In his 40-year career as an architect of hotels, hospitals, schools, office buildings, luxury homes, and more, James Logan Abell, FAIA, LA, has been noted for finding the "poetry" hiding in each assignment by celebrating local, indigenous materials of the region, artfully integrating colors and textures that speak to contextual influences, and imbuing buildings and sites with native character and flavor that reinforces an authentic sense of place. One architecture critic reflected on the timelessness of Abell's architectural designs, yet also extolled his vision for celebrating and advancing contemporary values of climate, sustainability, and environmental quality.
Mr. Abell is one of the few practicing architects to also become a licensed landscape architect with numerous civic park masterplans, along with significant streetscapes, urban plazas, and golf course designs to his credit. Beginning with some early professional experiences in city planning at the Northampton, England New Town, Mr. Abell developed a parallel career as an urban designer and been called a "civic visionary", having authored numerous college campus masterplans, urban redevelopment plans, and historic downtown rejuvenation and enhancement plans for towns and cities across the USA. Few architects are so broad in their outlook or have been commercially successful in all three of these inter-related design disciplines. Mr. Abell feels it is owing, in part, to his broad high school education and related extra-curricular activities.
James Abell's favorite subjects in high school were Economics: giving a solid beginning to finance and business, English Literature: providing excellent communication skills, critical thinking skills, and a broad view of humanity and values, and Choir & Theater: honing teamwork, public presentation, and speaking skills. He was also a standout varsity tennis and swim team member, and feels strongly that extra-curricular activities contribute hugely to success in life.
James has been a community activist on topics of historic preservation, walkable communities, restoration of historic downtowns, integrative public art, housing the homeless, and creation of urban open space. Mr. Abell has been a tireless volunteer on civic masterplans and community visioning workshops, but he is also well recognized for his affordable housing expertise and his "pro-bono" work on behalf of the nation's homeless population. His leadership and passion for the subject led to his testimony before a U.S. Congressional subcommittee on the numerous outreach programs he and others have undertaken to ease the plight of homeless families, and resulted in Congressional legislation and funding of the Stewart McKinney Act.
Beyond his national recognition and excellence in the architectural profession, James Abell has often been complimented for his general knowledge and his community leadership skills. "I'll bet you had a great college education," people would often say. "No, it wasn't college," James would answer: "architecture students in college must focus for six long years on demanding technical and artistic elements. I received the greatest liberal arts education earlier than college, at Central High School!"
Who could have projected that one of the most honored American architects began his career in the drafting classroom in the basement of Central High in the late 1960's? In 1989, Mr. Abell received the Arizona Architect's Medal, and at 37, was the youngest-ever recipient of the state's highest honor for architects. In 1996, he was advanced to the prestigious national AIA College of Fellows. In 2010, James Abell was the 60th annual recipient of the national AIA Kemper Medal, accorded in his case, for excellence in urban design and service to our nation's cities and communities. In 2014 James Abell was again the recipient of a national lifetime achievement honor, being only the 10th recipient ever of the AIA Thomas Jefferson Prize for Public Architecture. AIA selection criteria requires the recipient to "… have established a portfolio of excellence in the design of architecturally distinguished public facilities, and made a significant contribution to the quality of public architecture that both elevates and celebrates the concept of democracy."