Architect Has Grand Ideas

November 2007

As Jeffrey Kalban’s buildings take shape, he uses the analytical mind of an architect, eyes of a painter, hands of a sculptor and the ear of a maestro. The Sherman Oaks resident, principal of Jeffrey M. Kalban & Associates, brings many tools with him to his West Los Angeles drawing board. Trained as an architect at Ohio State University, and self-taught in both oils and stonework, he boasts a score of graphic design talents, yet clients say it’s his finely tuned ears that serve him best.

Two of Kalban’s projects came to fruition this month: the Pan Pacific Park Recreation Center in the Fairfax District and Hollywood’s People Assisting The Homeless regional center. With the latter, Kalban and his staff went to extreme lengths to convert a 1960s-era warehouse into a brightly-hued housing facility and service center.

“It was definitely tough for them, but they sat down with both our staff and the homeless clients to see what everyone wanted,” said Joel John Roberts, PATH’s executive director. “That’s why his designs are so good, because he listens to everyone.”

Clients definitely take note of Kalban’s multifaceted approach to projects, keeping him on in long-term relationships that sometimes last decades.

“He’s a real Renaissance man,” said Sanford Smith, corporate manager for real estate for Toyota Motor Sales USA. “Architecture, furniture design – he knows it all. He’s a creative problem solver and he makes some really striking designs.”

Kalban’s all-inclusive approach works within his 10-member firm, as well, where each architect has a say in a design’s creation, regardless of whether they’re
formally attached to the project or not.

“Anyone in this office can challenge a project,” Kalban said. “If something’s not working right, we can say it. We keep pushing and pushing. I get a lot of the credit, but it’s all teamwork. It’s frustrating sometimes, but that’s when you’re wrong.”

The team approach to design can create some interoffice tension, Kalban noted, but works for the best by the time the final blueprints are mapped out, and eventually leads to a stronger creative drive.

“You’ve got to love the process,” he said. “Once the building’s complete, it’s done and it’s not yours anymore. It’s only while you’re all together that you can enjoy yourselves.”

This year caps Kalban’s 20th on his own, in a career that has created community landmarks like the Warner Park Pavilion, home to the Concerts in the Park series, and famed structures like the J. Paul Getty Trust, South Building, visible to scores of Angelenos each say next to the 405 Freeway. Though linked with high-profile names such as I.M. Pei early in his career, Kalban prefers the smaller, independent nature of his own practice.

Raised in Freeport, N.Y., the 55-year-old Kalban jumped into Pei’s New York offices in lieu of graduate school. While there in the early 1970s, he developed an interest in sculpture, which led him to temporarily leave the architecture world. While developing his talents, he also fell in love with his future wife and decided to relocate to California.

“I wanted to be with Maria, and I figured that if I could sculpt in New York, I could sculpt in California,” he said. “So I came out here with a few stones in the back of my car and quickly realized that I had to get a real job quickly, so I got back into architecture.”
That proved to be a wise move for Kalban, who relocated to Sherman Oaks, where he now serves on the Ventura Boulevard Streetscape Committee. After establishing himself with various other firms, he went independent in 1982.

“I was dumb enough to think I could make it on my own,” he chuckled, sitting on chairs his firm designed, surrounded by his own paintings in his comfortable Westside office.

Free to pursue his own visions, Kalban built a working relationship with Toyota, designing a slew of its North American buildings. Partner Susan Hubbard Oakley, who serves as a Los Angeles City Planning Commissioner, joined the firm in the early 1990s, bringing her own distinct vision as principal in charge of management. As a former teacher, she encouraged Kalban to get involved with more educational sites, and the firm has since designed buildings for Viewpoint School in Calabasas and the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School in Holmby Hills.

Though his creations dot the local landscape, stretching from Torrance to Pasadena and beyond, Kalban now wants to explore more work in the Valley. “It’s so great to drive with my family through town and see our projects,” he said. “I like to make an impact on what’s become my own hometown.”

- Brent Hopkins

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