Tag: Architecture

Coda: 1414 Fair Oaks Avenue

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Author John Chase is the Urban Designer for the City of West Hollywood. His last book, Glitter, Stucco & Dumpster Diving, won a PEN USA nomination for best books on the visual arts in 2001. His next book, 2000+: 30 Los Angeles Buildings by 30 Los Angeles Architects, will be published by Monacelli Press in Spring 2006. Chase is a former architecture critic for the San Francisco Examiner and former Disney Imagineer. He is a member of the arcCA editorial board.


1414 Fair Oaks is a 1958 office building by Smith and Williams in South Pasadena, with landscape design by Garrett Eckbo’s firm, Eckbo, Dean and Williams. It is important for three reasons. It incorporates outdoor space as an integral part of its design, it has a design vocabulary of great clarity, and it was once a venue for design collaboration between creative disciplines.

The project is clearly broken into individual buildings and building sections. The height of hyper-articulation is reached where the open wire web trusses supporting the floor of a second-story wing are divorced from the structure of the roof of the one-story section below it. The two floors cross each other as autonomous design elements.

The high vaulted, metal mesh-enclosed space at 1414 Fair Oaks is alternately, and of equal importance, indoor or outdoor space, landscape or office space. In this sense, it reflects the cooperation of the offices it contained. Three discrete suites house the offices of architects Smith and Williams, landscape architects Eckbo, Dean and Williams (forerunner of today’s EDAW), and planners Si Eisner and Lyle Stewart. Together they formed the partnership called Community Planners. Community Planner’s designs “include nearly every classification of architectural work from a garden tea house to a complete city,” according to Whitney Smith.

arcCA Board Member Pierluigi Serraino, Assoc. AIA, writes in his book Modernism Rediscovered, beautifully illustrated by Julius Shulman’s photographs, “The setting provided the firms with the opportunity for collaborative projects, while maintaining independent practice.” This is an example of cross-disciplinary professional practice that has rarely been equaled since.

Another building was added to the complex at the east end of the site by Smith & Williams, fronting on Fair Oaks, sometime after the main building was completed. It appears boxy and blank, and unshielded by the sun, in contrast to the original building. The creative tenants of the building are long gone, replaced by CPAs and other mainstream office uses. Wood elements are in need of re-staining, and the landscape needs a regime of replanting and restoration.

In a brief high school internship at Smith and Williams in 1969, the chief lesson I learned in this building was that design not only resulted in the creation of physical objects but conversely was also the product of a matrix of action, of use, of social and cultural meaning. The result of Smith and Williams, and Eckbo, Dean and Williams’ design process at 1414 Fair Oaks is a building that deserves to be better known as a temple of high modern design.



The Late Travel Sketches of Richard J. Neutra: Seeing His World

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Richard J. Neutra, Obidos.

Author Lauren Weiss Bricker, PhD, is an associate professor of architecture and director of the Archives-Special Collections in the College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Dr. Bricker is Chair of the State Historical Resources Commission in California and co-chair of the Commission’s Committee on the Cultural Resources of the Modern Age. She is a co-author of the forthcoming Mediterranean Revival House (Abrams), and is currently working on “The Pragmatists,” a study of the American response to the form and ideology of European Modernism, supported by a fellowship from the Clarence S. Stein Institute of Urban and Landscape Studies, Cornell University.


If the recording of my world ever bordered on art, it was in the most casual manner, but a real human experience kept on oozing, dribbling, sprinkling, and sometimes freely flowing onto all kinds of accidental paper, whatever happened to be at hand. No spoken or slowly written word can quite express in the same way this past life, as lived in tiny fractions of time.Richard J. Neutra, Life and Shape, 19621

In his autobiography Life and Shape, renowned Modernist architect Richard J. Neutra explains that travel sketches were his medium for capturing empathy or “in-feeling” with all he saw and encountered throughout his life.2 A sketchpad or sheaf of drawing paper were standard equipment on every trip Neutra took from his teenage years in Vienna to the end of his life. Through color, line, texture and shape, these graphic images depict many issues that informed Neutra’s architecture: the dominant role of environment over human habitat, the need to create places for human interaction, and the design of objects as cultural signifiers.

In the College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, we are fortunate to own 106 Neutra travel sketches, made between the late 1940s and the end of the 1960s, just prior to his death in 1970.3 The drawings were donated by architect Dion Neutra, son of Richard and Dione Neutra. A selection of the travel sketches was exhibited at Cal Poly Pomona in 1986, and later at the University of Southern California.


Polish Square.

In the small catalog accompanying the Cal Poly exhibition, former Dean Marvin Malecha (who shares Neutra’s passion for the travel sketch), noted that this medium “is far superior to the photograph when perception and understanding are the prime object…The designer can focus on those issues which are most important at the time or those which have made the biggest impression. Distortion, subtraction and even addition are essential to the travel sketch and they are equally important to the schematic design drawing.”4

According to Dion Neutra, the act of drawing was a visceral process for his father, through the use of the motor skills required for drawing he became physically engaged with the site. According to Dion Neutra, the creation of the travel sketches was a social act for Neutra. It was a chance to connect with people, as is evidenced in a photograph of Neutra surrounded by a group of Russian soldiers, and other onlookers. Dion Neutra believes the travel sketches functioned as a “memory peg” for Neutra, reminding him of what he’d seen and where he’d been.


Neutra sketching.

The early travel sketches, the majority of which are housed in the Richard J. Neutra Collection, Department of Special Collections, UCLA, exhibit the influence of Viennese artists Gustave Klimt and Egon Schiele on the young designer. The significance of drawing of all types was instilled in Neutra’s professional education at the Imperial Institute of Technology in Vienna (which he entered in 1911), followed by his experience in the office of Berlin architect Erich Mendelsohn, the office of Frank Lloyd Wright, and later in collaboration with R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles.

While the majority of the Cal Poly Pomona travel sketches date from the late years of Neutra’s life, the collection contains an earlier drawing of Mt. Palomar, in Southern California (1946). The mood of the drawing is somber: Neutra uses oil crayons to create a dense grouping of pine trees; with the edge of the crayon he crisply outlines boulders strewn in the foreground. As a foil to the sobriety of the scene, Neutra injects a small female figure in the lower left corner; she is tilting on one leg apparently buffeted by the wind that is blowing through the scene. The edges of the sheet are scorched, a reminder of the effect of the devastating fire that destroyed Neutra’s first VDL Studio/Residence in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles in 1963.


Mt. Palomar.

The majority of the Cal Poly Pomona sketches were executed with pastels. Dion Neutra has noted that his father used larger-dimensioned sheets in his later years, which may contribute to the often-expansive character to his images. Neutra chose to depict historically significant sites, yet one never gets the sense of preciousness or self-conscious reverence for his subject. Instead, he extracts, edits, and emphasizes the aspects of the view that interest him.

The drawings tell us about how Neutra literally saw the world. In Life and Shape he explains that his that his left eye had a lens defect and was shortsighted, while his right eye was normal. Over time, the left eye became farsighted, and the other became more normal. He describes the effect of this condition on his visual perception:

Since most of the time I saw and worked with one eye, either the right one for minute sharp detail or the left for over-all composition, my mind similarly also swung back and forth—oscillated, so to speak, between an attempt at total comprehension, an integrated over-all view, and the minute perfectionism of near-sightedness. But I kept using each eye, one imaginatively and wholesale for over-all form, the other more observationally, for tiny, neat detail.5

Richard and Dione Neutra took photographic slides during their trips.6 A comparison between a slide of site and Neutra’s travel sketch reveals the way he “saw” a site. It is also reflective of the advantage of the sketch over the photograph as a medium for conveying his perception of a specific location. One such case is Cabo Espichel, in Sesimbra, Portugal on the coast south of Lisbon. The focus of the slide and Neutra’s sketch, from the 1960s, is the Casa Agua, a small octagonal building within the 18th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Handle. In the photograph, the modest-sized building is surrounded by a grassy plain, with only a hint of its proximity to the coastal edge of the site. By contrast, the Neutra’s sketch gave the building greater prominence by centering it in the picture, enlarging it and contrasting its solid polygonal form with a hint of blue sky and clouds and the shoreline. He also carefully renders the masonry wall framing the building’s grass-covered entrance court, giving it much greater prominence than is evident in the more general view of the photograph. The sketch clearly reveals those portions of the building and its context that interested him.


Cabo Espichel.



In his sketch titled “Wetmansherde” (1963), Neutra employs the traditional device of framing his subject through an arched opening. The scene is a grouping of vernacular. The key element of the drawing is a large tree that is planted near the base of the tower. The trunk and branches of the tree extend forward in the scene, its branches sending shock waves around the archway. Spatially the outline of the tree flattens the illusion of three-dimensional space created by the more traditional aspects of the composition. The eye of Neutra transformed the scene into one of considerable artistic interest.

Neutra’s travels took him many points in Asia. A number of the travel sketches depict scenes in Thailand. His sketch of statue of the Buddha in Ayutthaya (1966) is the one the few interior drawings in the Cal Poly Pomona collection. The figure sits on a high throne, its green body contrasting with perspective so that he effectively fills the space near the back of the worship hall. Rather than treat the Buddha with extreme reverence, Neutra chose to capture the bemused expression of the figure as he looks down on his worshipers.


