2017 AIACC Distinguished Practice Award Recipient: Michael Folonis, FAIA

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When entering the doors of 1524 Cloverfield Boulevard in Santa Monica, one will immediately take notice of a long, somewhat narrow office space. To the right rests a red Bianchi bicycle, made stationary with light wood blocks (aesthetically shaped. This is a design office of course.) for riding whilst thinking thoughts and imagining design solutions.


This office, once home to Frank Gehry, FAIA, (or FOG as the teetering sign above the door read in 1976: Frank Owen Gehry), is now the veteran-owned architectural design firm of Folonis Architects, where one Mr. Michael Folonis, FAIA, was awarded the 2017 AIACC Distinguished Practice Award.

Folonis the man is humble and honored to be a part of the architecture profession, and to have been mentored by such greats as Ray Kappe, FAIA, and Gehry himself. The influence of both is tangibly evident in his office.

Folonis once worked for Gehry when his space was here, and he recalls, smiling, new  art displayed. “It wasn’t popular, well-known artwork, but lesser known, independents,” Folonis remembers. “I was always learning about new art; new artists.”

And one can see the appreciation Folonis carries for art. Along the side where all architects and program managers are seated, there is hanging above them a series done by Shepard Fairey’s “We the Campaign,” an artist made famous for the Barak Obama “Hope” posters.


His staff of eight like where they are, both literally and metaphorically. (All sit under three of the “We the Campaign” posters) Some are three-year veterans for Folonis. Some were former students of Folonis himself, who serves as faculty at SCI-Arc, where he once attended.

When thinking back to his architecture school years under Ray Kappe, FAIA, Folonis remembers how vital the experience was.

“I was just back from the Vietnam war, and I was searching for something … maybe for a sense of place. But the feeling of this new school was electric. And we all felt it. It was revolutionary. We needed it; I needed it.”

And the world needed them—this new brew of future designers and forward thinkers. Kappe knew what he was doing.

“I was and am in absolute complete awe of his work.” Folonis remembers beginning at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and soon branching off to SCI-Arc. “There was this kind of excitement and revolutionary air about the place,” he recalled. “We had to turn off space heaters in the building to use the electricity for lights. And we never knew if we were going to have a school to return to from semester to semester. But we did and we kept coming.”

Folonis is a mentor in his own right now—from the students-turned-employees, to those in the field attempting to piece together portfolios for Fellowships. This, however, should be no surprise. Kappe was more than a professor, more than a teacher. He became a mentor to Folonis, and he continues to serve in that capacity. (The mentor/mentee relationship never ends, does it?).

As Folonis has paid it forward and continues to, by mentoring others, even if he doesn’t realize he is doing it. It’s about empowering the architect in whatever capacity he can. Whether working on a bill to help architects serve on city boards, SB704, or convincing a humble resident architect to compose his portfolio for Fellowship and steer him in the direction of telling a story. Folonis does what he can and does it happily because he believes in the power of design; the power of designers.

Between Kappe’s tutelage and working in Gehry’s office, it would seem Folonis was destined for the architecture world. His firm has received many awards, which he attributes always, to his staff. And the 2017 AIACC Distinguished Practice Award is no different. In his acceptance speech, the first sentence he spoke was that this was an award for all of them, that all who work with him make the practice distinguished.


Folonis has won awards for his healthcare work, city and government structures, housing and residences. When asked what specialization, he prefers, he smiles and answers, “Yes, I specialize in architecture.” Not much to question after that. He rises to the occasion of any design challenge and attempts, most often successfully, to solve the problems the structure needs to solve and adhere aesthetically, answering the call of the value of design.

But the man who received this award is not defined by his quirky position of his stationary bike, the art, the framed collections of significant accolades. He is not even his studio. Folonis is an architect who believes in collaboration, recognizes his responsibility in empowering others, and strives to make changes for the betterment of not only architects, but the human experience at large. This, along with some intelligent, sharp architectural designs is why the jury chose to unanimously nominate Folonis for this award.


Shannon Calder

Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIACC in 2013. She is the author of, “Jack and Abigail Make a Compass,” a novel about people, birds, and orchids. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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