One of the first things Dean Larkin said to me when we met recently was, “if you cut me open I’m an architect all the way through.”
As soon as Dean got his driver’s license, he started driving around Southern California to tour the suburban tract home developments that proliferate the Los Angeles Basin. It might seem like an odd pastime for a 16-year old, but not for Dean, who, as he says “popped out of the womb as an architect.”
“I would buy one of those little homebuyer’s guides, and then I’d just go out and tour all the tract homes—I’d pack a lunch, and make a day of it. I got to know the builders.... I must’ve known almost every builder between here (Los Angeles) and San Juan Capistrano.”
As Dean traveled around, he no doubt found plenty of developments inspired by some of the great architectural influences of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in Los Angeles. Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, Cliff May, Charles and Ray Eames, John Lautner, and Paul Williams, all put their stamp on the Los Angeles landscape during the post World War II era. Dean grew up in the aftermath of the technological revolution that birthed midcentury architecture, in one of the epicenters of design and development. He was witness to how these great architect's aesthetic seeped into our culture.
The first of his family to go to college, architecture seemed like a logical profession for a boy with design-interests. It was a seed that was planted early in his life, “People would inadvertently guide men toward architecture, especially in a very blue collar family. That was what you did if you had any design goals.”
Dean forged his own path, based on his passions and desires. “My mom would often wonder, because I was the first kid in my family to go to college, and was the first kid to do a lot of stuff, ‘where did you come from?’ I would constantly confound them.”
In school, Dean worked in engineering at a concrete supply company, and began his career at an architectural firm designing interiors for the then ubiquitous Southern California auto supply chain—the Pep Boys.
But it was while he was going through the process of getting his architectural license (a grueling, government-run, board certification process) that he met Richard Landry, the now well-known and well-regarded Southern California architect. Landry was just starting his own firm, and asked Dean to join him. “I left this nice stable job to go work out of this guy’s apartment. I was Richard’s first employee and I had the pleasure of helping to grow his firm.”
But after more than a decade of working for someone else, Dean ventured out on his own (in 1999)—following his own path; no doubt confounding his mom (and many others) with his decision to leave such a dream job, and such a prestigious firm. “I looked at what I was doing, and at the direction of the firm, and thought—‘I was the one who doesn’t fit here.”
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