Buddha, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

The breadth of Neutra’s vision is clearly evident in his sketch of “Indus. Attock.” (1968). Attock is a town located in the Punjab District of Pakistan. It is reported to have been along the route followed by Alexander the Great in 326 B.C. when he crossed the Hinduskush Mountains to capture the plains beyond the Indus River. The landscape embraces the town—the broad mountain range beyond is softly rendered, as is the vegetation and land—including an oxen in the foreground. The buildings are generalized, with a maroon edge defining an occasional corner or roof. The presence of the river is suggested. The overall effect is one of calmness, with the natural site conditions dominating the scene.


Indus, Attock, Pakistan.

The Neutra travel sketches give us an insight into the great architect’s world. Richard and Dione Neutra traveled the globe at a time when many Euro- the golden throne and the deep red ceiling. Neutra peans and Americans were much more provincial in the range of places they chose to visit. The travel sketches give us an insight into what Neutra saw, and how he saw it. As such, they give us a glimpse into the think and perception of the man, and perhaps his architecture.


Bangkok Temple.


1. Richard Neutra. Life and Shape, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962, 82.

2. Ibid.

3. The Department of Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles holds the earlier travel sketches, dating from the 1910s into the 1940s.

4. Marvin J. Malecha. “Introduction. Understanding Architecture through Drawing,” Richard Neutra Travel Sketches, The School of Environmental Design, Cal Poly University, Pomona, 20 October–7 November 1986, n.p.

5. Life and Shape, 73- 74.

6. The slides are housed in the Visual Resources Library, College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


Sugar Daddy: Drawing Berlage’s Exchange

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Author Wendy Kohn is co-author of The City after the Automobile and editor of several architectural monographs. She is currently an architectural consultant and columnist for the magazine My House and a member of the arcCA editorial board.


“It’s a stair I used every day,” remembers Daniel Castor as he contemplates “Sugar Daddy,” his luminous drawing of the entry to the Chamber of Commerce in H.P. Berlage’s 1903 Amsterdam Exchange. Castor first encountered the building he describes as a “ship in dry-dock” while traveling around Europe after college graduation. The structure known as the Beurs “struck a chord in me,” he admits. In 1993, Castor won a Fulbright to return to Amsterdam during a break from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Several grants and four years later, he finished an analysis of the Exchange that’s been published in book form (Drawing Berlage’s Exchange, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1999), exhibited in Los Angeles and Rotterdam, and recognized as both masterful and magical.


His research began with a series of probes: different ways of revealing the ideas behind Berlage’s “inscrutable” building in drawn form. These were plans, isometric projections, even a sixteen-foot-long, continuous elevation. But it was Castor’s desire to convey his own wonder at a building many Dutch saw as “ugly and boring” that led him to develop his own technique. “That’s beautiful,” declared his Dutch friends when he completed his first “deep space” perspective drawing, “and if that’s the building, then it’s interesting.”


In his study, Castor focused on the zone of the building where Berlage, credited as Holland’s first modernist, pierced the austere flatness of his exterior elevations. The massive Exchange’s perimeter and its immediately adjacent interiors proved an “unending” subject: “the more I looked, the more I saw.” Castor’s eight “jellyfish” drawings, his term for these inside-out studies, possess this quality as well.

At first they seem factual: a careful transposition of three-dimensional, built form onto a two-dimensional plane. But the more your eye flows around and through the volumes of space depicted, the more you start to see solid and void, motion and stasis, lightness and weight simultaneously.


At 2 ft. x 4 ft., these large drawings suggest the interaction between calculated design and experienced tectonics in a way photographs or typical renderings are rarely capable of. Rather than definitive cuts through surfaces, as in conventional architectural drawings, slow fades move your eye from what is portrayed to what is left out. The technique extends the implied space of Berlage’s Exchange right out to the viewer’s own. It manages to evoke and analyze at once. Working on the Exchange entirely by hand meant that each jellyfish drawing was essentially an experiment, a record of choices made during the rendering process. Even though the jellyfish technique allowed Castor to show many competing aspects of a single view at once—inside and out, above and below, surface and depth—he reached a moment in every drawing when he had to surrender the ambition to convey everything he perceived.

For two subsequent projects, on Bramante’s Tempietto and Trajan’s Markets, Castor built wire-frame models in Autocad as an armature for his rendered perspectives. The computer allows Castor’s choices to be more “premeditated.” Why did he study the Exchange with a mechanical pencil instead of a series of keystrokes? As Castor tells it, “Thoreau went to the woods to write deliberately. Well, I went to the Beurs to draw deliberately.”




John Lautner: Diagramming Vision in Los Angeles

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


John Lautner, Beyer House, detail of drawing.

Author Jon Yoder is completing a doctorate in Critical Studies in Architectural Culture at UCLA. His dissertation takes the ocular-centric projects of John Lautner as lenses through which to focus on issues of experiential and projective vision. Drawing on visual media theory and existential phenomenology, it is the first sustained study of embodied visuality in architecture. He has also worked as an architectural designer with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, The ZGF Partnership, and SPF:Architects.


By all accounts, Los Angeles architect John Lautner was a poor draftsman. Architect Wes Peters, Lautner’s friend and fellow apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, even called him “the most terrible draftsman I ever saw in my life.” Lautner admitted as much: “I took drafting when I was in high school and I couldn’t keep the pencil sharp. I couldn’t make a neat drawing and I knew the typical school, all they do is grade on neat and then to hell with the ideas, and Mr. Wright had ideas so I went for that.” This distinction between neat drawings and substantive ideas is more than the defensive response of a messy student—it reflects a common distaste among Modern architects for what was widely considered to be the superficial pictorialism of the Beaux-Arts tradition. At Taliesin, Lautner purposely used his poor drafting ability to deflect the rendering tasks that apprentices were typically assigned during their tenure with Wright. By consciously focusing on ideas instead of on line weights, Lautner hoped to avoid the lures of mimesis and “paper architecture.”

Instead of drafting, he preferred the physical tasks of building. His experience with masonry and pipefitting at Taliesin, coupled with his supervisory work for a building contractor during World War II, gave Lautner a direct feel for construction systems and materials. This knowledge helped him to achieve many ingenious structural solutions throughout his career. In fact, his penchant for structural efficiency and bold concrete forms have led some to align Lautner’s architecture with the work of structural expressionists such as Oscar Niemeyer, Eero Saarinen, and Kenzo Tange. These were, after all, the contemporary architects he most admired.

A closer look at one of Lautner’s seemingly crude drawings, however, reveals a greater concern for program than for construction. His schematic plan for the Beyer House is essentially a programmatic diagram of room functions, furniture arrangements, material notations, site conditions, and viewing angles. Seen as a presentation drawing, it is certainly unpolished, even child-like. But as a working diagram it is actually extremely sophisticated. It contains an enormous amount of information. No mark is superfluous. Every line means something. Of course, many architects of Lautner’s generation employed similar “bubble” diagrams, but few ever managed this level of complexity. And most surrendered what began as curvilinear forms to the rectilinear rationale of the grid during design development. As Lautner fleshed out his designs, however, they often kept their curvaceous character.


John Lautner, Beyer House.

Lautner often began projects by taking a topographic map to the building site and indicating desirable viewpoints and orientations directly on the map. Then, practicing the creative gestation he learned from Wright, he would return to his office and spend days trying to visualize the project. As Lautner explained, “It’s thinking right from scratch and having a major idea, from inside. I’ve never designed a façade in my life.” Although many other architects have made similarly staunch “form follows function” assertions about their inside-out design processes, Lautner’s claim was largely justified. He rarely designed in elevation, diagramming projects instead in plan and section. After meeting with the client to verify program, he would then hand these seemingly rough diagrams to his staff to produce construction drawings under his supervision. His drafters were often surprised at the level of detail and accurate scale in diagrams that initially looked child-like.

Of course, this design process sounds similar to those of other star architects. Frank Gehry, for example, is known to generate napkin sketches of general building profiles from which his staff extrapolates built form under his guidance. Still, although Lautner’s forms are often as sculpturally plastic as Gehry’s recent buildings, they resulted from an extremely different impulse. Gehry’s surfaces undulate mainly for effect from the exterior, while Lautner’s forms curve primarily to accommodate views from the interior. Reflecting what Erwin Panofsky labeled the “spheroidal” shape of human vision, Lautner’s bulbous spaces diagram the alliance of site and sight. As Lautner explained, “Usually in the hills you have a panoramic view that people are interested in right away, and so most of my things are curved.” Even his innovative spanning systems—trusses, waffle slabs, and concrete shells—were employed largely to keep the views from his buildings as free of visible obstructions as possible. By using these long-span devices to eliminate intermittent walls and columns, Lautner opened the viewing “apertures” of his wideangle spaces. If Gehry’s buildings pose for cameras, Lautner’s houses operate as cameras.

Even during his early days with Wright, Lautner’s architectural attention was clearly focused on constructing views. In a 1937 “At Taliesin” newspaper article, he compared the behavior of Wright’s Roberts House at Deertrack, Michigan to that of a human eye: “The house itself is literally looking toward the lake because the living room roof and ceiling pitches up like one’s eyelash under a visor to the sky, leaving nothing but glass between you and the view.” During his later career, Lautner continued to note “eyelids” and “eyelashes” in his schematic designs. These often found architectural expression in moveable shades and deep roof overhangs that simultaneously shield the sun and frame distant views. Sightline notations and optical specifications such as “CHK view ON SITE!” also occur frequently throughout these drawings. These notes and arrows might seem crude, but they actually require more from the architect than is typically expected—more time on site (and sight), and less at the drafting table.

