Leon Whiteson, a Zimbabwe-born architect-turned-critic and novelist who wrote about architecture for publications such as Architectural Digest, the Toronto Star and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, died of cancer Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Aviva Layton.

Whiteson was architecture critic at the Toronto Star from 1980 to 1983 and the Herald Examiner from 1984 to 1988. He later wrote freelance articles on architecture and design for the Los Angeles Times and in 1989 was honored by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects with its distinguished achievement award in the media.

He also wrote more than a dozen books, including works on Canadian architecture and the Watts Towers. He co-wrote "A Place Called Waco" (1999) with David Thibodeau, a survivor of the 1993 law enforcement siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

Whiteson's 1995 memoir "A Garden Story" was inspired by his unkempt Hollywood backyard which, as he cultivated it, he came to regard as a " 'green' novel — the horticultural parallel of the novel I was trying to produce." Weaving memories of his African upbringing, his Jewish-immigrant parents, his marriages and what it was like to live in "crazy-sensible L.A." during the 1992 riots, it earned good notices, including one in the New York Times that called it "partial but intense, more rumination than narrative."

His fiction includes "White Snake" (1982) and "Fool" (1984), as well as "Scanners" (1981), a novel based on the science-fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg.

Erudite and cosmopolitan, Whiteson "considered himself primarily a fiction writer and worked diligently on it to the end," said his friend Sam Hall Kaplan, former architecture critic for The Times.

Whiteson's last novel, "Through the Keyhole," which he self-published this year, explores the inner life of a poet grappling with Alzheimer's disease.

The son of an electrical engineer and a homemaker, Whiteson was born Oct. 19, 1930, in the Southern Rhodesian city of Bulawayo. After earning a degree in architecture at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 1953, he worked as an architect in London for about a decade before focusing on writing.

His first marriage, to the former Janine Kahn, ended in divorce. In addition to Layton, whom he married in 1978, he is survived by a daughter, Karen Whiteson, of London; a son, Adam Whiteson, of Los Alamos, N.M.; a stepson, David Layton, of Toronto; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

elaine.woo@latimes.com