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Herbert McLaughlin Jr.

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Herbert McLaughlin Jr. Obituary
Herbert PaulMcLaughlin, Jr.

San Francisco architect Herb McLaughlin couldn't bear to wear a suit, preferring the decades-old sweaters he'd gone to Yale in, despite the holes in their elbows. A born contrarian, McLaughlin initially trod the path expected of a well-born Chicago native, earning the rank of Lieutenant in the ROTC and subsequently the Air Force, gaining his B.A. ('56) and M.Arch ('58) at Yale, and marrying the 'debutante of the year', Eve Pell (cousin of Senator Claiborne Pell) in 1959. But Herb felt the lure of San Francisco in its Beat heyday, and his post-Yale stint in the Air Force involved working for the Surgeon General, designing hospitals. While in Washington DC, Herb quipped, "one of the first things I did was write up the description of a job that could only be done in San Francisco, and for which I was the only suitable candidate."

Thus relocated, he took a job with Skidmore Owings and Merrill, but after 11 months, he was informed he was "basically unemployable", so established his own architectural practice in 1963, with partner Ellis Kaplan. In 1970 the firm expanded with Jim Diaz, as Kaplan-McLaughlin-Diaz (KMD), and Herb steered the firm into the burgeoning fields of mental health, housing, hospitals, criminal justice, hospitality, mixed-use complexes and urban design. In every genre, his innate sense of justice, fairness, and responsibility, meant paying close attention to the needs and requirements of the expected tenants. While planning the Martin Luther King public housing projects in San Francisco in the late '60s, Herb "decided to ask the people who would be living there what they wanted. It resulted in a design with porches for each unit. The success was the involvement of the residents in the project. And that is a way you 'give back'."

With 'giving back' a personal mantra, McLaughlin broke frontiers in his use of feedback as a method of improving architecture. He was a pioneer in both interviewing future tenants, and conducting a 'Post-Occupancy Evaluation' which included rigorous reviews of KMD's buildings a year after they had been in full use. Long before the term Evidence Based Design was coined, KMD published a stream of articles and books from its research, promoting the integration of design with human experience; both the field of architecture and the end users benefitted from KMD's evaluative process. Herb originated the terms 'programming is design' and 'place making', and under his direction, KMD won over 200 design awards, including 40 from AIA chapters and affiliates, as well as extensive international recognition.

Herb's uncompromising nature meant both the focus of KMD and his personal time included philanthropic and service-oriented work. He emphasized care for the poor, elderly, and students by working pro-bono for institutions like Mercy Housing and the San Francisco Free Clinic, establishing scholarships at schools diverse as Yale, UC Berkeley, and Technion University in Israel, and generously supporting the Schools of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco. His philanthropic investments in the San Francisco Foundation created access to early development and skills training for economically disadvantaged children in the Bay Area. He passionately believed that education was a critical element in breaking the cycle of poverty and used both his intellectual and financial resources to put ideas into action. Herb also was among the first to recognize the 'Manhattanization' of San Francisco, and assisted SPUR (San Francisco Public Research) with grants and study of the phenomenon in hopes for intelligent urban planning. He often spoke of an individual's obligation to contribute to society in a manner commensurate with their means, and lived by that creed, being remarkably generous with his time, money, intellect, and creativity, although rarely with his name attached. As noted by Yale, "Herb demonstrated his thoughtfulness and generosity by making all of his gifts to endowment to honor others at Yale rather than in his own name."

As a pioneer of 'adaptive re-use', Herb's personal development work included saving architectural treasures around the country, by transforming them with new functions. "Renovation was good business as it didn't annoy my clients; they regarded it as a benign form of mental illness." At one time McLaughlin was one of the largest renovation developers in America, and his portfolio included the Mobil Building in Dallas, the Cleveland Arcade, Chicago's Dearborn Station, the Omaha Building (by McKim, Meade, and White), plus the Hallidie Building and Design Center in San Francisco, among many others. He also worked with US Poet Laureate Robert Hass and sculptor Paul Kos to create the Poetry Garden in downtown San Francisco, an evolution of KMD's study 'Tall Buildings, Tight Streets', which influenced San Francisco's open space plan.

Herb possessed a unique talent for combining different things he loved into a rich and unusual whole. He authored the book "Good Eats" in 1987, mixing aesthetic analyses of architecture with his passion for great food. This combined design/food guide to San Francisco restaurants provided sophisticated critiques of restaurants' physical environments and cuisine – reviewing the satisfaction of both body and soul. He wasn't a big fan of professional sports, and his dry wit was evidenced in answering the call for a new SF Giants stadium in 1989, which he proposed as a floating complex to be moved around the Bay for various teams, keeping the city itself clear of both congestion and an inevitably large, seldom-used arena.

After fighting the illness that ultimately ended his career and his life on Feb. 25th, 2015, Herb leaves behind a firm that in fifty years attained a world-wide reputation for design excellence far beyond its size, a legacy of significant innovation in his field, and his commitment to public service. KMD partner Jim Diaz notes, "Herb's many contributions to KMD Architects and the profession as a whole will be long remembered by those privileged to have been his colleagues and shared his dreams."

Herb McLaughlin is survived by his wife, Susan McLaughlin, and their two daughters, Grace and Gwendolyn, and his 3 sons from his prior marriage to Eve Pell; John, Daniel, and Peter.

Please consider a contribution in Herb's name to The San Francisco Free Clinic (sffc.org) or Mercy Housing (mercyhousing.org).
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Mar. 15, 2015
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