On one hand, because Lautner never became a very good draftsman, his reliance on graphic representation techniques was minimal. He was no captive of the two-dimensional surface, and neither are his buildings. On the other hand, neither was Lautner the child-like primitive that many assume. His curving, free-flowing forms were rarely the result of purely intuitive gestures. Although his schematic drawings often look like basic bubble diagrams, they are more than formally vague placeholders for future program; they are actually sophisticated design drawings that contain incredible detail and indicate precise layouts of space and vision. They are diagrams that surely asked and answered more questions than highly polished presentation drawings would have.

Drawings, for Lautner, were necessary devices for achieving the final building, but they were simply not valued as finished artifacts. This attitude hampered Lautner’s public recognition in the 1970s, when a major East Coast publisher wanted to issue a monograph on his work. The attempt was stymied when Lautner refused to “clean up” his drawings for publication. In order to be published, they would have had to become more like the presentation renderings he despised. “They just don’t get it” was his continued refrain. Drawing and construction were both transparent activities for Lautner—merely means to an end. He could readily see beyond both activities to imagine their implications. Graphic techniques and construction technologies were essentially lenses through which he visualized his projects. Like Lautner’s camera houses, his drawings are less for looking at than they are for looking through. They are operative diagrams of ocular desire.


Note: The author would like to thank Frank Escher and Brian Hart of the John Lautner Archive for their valuable assistance. See also The John Lautner Foundation website: www.johnlautner.org.



Gregory Ain: Drawings Against Photographs

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Gregory Ain, Dunsmuir Flats, Los Angeles, 1937, view from street.

Author Anthony Denzer is Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming. This article was drawn from his doctoral dissertation, “Gregory Ain and the Social Politics of Housing Design” (UCLA, 2005). He also received an M.Arch. from the University of Kansas.


When Julius Shulman visited his friend Gregory Ain one day in 1937, he unexpectedly witnessed a scene that would forever shape his understanding of the practice of architecture. Ain and his partner George Agron were designing a small house, and Shulman found them debating the placement of a wall between two rooms. “They had tracing paper over the board,” the photographer recalled. “They were going back and forth on that one line.” Even half a century later, Shulman remained astonished at the level of intellectual rigor applied to a seemingly mundane problem: “I have never forgotten that line. Here are two mature men—young men of course, but they were mature— … They were working on one line!”1

Of course, all architects give careful consideration to the placement of lines on a floor plan, but a review of Gregory Ain’s architectural drawings shows that his working method was especially meticulous.2 Clients were amazed at the number of alternatives he had studied; a colleague said he “suffered” over his plans at the expense of his private life.3 Ain developed this method simply because there was so much at stake. Throughout his career, he sought to construct bold new social relationships, and yet he also wanted to minimize his structures in order to save construction costs. The difference between 960 and 1,020 square feet might mean the difference between a built and an unbuilt project. At the drafting table, every quarter-inch counted.

One of his most difficult projects, which clearly shows how his “suffering” carried significant social and architectural meaning, was Avenel Homes (Los Angeles, 1946). This ten-unit complex of attached row houses was the most progressive project of his career, as it challenged practically every convention of postwar housing: its social organization, economic administration, and physical form. But during the design process some of Ain’s avant-garde ideas were rejected by local officials from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In the initial plan, Ain designed a kitchen which was almost completely open to the living room, a pioneering attempt to enliven the work of the housewife by connecting it to the social life of the house. When the FHA demanded a closed kitchen, this important relationship was destroyed. In addition, the original design also used the dining table to bridge between the kitchen and living room, which was an eminently reasonable strategy for saving space in the 908- square-foot units. When this feature was eliminated, residents were forced to accommodate a freestanding dining room set in the compact living room. Many families responded by expanding the living room four feet, eliminating the south overhang that Ain had considered essential to the plan.


Gregory Ain, Avenel Homes, Los Angeles, 1946. plan.

FHA officials also objected to Ain’s original plan for a “double bathroom,” which located the toilet and sink in one compartment, with the bathtub and laundry in a separate adjacent room. This plan would have accommodated simultaneous activities while maintaining privacy, an eminently logical and convenient feature. Again, Ain creatively interrogated the basic relationships between typical functions and their architectural planning. And, again, he was defeated. The bathroom, as built, was a common square room containing the toilet, sink, and bathtub. Summarizing the conservative institutional logic that Ain battled, Alfred Steinberg argued: “FHA opposes the novel and untried because it represents risk.”4

But when he made presentation drawings for publication, Ain used the “original” floor plan, which included the open kitchen, built-in dining table, and double bathroom, even though these innovations were not built. This post-construction idealization of the project was consistent with Ain’s earlier habits and his general belief that architectural publications should convey ideas rather than mundane realities. In the 1990s, at least three new Avenel residents rebuilt the kitchen according to Ain’s original plan, a sympathetic “restoration” effort that raised quite interesting critical questions about the meaning of the “original.”

Ain hired Julius Shulman to photograph the Avenel project, and Shulman might have been expected to have a heightened sensitivity to Ain’s work, given his 1937 epiphany as well as his belief that the purpose of architectural photography was to recover and communicate the design’s “true” intentions.5 Still, Ain found that Shulman’s images could not properly convey the progressive aspects of the project that he wanted to promote—the social relationships— in part because Shulman could not photograph what had not been built. Indeed, photographs of his projects frequently disappointed Ain; he worked with seventeen different photographers between 1936 and 1952, as if he were constantly, fruitlessly, searching for the artist who could correctly portray the underlying architectural ideas. At the end of his career, Ain told David Gebhard with a certain modest pleasure: “You know, I have many houses that have never been photographed at all.”6

Ain’s approach to architectural drawings was always calibrated against his curious and complex set of attitudes towards architectural photography. When he was asked to reflect on his achievements late in his life, Ain spontaneously launched into an extensive critique of photography and architectural publishing. He had become so dismayed at magazines’ habit of favoring photographs over plans that he audaciously proposed a moratorium on the use of photographs in all architectural publications. It was a serious suggestion; He apparently developed the idea while he was a prominent educator in the 1960s, and he repeated it twice in separate interviews in the late 1970s. He believed that the important architectural ideas—social relationships—were found in the floor plan. And he genuinely failed to understand why magazines represented his work primarily through photographs rather than drawings.

He admitted his own work had contained “far less ‘eye-appeal’ than contemporary work which may have had a different motivation.” And he insisted: “public relations was never a factor in my practice … the camera has never been part of my problem.7 Ain’s anxieties about photography, then, shaped an ideology about how his project would be produced, disseminated, and ultimately received.

Ain was an excellent draftsman and he could draw immaculate aerial perspectives due to his mathematical mind and his training under Richard Neutra. But it is abundantly clear that Ain’s illustrations were not intended as objets d’art; they were only produced, when needed, to convey the project to his client so that it might be built. In fact, a number of Ain’s projects did not have pictorial drawings at all. Most significantly, Ain did not follow Rudolph Schindler’s practice of making stylized illustrations for exhibition, nor Neutra’s habit of using color for atmospheric effects. Ain’s ascetic, hard-line drawings were utterly “rational” and documentary, although he did sometimes prefer to show the building in an “ideal” state. A preponderance of his perspective drawings were only completed on trace paper, a material unsuitable for exhibition or for posterity.

Ain was especially disappointed that one image, in particular, often represented his entire career: an exterior view of Dunsmuir Flats (Los Angeles, 1937, at beginning of article). This photograph, by Julius Shulman, showed the four-unit apartment building as a lean, streamlined “machine-in-the-garden,” the articulated structure appearing to cut through the landscape like a freight train. Because the image emphasized architecture- as-volume and the building’s repetitive form, it appeared to be a perfect illustration of the International Style. More than any other, this image garnered national recognition for Ain. It was published widely in period magazines, and it was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art.8

In a late interview, Ain claimed that he resented over-publication of the iconic Dunsmuir Flats photograph because the elevations were “simple extrusions of the plan.” This statement was patently insincere, since he went to so much effort to craft the solid-void relationships between the slab overhangs and the strip windows, for example, but in essence it was an effort to distance himself from Shulman’s image and deny authorship of it. Ain insisted: “I never liked the way they looked, though the plan was really extraordinary.”9 Indeed, the plan inventively solved several problems, and on this basis Ain considered Dunsmuir Flats his most successful project.


Gregory Ain, Dunsmuir Flats, Los Angeles, 1937, plan.

Yet, when Ain referred to “the plan,” he meant an idealized redrawing of the plan; as at Avenel Homes, here he also elided the fact that the building was not built as he wished.

