative encounters.”

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Marciano Art Foundation (wHY Architects)

Other such sites for creative encounters and frequent elevation of adaptive reuse strategies include San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, where wHY is remodelling portions and adding onto an 1890’s public library, similar to a concurrent project at New York’s Museum of Natural History set to open later this year. There, wHY is gutting and renovating the building’s oldest section, from 1860. Across Central Park at The Met, wHY is in the design development phase of the 40,000-square-foot remodel of the Rockefeller Wing, scheduled to open in 2023.

For Yantrasast and his team, another current project — Watts Station, which will include 200 units of affordable housing — is a respite from reimagining art world icons. After meeting with community stakeholders and listening to concerns over issues confronting families and businesses in the area, they settled on mutual goals for the project. Among them is an art promenade adjacent to the housing units, leading to the Watts Towers.

A native of Thailand, Yantrasast received his M.A. and Ph.D in architecture from the University of Tokyo. Upon graduation, a friendship with renowned Japanese architect and Pritzker Prize–winner Tadao Ando led to employment in Ando’s Osaka firm. “He’s very street smart. He knows a lot about history and design and theory, but from a different perspective. I learned that aspect of execution from him,” Yanstrasast says about his self-taught mentor.

Yantrasast was hired specifically to work on Ando’s most prominent American building, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. “That was my very first project ever, and it was my baby from the beginning. I didn’t know anything at all about working in America. He gave me a lot of freedom and a lot of trust to work on that. It was a very meaningful project for me.”

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arts of Africa, Oceania and Asia Galleries, Entrance from Modern and Contemporary, rendering (wHY)

If the work of wHY can be easily summed up (it really can’t), it is by a sleek, modern aesthetic with clean lines conjuring a cool and inviting, but unobtrusive aura. “When you think about architecture that people use every day, rooms and staircases and courtyards, all of these things have a spiritual quality that allows people to reflect deeper into their own psyche. That’s the power of architecture that I would like to deploy,” he explains.

“People consume architecture as eye candy through social media. There’s very little engagement. People are losing the ability to discern between good architecture and bad architecture. It’s a problem of our time,” he says.

The Fort Worth museum opened in 2002, the same year that Yantrasast, after eight years, said goodbye to Ando and moved to Los Angeles. With the city’s profile as an art center expanding in recent years, so too has wHY, which is now for the first time working in Europe at Scotland’s Ross Pavilion, a grassy park at the foot of the cliff upon which sits Edinburgh Castle.

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Edinburgh Castle, Ross Pavilion, rendering (wHY)

Their design calls for structures built into the earth, with sloping grassy roofs accessible by foot. “The land is so important, it’s right under the castle. It’s about finding harmony with the landscape,” Yantrasast explains.

Living in a coastal house of his own design in Venice, Yantrasast has found harmony with his own creative and personal landscape. “I felt too old for New York,” he answers when asked why he chose L.A. to open wHY. “Every time I come to L.A. I feel a sense of freedom. This is a place where you can still experiment and make something quite unique.”

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American Museum of Natural History, rendering (wHY)

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Marciano Art Foundation (wHY)

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Speed Art Museum (wHY)

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