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Carlos Diniz’s astounding hand-done renderings, illustrations, and screen-prints helped to push more than just a handful of buildings—they sold the very idea of modernism itself.

Architectural illustrator Carlos Diniz (1928–2001) is one of those characters in the history of modernism who ends up filed away in the archives as styles and technologies change. But without him and his immense talent, some of the most iconic buildings and developments of the movement might never have gotten off the drawing boards. For more than three decades, Diniz’s pen propelled the spread of mid-century design. One of the top renderers of his generation, he was the go-to illustrator in Southern California from the late 1950s until the early 1990s, and his influential hand-drawn perspectives were commissioned by some of the preeminent architects and real estate firms of the time.

Born in 1928 in Phoenix, Arizona, Diniz trained in industrial design and architecture at the Art Center College of Design, then located in Los Angeles, California. After school, he first worked as a designer in the large architecture and planning firm of Victor Gruen Associates. But as he found his footing in graphic presentation, he left to open his own rendering studio in the late 1950s. At Gruen’s office, he met Frank Gehry, who would later become part of a client roster of architects that included Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Craig Ellwood; Cesar Pelli; and others.

The renderer’s job went beyond mocking-up the project; Diniz had to draw all parties into a shared reality. “He’d visualize the buildings as people would use them,” says gallerist Edward Cella of Diniz’s signature “entourage” illustrations. Diniz’s ink renderings and screenprints of buildings such as Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel and World Trade Center represented three-dimensional spaces staged with contemporary furniture and filled with people. His visualizations won over developers, corporate boards, banks, insurance companies, and community review panels. With perspectives, slide presentations, and brochures, his Los Angeles–based studio, Carlos Diniz Associates, could transform a sterile stack of blueprints into a world brimming with activity. “Diniz always chose decorative objects and fashions of the day that created an affluent sense of the future,” says Cella. “He created optimism through the details.”

Diniz passed away in 2001, but a decade later there’s a groundswell of interest in his work. Edward Cella Art+Architecture gallery represents the Diniz family archive and in 2008 exhibited Visualizing a New Los Angeles: Architectural Renderings of Carlos Diniz, 1962–1992. The show featured a treasure trove of screenprints found stacked in the defunct Los Angeles offices of commercial screen printer Art Krebs. This past fall the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebrated the illustrator’s contributions by including his work in California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way.” His hand-drawn optimism lives on.

Civic Projects

Diniz’s practice flourished as he took on large-scale civic and commercial developments. In the 1960s and 1970s real estate in California was booming, and his early renderings for Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center helped bring in high-profile clients. At its height, Diniz’s office employed doz- ens of illustrators. Teams that once rendered icons such as Ellwood’s Art Center building in Pasadena turned their attention to urban-scale rede- velopments as Diniz’s firm expanded its scope to capture the exploding field of corporate architecture. Two career-defining works were Benjamin Thompson & Associates’ Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and the 14- million-square-foot Canary Wharf along the Thames in London. “His work reflects that architecture changed in scale considerably after the 1960s,” explains Cella, noting that the newer developments dwarfed even the most civic-minded projects from the 1920s and 1930s. “It’s not one house or building, but 500 houses. It’s where China is today, but where we were 40 to 50 years ago.”

Residential Work

Near the beginning of his career, Diniz illustrated the marketing material for the Monarch Bay homes, an early 1960s suburban development just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County, California. Following the designs of Ladd and Kelsey Architects, he softened his precise linework with lush landscapes. Ferns, palms, and Japanese maples underscored one of the key tenets of California modern- ism: Connect inside and outside. This breezy approach carried through to his renderings of Westlake Village, McIntire & Quiros’s resortlike development built between the mid-1960s and the 1970s north of Malibu, Cali­fornia. A bird’s-eye visualization of the project hung in the project’s sales office. In it, Diniz shows an idyllic community nestled in a canyon with homes and shopping areas connected by lakeside pathways.

Originally published

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