Early perspectives and plans show that Ain intended that each unit would have a geometric integrity of its own and then participate in an idealized system where each would be staggered in plan and section at identical intervals. The building as constructed, however, compromised the purity of this system in several ways. First, the two rear units were built at the same floor level and therefore did not “interlock” at the roofline. Second, the four units were not, in fact, all attached. Ain was forced to “break” the building into two pieces with a three-foot clearance in between the second and third units. In reality, as a close reading of Shulman’s photograph demonstrates, Dunsmuir Flats was not the perfectly platonic mathematical game that Ain sought to portray. When he made presentation drawings of Dunsmuir Flats for publication, Ain “restored” the building to its ideal state.

If Ain’s habit of redrawing and idealizing his buildings indicated his suffering—and his perfectionism— it also placed him within a strong tradition among architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrea Palladio. These architects, too, used the mutability of drawing as a medium to elide issues of contingency that were considered irrelevant to the architectural ideas. What made Ain’s case significant and instructive was his insistence on using drawings as a means to compensate for the limitations of photography.


1. Julius Shulman, interviewed by Taina Rikala De Noreiga, Los Angeles, California, January 12 & 20, February 3, 1990, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Tape 4, side B.

2. Ain’s drawings are archived at the Architecture & Design Collection (ADC), University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara.

3. James Garrott, quoted by Esther McCoy, The Second Generation (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1984), p. 134.

4. Alfred Steinberg, “FHA-Profits Before Housing,” The Nation 168 (January 1, 1949), pp. 11-13.

5. Julius Shulman, Photographing Architecture and Interiors (New York: Whitney, 1962), p. 2.

6. Ain, interviewed by David Gebhard and Harriette Von Breton, June 19, 1973. Transcribed notes, David Gebhard papers, (ADC), p. 2.

7. Ain, interviewed by Thomas S. Hines, April 25, 1977. Tape recording courtesy of Thomas S. Hines.

8. Elizabeth Mock, ed., Built in U.S.A., 1932-1944 (New York: Museum of Modern Art), 1945.

9. Ain, interviewed by Gebhard and Von Breton, op. cit.


Representing Beyond the Surface

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


David’s Island.

Author Perry Kulper is an architect and SCI-Arc Faculty member living in Los Angeles.


The projective roles of the architectural drawing in the discipline of architecture are simultaneously exhilarating and daunting. The formal predilections of Modernism, frequent shifts in cultural paradigms, the displacement of manual drawing by keyboard procedures, and the increasing links between software applications and material fabrication processes suggest a reassessment of the role of drawing.

These working notes are an attempt to broaden considerations surrounding the drawing through the cultivation of its various levels of communication, the stimulation of its latent content, and the catalyzing of its speculative roles. These thoughts are an attempt to augment the homogeneous and reductive practices of drawing and to reestablish its imaginative, generative, and creative agencies.

To overcome the legacy of reductive representational practices, we should conceptualize the construction of drawing as more than a tool for problem solving, organization, or expression. A number of interesting questions deserve reconsideration: the distance between the architect, the drawing, and construction; the differences between varied drawing types and their vested authorities; the debates over white page versus black screen; the temporality of drawing and its reminiscent and speculative potentials; and the dimensions of experience that perpetually elude the conventions of drawing. While not at the forefront of educational or professional discussions, engaging the spirit of these questions might allow the architectural drawing to reassert its formidable creative agency, while participating in the continuities of cultural imagination.

Motivated by ideas and language on the one hand and by geometry and material projection on the other, the architectural drawing has undergone a multitude of developments, interpretations, and transformations. It has defined and been defined by complex cultural circumstances. In my own work and my work with students, I am interested in the drawing’s capacity to represent these complex situations. I am optimistic about the conceptual and speculative potential of mark-making, valuing what is known as well as the accidental and unborn; the margins and figures count alike.

Unlike more exclusionary positions, my work employs multiple representational techniques simultaneously, allowing the drawing to communicate on several levels. The use of indexical sets, notation, diagrammatic assemblies, material indications, language, and other generative marks cultivates latent relations, facilitating the drawing’s investigative potential. Manual, digital, and hybrid techniques are all possible. Local “ecologies of potential” emerge from this choreography, teasing out spatial possibilities from the drawings.

The avoidance of premature ideational, geometric, and material reduction is one of the primary ambitions of my work, and a necessary ingredient in the imaginative life of the drawing. The act of drawing itself becomes a form of discovery of the logics and structure of the work.

In the Strategic Plot for the David’s Island Competition, for example, speculations about content and programmatic structure emerge from a number of sources, not the least of which is the imagined potential in the space of the Plot itself. Like a game board or a map, it occupies a representational territory between landscape and architecture, incorporating notations for future development. Material configurations coalesce with diagrammatic and durational marks, opening representational borders and cultivating more fluid ideological, material, and temporal assemblies.


Fast Twitch Site.

In the Fast Twitch drawing, I set out to explore desert occupations linked to ground, sky, and horizon. This drawing includes territorial marking, notation, language, and material indications. As it developed, my interests expanded to include hybrid archetypes, subtle shifts in perceptual awareness, incompleteness, and relations between rhetorical structuring and embodied experience. The drawing examines these interests through varied communicative levels, opening analogical and intuitive means towards the generation of a proposal for desert occupation. Conventional drawing types intermingle with other invented representational techniques, enabling the emergence and eventual synthesis of a range of ideas, with material and spatial ramifications nearly impossible through more traditional drawings.


The Metaspheric Zoo, speculative proposal for the Prague Biennale.

The Metaspheric Zoo (a cross between “metaphor” and “atmosphere”) is a speculative proposal for the Prague Biennale. It is the first in a series of preparatory drawings to discover and theorize the zoo. Its primary topical, relational, and programmatic attitudes were established through an image combining characteristics of a puzzle, a geographic matrix, and a taxonomic inventory. Ambient surfaces tease coded and indexical marks. Instrumental practices are crossed with language and invented “characters” toward the creation of a synthetic, incomplete, and strangely familiar whole. From this beginning, programmatic interests in botanic surfacing, a roving taxidermy, and a vessel for obsolete atmospheres emerge, confronting the disparate impulses of instinct and desire which are all but eradicated from our over-programmed society.

Although culturally grounded, drawing is a kind of personal cartography in which circumstance and creative identity coalesce toward spatial configurations. Drawing is a risk, and confronting the white surface, or black screen, is an act of violation. It is an assault on whiteness and abstraction.

By engaging varied and shifting levels of communication (in many ways analogous to our embodied experience of space), the speculative, imaginative, and latent capacities of drawing may make it possible to forget, momentarily, the scenic surface of the image. The possibility of seeing behind, beneath, and through the space of drawing—and the drawing of space—toward greater cultural agency and communicative range is the promise and provocation of architectural representation. Though the parameters have radically changed, the architectural drawing remains an unfinished and tantalizing project.


The Metaspheric Zoo, detail.



Let Me Illustrate

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Neil Denari, Prototype House, Tokyo, Japan, 1993, axonometric drawing.

Author Tulay Atak is an architect and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA.


This short essay was written after an interview with Neil Denari that took place on June 4, 2005. Rather than explaining Denari’s work or quoting his words verbatim, the essay addresses a specific comment Denari made during the interview on drawing as illustration and attempts to extrapolate the notion of illustration in architecture. I am grateful to Neil Denari for his generosity with his time.


Neil Denari calls his drawings illustrations. Images in a book, a manual, a newspaper, or a magazine are illustrations; hence, the medium where the image is found plays a role in determining how an illustration works. A diagram, a cartoon, a graph are illustrations; hence, the kind of image plays a role in determining what an illustration is. What place does an illustration hold between drawing and design in architecture? What kind of a practice does it entail?

As Mario Carpo has shown, the introduction of images into architectural treatises in the Renaissance, concurrent with the invention of movable type, made an enormous impact on architecture.1 The volatile category called “illustration” implied not only the mechanical reproduction of drawings, but also a transformation in the production of architecture. Alberti, for instance, preferred to translate images into text and avoided visualization. With his distrust for illustrations at the dawn of mechanical reproduction, he devised a method for the notation and reproduction of three dimensional shapes based on numeration rather than visualization.2 He claimed that with his method, identical copies could be produced; two sculptors separated by distance or time could produce the two halves of a sculpture which would form a complete whole if brought together. Already implied in Alberti’s work was the practice of the architect as the writer of codes as opposed to an illustrator.

In Alberti’s case, the resistance to illustrations was founded on a criterion of precision. Prior to the intrusion of illustrations, written codes and sequences of operations were considered to be more precise for the transmission of architecture than an image. Hence, the adjacency of the two terms “precision” and “optical” was not an easy coupling; rather it was an acculturation that developed over a period of time in various fields. Art historian Svetlana Alpers has described the beginnings of this adjacency as the “art of describing,” in relation to a set of practices from mapping to projection.3 When Marcel Duchamp coined his own “precision optics,” the two terms were meshed onto each other in the world of visualizations.4 Duchamp, himself a student of technical drawings, played with the situation of illustration between drawing and design, between image and concept. In the set of rotating drawings named “rotoreliefs,” he relocated precision in the corporality of vision.

What, Exactly, Is an Illustrator’s Practice?

Illustration always has an end beyond itself. It illustrates something other than itself, and it can never be found outside media—be it a book, a magazine or a newspaper; or independent of its referent—be it a text or a product. It is embedded. Illustration has a clear intent: to deliver information. In most cases, illustration is a commercial activity; hence, the delivery of information is also the delivery of a mood conducive to its reception. Simply put, illustration is a mediating practice. Illustration is a condition of architectural drawing in which drawing has no autonomy but is the embodiment of design.

