Designing history through autos and architecture


A fascination and passion for automobiles seems to be an unlikely catalyst for a career as an architect, yet many well-known architects have been drawn to automobile style and beauty. Cars have always fascinated architects, and I am no exception. At age 14, I began a restoration of a British-made MG, and began a life-long love with that marque.

For me, it was out of the question to become an automobile designer, especially when considering a life in Detroit. Then I learned about what other architects have done.

In 1924, the Swiss-French architect Charles Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, likened the production of automobiles to buildings: “If houses were built industrially, mass produced like a chassis, an aesthetic would be formed with surprising precision. In addition to building designs that brought on the modernist aesthetic, Le Corbusier went on to create what he called “a minimalist vehicle for maximum functionality,” the Voiture Minimum.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion car of 1933 was a three wheeled machine of maximum efficiency, a front wheel drive with rear wheel steering.

When I chose to be an architect, which I sometimes consider an extension of Industrial Design, I developed a similar love of the design of the built environment. Automobiles and buildings relate to each other in many ways, and have similar design approaches and aesthetics. These motorcars, besides being a form of “rolling art,” share a design concept with architecture. The design, form, and beauty all come together to form a harmonious whole. Car design and architecture mirror their place in time. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the MG motorcar offered a high level of design at a modest price. This is what the industrial period was about.


Along with my 55-year architectural endeavor, I developed a business dedicated to restoring these wonderful MG motor cars. My passion is to return as many as possible to running condition and on the road again. Auto Vintagery ( in Sorrento Valley is the place where I can foster my devotion to these wonderful machines, especially the MGA Twin Cam. Throughout my career as an architect, on Wednesday and Saturdays instead of playing golf, I restore MG motorcars for customers all over the world.

Design evokes emotion – it is what one feels when you view art, and that includes both architecture and automobiles. In La Jolla, we have some good examples of architecture which subtly affect the viewer’s sensibility and reflect an industrial aesthetic. For example, the corner of Pearl Street and Girard was designed for a lighting showroom, repurposed for the Maserati showroom, and is now a landmark at that corner. Margaret’s Cleaners corner, the repurpose of the Burns Drugs building for Brooks Brothers with upstairs dwelling units, the Monarch Office Building and townhomes on Herschel Avenue and the Grady office building on Ivanhoe have become part of the fabric of the urban community.


Cars affect the design and proportion of our built spaces as well. The Bank of America parking structure has served a purpose for years since its design.Hopefully, the Belvedere realignment of the portion of Prospect Street, between Herschel and Girard Avenue, will reconcile the automobile path with need for pedestrians to enjoy the view over Scripps Park and beyond to the North Coast.

For a closer look at beautifully restored vintage cars, the 15th annual La Jolla Concours d’Elegance will be held Friday, April 12 through Sunday, April 14. This event is a fundraising event like no other. It is one I have been fortunate to participate in over the years. I invite you to attend this wonderful event and experience these marvelous machines.

James Alcorn and Paul Benton are the lead architects behind Alcorn & Benton Architects in La Jolla. For more information about their work and contributions, visit