Concrete Evidence: Irving Gill

Irving J. Gill became aware of the Aiken System early on and believed it offered a superior method to building in Southern California, especially of the style he was evolving.


Gill helped build the home of noted philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps on the bluffs in La Jolla with views up and down the Pacific coastline. He went so far as to show up one day near the end of the construction process to hand polish the concrete floors to get the right finish. The facade of this wonderful house still stands as a part of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.


The San Diego History Center and its collaborators were honored to premiere Irving J. Gill: New Architecture for a Great Country. This extraordinary exhibition raised the bar for the legacy of Irving J. Gill by celebrating his life, work and architectural influence.

Gill – a San Diego architect by way of Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – found inspiration in the coast, canyons, sunlight and shadows, and through this inspiration, he created a new design language: what we now call modern architecture. The simplicity, clean lines and efficiency of his work provided a breath of fresh air compared to the mainstream Faux-Victorian and Spanish Colonial architecture styles.

Through his curiosity and experimentation, Gill developed innovative ways of building in Southern California, including pioneering “thin wall” wall construction, stud and stucco construction, and concrete tilt-slab construction, which is now common in Southern California. Once sought after by many San Diego elites, Gill’s legacy was largely overlooked after his death.

This substantial house was built for Walter Luther Dodge, a Midwesterner retiring to Southern California, in West Hollywood on a very large lot. Gill designed this house and the property’s landscape as one unified architectural experience, taking one first through stands of trees that would then reveal these solid architectural forms in the midst of a garden. This is a perfect example of what Gill referred to as his architecture that was “like a stone in the meadow.” Unfortunately, the house was demolished in the early 1970s to make room for apartments – a tragic loss of great American architecture.


1900 Architects and engineers experiment greatly with concrete.

1907 Robert Aiken, an engineer from Illinois, invented a way to form and build reinforced cement walls on rotating tables that could then tilt the wall into place.

1912 Robert Aiken patented the Aiken System.

Gill acquired the West Coast rights to the Aiken System a few years prior to building these 1916 homes. He then applied his own modifications to Aiken’s method to make the system even more appropriate to Southern California. Constructed by his refined tilt-wall method of construction, these homes show Gill at his best. Gill’s clients liked this new style of building, as it clearly expressed his new modern aesthetic and provided comfortable fire-proof homes that sat nicely in the California landscape.

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