Page from Denari’s sketchbooks: Corrugation and perimeter studies for possible projects.

Illustration is not an art; the closest it comes to art is that lowly version of art, graphics. No less coded than written codes and instructions, illustration operates with visual codes. It requires a specific set of skills, which can be acquired and repeated. It has already-set types of drawings.

Instead of inventing new types of drawing, as Rossi and Morphosis have done, Neil Denari’s Gyroscopic Horizons is full of standard drawing types. The two images included here, the section and axonometric drawing of the Prototype House in Japan (1993), are standard architectural drawings. While drawing types remain constant, design changes. The constancy and change are traceable in Denari’s sketchbooks, as well. Hence, illustration has less to do with tools—like ink or graphic software—and the final medium where it will be found—like Mylar, notebook, plot or a website—than with standard drawing types. The standardization of drawing types is a part of illustration. In illustration, the passage from ink and Mylar to the computer screen is smooth. Here, a parallel might be drawn with Zaha Hadid’s work. Taking perspective as the visual code of architecture, Hadid’s early paintings were not the invention of types but the distortion of already existing ones. Hadid’s paintings were illustrations of her architecture.

The visual code of illustration leads to visual precision. Precision on its own does not predetermine architectural form. Rather, precision is about how one deals with form. Here may be the key role design becomes precision design. The lesson of Duchamp’s “precision optics” might well be an optical tangibility. Precision design is clear both in terms of its conception and in terms of its projection and mediation from drawing to building. This is a passage from precision optics to precision design, from architectural graphics to graphic architecture.


Neil Denari, Prototype House, Tokyo, 1993, section.


1. Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory. (Trans. Sarah Benson). Cambridge, London: MIT P, 2001. Carpo’s recent essay “Drawing with Numbers: Geometry and Numeracy in Early modern Architectural Design” extends the problem of images in architectural theory to numeration practices from fifteenth century onwards. JSAH 62:4, 2004: (448-469).

2. Alberti, On Painting and Sculpture (Ed. and trans. Cecil Grayson.) London: Phaidon, 1972. 128-130. See also Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing, 122-123.

3. The vast bibliography on the history of optical precision is heterogeneous: Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the 17th Century. Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1983. Michel Foucault. Birth of the Clinic: an Archeology of Medical Perception. (Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith.) New York: Vintage Books, 1973. Barbara Maria Stafford, Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine. Cambridge, London: MIT P, 1991. Picturing Science, Producing Art. (ed. Peter Galison and Caroline A. Jones) London: Routledge, 1998. A forecast of optical precision was given by Arnaldo Momigliano’s pioneering work on history and the antiquarian. Momigliano also suggested a link between the development of modern engineering and the practices of the antiquarian. In this respect, the figures of Piranesi (1720-1778) and Auguste Choisy (1841-1909) are noteworthy in the establishment of the visual field governed by precision in architecture.

4. In the 1920s, Duchamp carried business cards, which described his profession as a “precision oculist.” For Duchamp’s precision optics, see Rosalind E. Krauss, Optical Unconscious. Cambridge, London: MIT P, 1994. p. 95-142.


Drawn Out: Introduction

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


Author Alexander Ortenberg is an architectural historian, a practicing architect, and an architectural artist. He received his PhD from UCLA, his dissertation focusing on the evolution of architectural representation and on the evolution of architectural professionalism. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona and is the principal of Ortenberg Architecture. He is a member of the AIA, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), and the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI).


When discussing architects’ practices, scholars and professionals alike tend to emphasize the longevity of our craft’s mental and physical instruments. Even as recent technological and theoretical developments made some of them obsolete and challenged some others, little has been done to rethink the history of the architect’s tools. As to architectural drawing—arguably the oldest and the most stable of those devices found in our conceptual toolbox—we have become accustomed to the notion that visual representation emerged after a certain threshold of structural complexity and/or sophistication of architectural forms had been surpassed.

It is tempting indeed to interpret four-millennia-old papyri found near the Egyptian city of El Ghorab as a prototypical construction document. Practicing architects might also be eager to construe late medieval drawings as a form of communicating the future building to the patron and the public. Furthermore, the sketchbook of thirteenth-century master-builder Villard de Honnecourt might appear not unlike those that turn-of-the-twenty-first century masters such as Alvaro Siza still carry around with them. Finally, Rafael’s letter to Leo X advocating the use of floor plans, elevations, and sections seems to present evidence of a completely modern approach to design emerging in the early sixteenth century.

Undoubtedly, these artifacts indicate a long history of drawing being one of architects’ major tools. They should not, however, be misconstrued as proof that contemporary means and conventions of architectural representation are nothing but a refined version of the eternal architect’s toolbox. Magnificent as they are, the elevations of late Gothic cathedrals could not be considered as an exhaustive means of representation. Unlike our contemporary drawings, which imply the representation of depth—and this includes orthographic projections—medieval drawings depict only the plane of the main elevation.

Moreover, even as some forms of architectural representation have indeed displayed remarkable longevity, their social and cultural roles have gone through tremendous changes. Drawing, which is now considered the most transparent and universal way to convey design ideas to a wide range of agents, was once used to draw the line between the architect and his learned patron, on one side, and the unenlightened mechanic, on the other. The Renaissance theorist and artist Luca Pacioli—whose 1509 treatise was a major tour de force in establishing modern conventions of graphic representation—was convinced that the rules of geometry were too abstract to be grasped by mere craftsmen. Written two centuries later, a treatise by French Royal architect Ch-A. d’Aviler attests to the fact that late-seventeenth century architects searched, in their communications with builders, for the best written and verbal expression and did not rely on graphic explanation. It was only by the middle of the eighteenth century that English and French theorists proposed extending the ability to read architectural drawings to the “whole Body of Artisans and Mechanics.” Even then, many of these theorists made clear that they meant only the masters of the trades. The “servile and labouring Order of People” was still condemned to have no other knowledge than what was absolutely necessary for the perfection of their manual skills.

Nineteenth-century democratic ideals—mixed with architects’ struggle for their professional authority—brought a new approach to the art of architectural representation. It became perceived as a universal language to be understood by the client and the foreman, by masons and carpenters, by architectural critics and by the general public. Coinciding with the significant reduction in the cost of papermaking, these social and cultural developments led to a true explosion in the production of architectural drawings. In a letter written in 1867, the French architect Charles Garnier reported that, while working on the project for the Paris Opera, his office produced 30,000 (!) sheets of working drawings. Garnier was well known for his efforts to promote architecture as fine art. His inscription for his tombstone did not, however, mention any of his artistic achievements but said, merely, “Here lies Charles Garnier, the son of a shoemaker.” It was this dual self-perception as both an artist and a laborer that made him as proud of his mode of production as he was of the final fruit of his labor.

The architectural profession arrived in California around the turn of the twentieth century. As Reyner Banham once stated, by this time “being unable to think without drawing became the true mark of one fully socialized in the profession of architecture.” And yet, the drawings discussed in this issue of arcCA demonstrate that their role extends beyond the widely recognized functions of learning new ideas, developing design concepts, and communicating them to collaborators and clients. They clearly indicate that architects have used their representational skills to make a statement of who they are vis-à-vis their colleagues, society, and the history of our profession.



Drawn Out: Editor’s Comment

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]


I received the final PDFs for this issue of arcCA, for corrections, while sitting in my car on a side street outside the Le Sage Riviera RV Park in Grover Beach, California. Someone in a café in Pismo Beach had told me there was a public wireless hotspot there.

Surely there is something of architectural significance in the idea—well, no, not the idea, the fact—of someone in a car, downloading onto a laptop computer, through a wireless network based at an RV park, an issue of a magazine featuring award-winning buildings.

And just across the road—the Pacific Coast Highway—is the Grover Beach Amtrak station. It’s something one might draw, if one thought about it awhile. Not the train station (though of course one could); the . . . what? “Matrix” isn’t right (no mid-air suspensions). “Infrastructure” isn’t social enough. “Space”?

It would be a good assignment for the John Lautner described by Jon Yoder in this issue—someone interested in the relationships and not too concerned about making a pretty drawing. Someone who would give equal weight to the seen and the not seen.

As you will see, the regular editorial section of this issue is about drawing and, more specifically, about attitudes toward drawing and the use of drawing. We have excluded the most obviously utilitarian sorts of drawings—construction documents—not because we think them dull, but because we intend to devote the first issue of 2006 to them.

Less intentionally, we’re delaying until the fourth quarter of this year an article about the architectural illustrations of Carlos Diniz. The editor dawdled in selecting the illustrations to print, and then we ran into a further delay in securing high-resolution scans. But they (along with Peter Dodge’s commentary) will be something wonderful to look forward to.

The drawing on the cover is by Rob Quigley, this year’s AIACC Maybeck Award winner. We’re pleased for the second time to be able to publish the annual AIACC and Savings By Design Awards in a special color section.

You’ll find, as well, a series of color plates accompanying the articles on drawing. And the more attentive among you may have noticed something different about the cover. Take these changes as hints that more systematic enhancements to the design of arcCA are afoot. We are working with our designers on a number of ideas, to be implemented formally beginning in 2006. As always, but especially now, your suggestions are welcome. If you will be at the Monterey Design Conference, you can look for me at mealtimes in the dining hall at a table with the arcCA logo, to share your thoughts. And stay tuned.



Coda: Los Altos Neutra

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]


Author Miltiades Mandros has a solo practice in Oakland. He is an editorial board member of _LINE, the online quarterly journal of AIA San Francisco.


In 1999, Dion Neutra, the son and partner of Richard Neutra, asked if I would locate and document the condition of the some twenty Neutra projects built in Northern California. I did, publishing a survey of my research, “Northern California Neutra: 20 Projects,” in _LINE, the on-line journal of AIASF, in 2003.

One of the most fascinating of these projects is the “Three Small Houses in an Orchard” (1939), as Neutra referred to them, erected on a single lot in a former orange grove near downtown Los Altos. Jointly owned by three friends, they were not only Neutra’s smallest houses but also the only example in his work of communal or semi-communal living. Despite their modest size (940 square foot twins and an even tinier 450 square foot cabin), all exhibited Neutra hallmarks: thin, cantilevered roof planes, steel-framed ribbon windows, open plans, plenty of built-ins, and a horizontal orientation reaching out seamlessly to the surroundings.


Richard Neutra, Three Small Houses in an Orchard, plan.


The trio survived intact until the early 1980s, when the streetside twin was demolished to make way for a new house of far less character. In 1999, the owner of the remaining houses, John Gusto, asked me to design an addition to the larger cottage; we learned, however, that the cottages were on the local historic register, making an addition impossible. Frustrated, Mr. Gusto tried to sell the property, but the restrictions frightened away buyers.

I sought other options. Although it allowed no addition, the city did agree to allow demolition if a buyer disposed to sympathetic restoration were not found. I tried mightily to garner interest. The help of Joseph Rosa (Curator of Architecture and Design at SFMOMA at the time) brought nibbles but no deals. Mr. Gusto considered moving the larger twin to property he owns in the foothills of the Sierras. Barbara Lamprecht, author of the definitive work on Neutra, asked the owner of Neutra’s 1934 Beard House in Altadena to consider moving the house to his property—a promising tack that ultimately bore no fruit.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gusto found a buyer who wanted the site merely for its location. Demolition seemed assured. I besought the Historical Commission and other agencies to save this important part of the local heritage—small but significant early modernist American buildings, which could be restored and reused for civic purposes. Eventually, a group on the Historical Commission got behind the idea. Potential sites were considered and possible uses discussed. Early in 2005, the City Council agreed to accept donation of the larger house if the cost of relocation and restoration were privately raised. Local interest has grown exponentially, and more than $150,000 has been raised. As of early October, neither the expected donation of the house nor the move itself has occurred, but a site has been selected. The house itself, empty, waits patiently.

Editor’s note: On November 20th, as we were going to press, the house was finally to be moved.



Under the Radar: Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]


Author Eric Naslund, FAIA, is a principal at Studio E Architects in San Diego. He is the past chair of the AIACC Design Awards Program and currently serves on the editorial board of arcCA. He is an adjunct faculty member at Woodbury University in San Diego.


Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center
San Dieguito River Park, Del Mar, California

ARCHITECT: Rinehart Herbst: Catherine M. Herbst, Stella Murphy, Todd Rinehart
ENGINEER: Endres Ware: Paul Endres
CLIENT: San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, Dick Bobertz, Director
PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Yeatter and Brighton Noing


Set at the interface between suburban development and the wetlands of the San Dieguito River, the Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center, by Rinehart Herbst of San Diego, presents a modest but powerful landscape presence. The Learning Center, at a miniscule 532 square feet, deftly gathers up and makes sense of its setting, belying its tiny footprint.

Its program is a simple one: provide an outdoor pavilion for small groups—mostly local schoolchildren—to observe and learn about the watershed. The architects were tasked with fitting this program on and into a much beloved roadside strawberry stand. The stand is a gabled shed without foundations that had served the local produce market for many years. Made of rudimentarily crude stick-frame construction, the shed nevertheless had a certain honest integrity that seemed fitting to the architects. Their appreciation of it, along with the realities of a $60,000 budget, formed the starting point for the design.

Rinehart Herbst stripped the shed to its skeleton and extended the framing towards the river. The extension telescoped the shed form to make an expansive view portal that also gives the center an iconographic presence. This portal carefully frames one’s views of the wetlands while screening out nearby development and the Interstate 5 Freeway. The frame is wrapped with sandblasted Polygal sheathing and metal roofing. A foundation was made by lifting the shed onto wood beams, which are anchored in a floating position by helical piers. Finally, lateral forces were ingeniously resisted by a series of three tension cables that wrap the building like a ribbon on a birthday present. These cables are anchored to the foundation beams on both sides of the structure, cinching the frame to the ground.

The result is a straightforward and delicate building that lightly places itself in the land. The Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center is a temporary structure intended to serve only a few years until a more permanent visitor’s center can be constructed. The building can be removed and easily placed in another location. Let’s hope it will always be in service somewhere in the River Park, as it seems so at home there.







Leadership in a Growing Region: AIA Central Valley

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]


Skyline Build Out; courtesy of the City of Sacramento.

Co-author Phyllis A. Newton, Esq., is Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects, Central Valley Chapter. Co-author Michael Malinowski, AIA, is a member of the board of AIACV.


The Sacramento region has become a hotbed of growth and optimism. Seemingly overnight, the area is transforming from a somewhat sleepy city surrounded by nondescript suburbs to a vibrant, regional center. A similar transformation is underway at the Sacramento-based American Institute of Architects Central Valley Chapter (AIACV). 

More than sixty-three years old, the AIACV has historically served its members well by providing continuing educational programs, a biennial design awards competition, annual golf and tennis tournaments, licensing seminars, and a forum for social interaction through monthly meetings often in the form of building tours. Like the region it serves, the Chapter leadership awakened a few years back, took stock of the challenges and opportunities faced by its members, and made a conscious decision to become a leadership resource to the region as it faces dramatic and pressing change.


The Region Undergoes Rapid Transformation

According to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the population of the six-county Sacramento region is projected to increase from it current 2 million to 3.8 million residents in the next fifty years, with the number of homes doubling from 713,000 to 1.5 million. The City of Sacramento is emerging as the valley’s cultural and entertainment center. A vibrant restaurant- and nightlife is evident now on the weekends and is spreading to other days of the week. For the first time, downtown Sacramento has become a destination and a desirable place to live, as evidenced by the numerous high-rise residential projects that are in the works, including a project designed by Daniel Liebeskind, FAIA, and two, fifty-two-story residential twin towers at the base of Capitol Mall. Attracted by a slower pace of life and relatively affordable real estate prices, Bay Area transplants are finding their way to the “Big Tomato.”

Growth is always a double-edged sword, bringing both opportunities and challenges. As one of the few remaining frontiers in California, with vast amounts of relatively inexpensive and unspoiled land, Sacramento and the surrounding region are uniquely situated in both time and place. To be successful, they must glean the richness and diversity that growth can bring, while at the same time avoiding the architectural and regional planning errors made by other jurisdictions.

The AIA Central Valley Emerges from Hibernation

A few years ago, the AIA Central Valley Chapter took a hard look at itself and determined it was relatively irrelevant to the community. As an organization, it was not “at the table” when critical decisions were being made. Civic and government leaders sought out other allied organizations and community activists for input on crucial decisions, as the AIA, when asked, was generally silent. Architects, when they did speak, did so individually or own behalf of their firms. The architectural profession did not have an organized, cohesive presence in the community. The average citizen had no notion of why or how the AIACV, or its members, might be important forces in shaping the region.

Recognizing its civic obligation to contribute, the Chapter began a concerted effort to become involved in important regional issues. It reached out to the community to form strategic alliances with allied organizations and important civic, business, and community leaders. Its executive director set aside some of the more routine duties associated with running a chapter and began attending City Council and other meetings, speaking on the Chapter’s behalf on important matters, or offering professional assistance to the community. It did not take long for the Chapter to gain recognition for its increased presence in the community and for initiating a number of exceptional programs that are already making a difference.


Curtis Park Village, Kuchman Architects / Philip J. Harvey, AIA / ac martin partners, site plan rendering by Sawyer Fisher Rendering.

A Unique Marriage Is Formed

Earlier this year, the AIACV and the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) formed the “Smart Growth Leadership Council,” in order to encourage and recognize development projects that incorporate smart growth principles. Under this program, developers voluntarily submit their projects to be evaluated against written smart-growth guidelines drafted and approved by both organizations. If the project meets the guidelines as sufficiently “smart,” the project receives a letter of endorsement from the Council that can be used to assist with marketing and the entitlement process. If the project does not initially receive a favorable review, the developer is given an explanation and invited to resubmit after improvements have been made.

To date, two in-fill projects have received the Council’s endorsement. The first was Curtis Park Village, a seventy-acre PUD on a hundred-year-old rail yards brownfield site designed by Kuchman Architects / Philip J. Harvey, AIA / ac martin partners. Despite the multi-million dollar toxic clean-up undertaken by the developer and the creation of a variety of housing options that are not currently available in the neighborhood, the project has faced some opposition from neighborhood activists, primarily on traffic-related issues. Because the Council’s endorsement will be a useful tool when the proponents seek their entitlements in 2006, certain improvements to the project were voluntarily made.

The second project to receive the Council’s endorsement was an eight-story, mid-rise residential and neighborhood retail, mixed-use project in midtown Sacramento—an older residential/commercial area adjacent to downtown with a number of historically significant homes and a distinctive urban flavor. The project, designed by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects of Portland, introduced cutting-edge architecture to the neighborhood. Again, a few neighborhood activists sought to block the project. When the Planning Commission’s approval was appealed to the Sacramento City Council, the Smart Growth Leadership Council’s endorsement played a significant role in the City Council’s unanimous decision to allow the project to go forward.

By partnering with an environmental organization known for controversy and opposition to projects, the AIA Central Valley is offering the development community a balanced perspective and an innovative incentive to incorporate smart growth principles into projects. The result is something greater than either organization could have achieved on its own.

Helping Shape the Central Business District

The Sacramento Central Business District is the roughly 400-block area centered on the State Capitol. Despite numerous civic- and business-led efforts over the years to jumpstart the area economically, the downtown environs was a virtual ghost town after the five o’clock exodus of state workers. At the root of this lack of energy and nightlife was the scarcity of downtown housing—in particular the kind of housing choices that might bring people back from the suburbs to the City’s urban core.

In the last few years, a confluence of changes in market and perception has resulted in a number of proposals for high-rise residential projects in the downtown area. As a whole, these will dramatically alter the existing skyline and the City’s demographic geography. Unfortunately, the City’s eighteen-year-old design guidelines for the central business district were drafted at a time when high-rise, high-density residential development was so far fetched as to have not been seriously addressed. As a consequence, some of the proposals, while technically adhering to the design guidelines, were viewed by many in the architectural profession as seriously flawed. Given the legacy these structures would leave, the Chapter launched the Design Advocacy Taskforce (DAT) whose purpose is to assist local government in assessing these city-shaping projects.

The Taskforce is comprised of Chapter members who have expressed an interest in reviewing major projects about to undergo the City’s design and planning review. The Chapter notifies its members of upcoming public hearings and provides access to the staff reports prepared by City personnel. The Chapter also obtains and makes available a copy of the developer’s submission packet to Taskforce members who wish to view it, either individually or in a forum organized by the Chapter. Taskforce members are also encouraged to provide either written input on the proposed project for inclusion in the public record or to address the permitting entity at public hearings. A procedure by which the Chapter itself may take an official position relative to a particular proposal or issue is currently being discussed.

By speaking out on significant projects, some of which have been designed by Chapter members, the Design Advocacy Taskforce is entering relatively uncharted territory but providing valuable, professional input to civic leaders.

Developing a Center for Collaboration

Realizing that the transformation of Sacramento into a great urban center will require the efforts of a number of related disciplines working closely together and a partnering of civic and private enterprise, the AIA Central Valley is also at the beginning stages of developing a collaborative design education center. This shared facility is envisioned as bringing together, in one place, a number of public benefit and nonprofit organizations that attempt to influence the shape of the built environment. As an educational resource where the public can learn about good design, livable communities, smart growth, and sustainability through gallery exhibits, lecture series, and an informational repository, the AIACV envisions this center as an important resource not only to members of the various organizations but also to community leaders and the public at large. By sharing common facilities and perhaps staffing, the center may offer each of the participating organizations efficiencies and opportunities that would not exist operating independently of each other. Intended for an urban setting undergoing revitalization, the center will put into direct action some of the principles the AIACV espouses.

Putting the Pieces into Place

Change takes time and effort. Charting its new course has taken the Chapter four years, and it is still a work in progress. A new executive director has brought passion and vision, but the changes have been deliberate and thoughtful. Through events such as breakfast roundtables, the Chapter has sought to inform its members and engage them in the new direction upon which it has embarked. As the Chapter adds new initiatives and assumes a greater role in the region, further change will be inevitable. Within the next few years, the AIACV hopes to be a dynamic organization, actively engaged in shaping the region, well known and respected by government and business leaders and the public at large. Relevance, after all, is the reason it began its transformation.



The UC Merced Debate

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[From arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”; collected here, by permission, from vol. 17, nos. 1 and 2, of the journal Places.]


UC Merced, aerial view of academic core, rendered by Christopher Grubbs.


Richard Bender and John Parman

Richard Bender is an Emeritus Professor and former Dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. He founded the Campus Planning Study Group there in the mid-1980s and has consulted with U.S. and international universities and colleges on their development. John Parman has a particular interest in how urbanity is supported in modern towns and cities. He writes for AIA San Francisco’s _LINE and other publications.


Universities and colleges can be great forces for urbanity in their communities (and vice versa). Just how this potential is integrated into a community, however, has been the subject of various interpretations through history. Today, in America, there is a tendency to think that the university campus must be a place apart. Likewise, on campus, there is a tendency among university administrators to think that every new academic or institutional “need” must be translated into a new building campaign.

There are other options. While models like Jefferson’s University of Virginia and venerable Ivy League campuses still shape our sense of an appropriate setting for academic life, an even older root—going back to Bologna, Padua, and Paris—situates the academy within the polis and makes it an integral part of everyday life. The urbanity of this model reflects the historic tendency of towns and cities to mix uses in a fine-grained way that creates and enlivens culture as well as stimulates the local economy. For many such institutions, a more intensive mix of uses may also reflect financial necessity, leading them to seek partners in their communities with whom to integrate facilities.

The need for alternatives to a territorial, facilities-oriented approach to campus planning was brought home to us in the late 1990s with the financial collapse of the American Center in Paris. Following the completion of a magnificent building designed by Frank Gehry, its director publicly reflected on how he had thought he was building a $40-million asset, when in fact he had built a $6-million-a-year liability.

Universities have learned from their own past to the extent that they are developing more flexible buildings today and often forming new partnerships to share the cost with others, including developers. Urban universities are also increasingly looking beyond their own campus boundaries to grow. Arizona State University, for example, is expanding across metropolitan Phoenix, while Harvard is shifting its science and technology faculties to a new campus across the Charles River. Bard College has established a study and research center in Manhattan, just as ASU, with its main campus in Tempe, is moving into downtown Phoenix. All of these developments point to a recognition that these institutions realize their futures lie at least partly in looking beyond traditional campus boundaries, integrating university programs with those of the city at large.

Such a rethinking of seemingly fundamental tenets of American campus design is particularly relevant today as “learning” becomes a lifelong, year-round pursuit. Postsecondary education is now a necessary accompaniment of adult life, enabling people to ramp up skills, get needed credentials, and finally move from work to the rest of life. Given this, the idea of building a traditional university or college campus may be more and more of a distraction from what real investment in higher education is coming to mean.

The Rise of Exurbia

A rethinking of what a campus is may prove especially beneficial in “exurbia.” This is the name recently given to sprawling new communities like Mesa, Arizona, which are frequently home to as many people as older cities like St. Louis. Such locales evince all the forms of the twentieth-century American suburb, but without any sense of being tied to an original center. They are a logical next step from what Joel Kotkin and others have noted about U.S. demography: that since 1960, more than 90 percent of all population growth in America’s metropolitan areas has taken place in suburbia.1

Another social critic, David Brooks, attributes the rightward shift in American politics to exurbia, which he contends is not simply an “opting out” of the city, but also a more utopian impulse to reinvent the city, in the tradition of new towns from Ebenezer Howard forward.2

Exurbia may only be passing through a suburban stage on the way to becoming a new metropolis. But universities and colleges may contribute to this transition by helping to give it much-needed cultural and civic life.

Missed Opportunity

Despite the potential benefits that a rethinking of the relation between campus and city might entail, most large university systems continue to build according to old models. A good example is the construction of a tenth campus of the University of California, now underway in Merced. Merced is one of a chain of towns and small cities extending south from Sacramento to Bakersfield in the state’s vast Central Valley. This formerly agricultural area is today developing according to the classic exurban scenario, and all indications are that it will become California’s third megalopolis by 2050. As a result of this growth, the population of formerly sleepy Merced is expected to rise to 200,000 in the next forty years.

As the setting for a new urban agglomeration, the Central Valley has several things going for it. Older patterns of infrastructure and commerce already link its towns with a major highway (California 99) and several north-south rail lines, one of which the state may rebuild to accommodate high-speed passenger service. Furthermore, its older town centers, largely developed in the early twentieth century, offer attractive grids of tree-lined residential streets and tidy, if underutilized, commercial cores. Yet, instead of seizing on the potential offered by this pattern of existing settlement, with its transportation and communications infrastructure already in place, UC chose to locate its new campus (for an eventual population of some 30,000 students) on open ranchland some six miles out of town.

The University of California has a history of locating its new campuses on open land. Its oldest campus, at Berkeley, was founded when the university moved out of its original headquarters in downtown Oakland. Built on grazing land in a town that was mostly a summer refuge for San Franciscans, UC Berkeley was eventually surrounded by a new city that grew up around it.

The real antecedents for UC Merced are, however, the UC campuses developed in the 1950s and 1960s, like Santa Cruz and San Diego. Both were organized around separate, inward-looking academic/residential colleges. Both were also deliberately held at a distance from surrounding cities, a strategy that has proved especially problematic at Santa Cruz, where it has largely eliminated any possibility to share facilities with the larger community.

The design of the Merced campus, following a skillful overall design by a team led by John Kriken of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, San Francisco, largely adheres to this traditional territorial model.3 It proposes a tree-lined street grid, recognizing this as a pattern of Central Valley towns, as well as an effective way to make a compact and urbane campus that can mitigate the area’s extremely hot summers and cold, windy winters. But at Merced the distance between the existing town and the new camp u s appears to impede initial opportunities for synergy between the campus and the Merced community. With its implications for extended infrastructure, travel time, energy use, and pollution, six miles is just too far.

If planners had looked further back, past UC’s suburban precedents of the 1950s and ‘60s, they might have discovered models that specifically anticipated ways that a campus and a community might better evolve together. But this would undoubtedly have involved building closer to town, or even in town, and the political leaders of the multi-campus UC system did not want to take on the problem of assembling land in an area where patterns of development had already been established. Instead, they opted to site the new campus on “empty,” supposedly trouble-free, land that they were able to obtain relatively easily. As it has turned out, however, environmental problems related to the presence of vernal pools and other environmental constraints have now contributed to a nearly decade-long delay in construction.

Today they have also led to the first phase of the campus being located on an adjoining former golf course, an area not included in its original 2001 master plan. One other obvious problem with the chosen site was the lack of any surrounding amenities. To make up for this, however, a new General Plan for the City of Merced, produced in parallel with that for the campus, calls for a series of planned residential developments between the existing town and the site of the campus, anchored by a “town center”—a private shopping area.

Meanwhile, although the opportunity was constantly pointed out during the planning process, the town and the university both failed to engage each other and find concrete ways they could benefit from the other’s presence. Libraries, museums, medical facilities, playfields, stadiums, and even things like utilities and police and fire services were all potential candidates for joint development. By banking land for future growth, they could both have gained from the rise in Merced land values.

From a regional standpoint, the decision was similarly flawed. If a site had been selected that was more closely related to Highway 99 and the north-south rail corridors that historically linked the Central Valley towns, it might have better fulfilled UC Merced’s potential to serve the whole region, not just one part of it. Indeed, in the run-up to the opening of the new campus, the university has opened academic sub-centers in other valley towns and cities, and it has become clear that many students will commute from their homes up and down the valley. Given such an existing pattern, it is ironic that the final decision focuses all the state’s resources in one out-of-the-way location.

An American “New Town”?

Ironically, UC Davis—the one campus that most obviously reflects the University of California’s land-grant heritage (for years, one of its great strengths was agriculture and natural resources-related research)—comes closest to being the model that might have provided the most sensible basis for a design that could have served both UC Merced and the larger Central Valley community.

Adjacent to a rail corridor that links the Bay Area to Sacramento, Davis also falls within a fast-developing “exurban” corridor—one that extends east along I-80 from Vallejo to Sacramento, and beyond to Roseville (along I-80) and Placerville (along US50). Like the Merced campus, the Davis campus was originally laid out on a grid pattern; unlike Merced, the Davis campus was conceived as a loose extension of the adjacent town. Even the creek that runs through it helps connect them.

The Davis example was not the only alternative that could have been seized upon as a precedent. Before the Merced site was chosen, the larger Central Valley city of Fresno had proposed that the core of the new campus occupy a section of its early-twentieth- century downtown, the Fourth Street Mall. This area had been a center of prosperity in the pre-freeway era, but for many years it had been bypassed, as suburban development spread to the northeast. In addition to many underutilized properties, it offered good proximity to an existing train station and good access from Highway 99.

Those with experience of European campuses might recognize the Bologna model in such a plan to re-inhabit an older urban area. In the US, the benefits of such a strategy have also been reaped in Manhattan, where NYU has for years renovated industrial lofts as classrooms and student residences, and in a broader sense has adapted itself to the urban fabric of that city. DePaul has also followed this strategy in Chicago’s Loop. In other historic European towns like Siena, a further benefit is that the university can play the role of custodian of important elements of its historic fabric, while locating other parts of its program, like laboratories and athletic facilities, outside the town’s historic zone.

Looking farther afield, it is possible to see an even more relevant example. In the 1960s, about the same time that UC Santa Cruz was being developed, the French new town of Cergy-Pontoise was being created outside of Paris. The town was to incorporate several existing villages, but universities were planned to be among its earliest new elements. Today these institutions include ESSEC, one of the leading business and management schools in Europe. A technical university was also created, and it now supports many of the high-tech companies that have relocated to the region. They were initially brought in as a way to provide jobs that would induce people to move there or “reverse commute” from central Paris—part of a regional strategy that also saw the development of the RER line passing through Paris to connect new towns to Central Paris, Orly, and Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

Like Merced, Cergy-Pontoise is located on the fringe of a major urban center. The great amount of farmland that surrounds it and its proximity to the large Vexin regional park are also similar to the position of Merced—also surrounded by farmland, and which often refers to itself as a gateway to nearby recreation areas in the Sierra foothills and Yosemite National Park.

The success of these planning initiatives forty years ago has now become fully evident.4 Cergy-Pontoise today has a population of close to 200,000 people, along with 25,000 university students. Moreover, the recent development of high-speed rail service to the UK has situated Cergy-Pontoise along a linear network of towns that are becoming proximate to London as well as Paris, underscoring its role in an expanded regional economy. Businesses in the town are already connected to this corridor’s fiber-optic line, which runs along the National Highway right-of-way next to the technical university at Cergy-Pontoise.

Evolving Exurbia

Unlike the development of most new US communities, of course, the building of Cergy-Pontoise involved a major initial public investment in physical and social infrastructure. Indeed, part of the goal of the new-town effort around Paris was to shift the center of development pressure away from its historic center.

In comparison to the French model, such peripheral development in the U.S. usually emerges “in reverse.” The private sector usually leads the way—with low-density projects coming first, followed typically by privately developed shopping malls. If there is an existing town, as there is in Merced, it often must compete with—and may ultimately be undermined by—this piecemeal development. The choice of where to locate a major public university could, however, have been regarded as a strategic intervention to encourage a more sensible and coherent (and less costly and destructive) pattern of development. While the planning of the UC Merced campus aimed within its own boundaries for this kind of coherence, it missed it entirely in terms of what the campus could do for Merced, and vice versa. This was equally true for the Merced General Plan—which suggests that both entities failed to understand the exurban phenomenon.

Exurbia has tended to grow on an ad-hoc basis as an agglomeration of “planned communities” that are relatively low density and car dependent, with few public or community spaces. Schools and churches are often the first civic buildings, and cultural life often begins with them, along with shopping and movies. In this context, a university or college campus could help provide the missing elements—the “collegial” and cultural settings that support the civic and cultural life of the community—along with opportunities for education and training. One example of such a relationship can be found in the community of Cypress-Fairchild (actually a school district) outside Houston, where the local government partnered with a community-college district to develop a campus whose civic, cultural, learning, and recreational facilities serve a population that runs the gamut from toddlers (and their moms) to younger postsecondary students, adult workers, and the retirees who enroll in its Senior Academy—one of its fastest growing programs.

One characteristic of these exurban campuses is the way they seek to capitalize on the interplay between learning and a broader community of learners—and vice versa. Another is how their physical form evolves in relation to their communities. In this sense, Cy-Fair College is both a college, albeit with a broader constituency than most universities, and a town center.

Need for Stewardship

The last point reflects on what should be an important concern for campus planners generally: that, in developing a university or college in an exurban context, it may be particularly important to tailor development to where a community is in its lifecycle. Following such a tenet, what would have made more sense in a place like Merced than to utilize already existing, undervalued resources as a way to build together toward a common future?

In fifty years, UC Merced may come to seem a part of its community. By then, the population of the town may, in classic exurban style, “fill in” the agricultural land between the new campus and the existing town. It may even grow right up to its gates, so to speak, and create the same problems of boundaries and edges that cause such difficulties between other UC campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods. But until then the town will not gain much from the presence of the campus, and the campus will not gain much from the town. The region, similarly, will be only poorly served.

This may be the most salient point today—that towns or cities and their colleges or universities need to see each other as partners. Both need to share a sense of stewardship. As Frederic Law Olmsted put it, a campus needs to provide settings for learning for its students that reflect “the work of disciplined mind.” In exurbia, especially early on in its development, doing so may be particularly valuable. Ebenezer Howard, who we might think of as one of the fathers of exurbia, saw new towns as an opportunity to build a new civilization. In a real sense, the campuses of the new exurban universities and colleges, UC Merced among them, are opportunities to bring the benefits of the city to areas that are ready to embrace them, but in a new form.


  1. Joel Kotkin’s books include The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape (New York; Random House, 2000). His The City: A Global History will be published in April by Modern Library Chronicles.
  2. David Brooks, “Take a Ride to Exurbia,” The New York Times, November 9, 2004.
  3. John Lund Kriken, “Principles of Campus Master Planning,” Planning for Higher Education, July-August 2004; and University of California Office of the President, Long Range Development Plan: The University of California, Merced, Public Draft, August 2001.
  4. Bertrand Warnier, “Cergy-Pontoise: Du Projet à la Realité,” Atlas Commente (Heyden, Belgium: Pierre Mardaga Editions, 2004).



Main Street brings town uses into the campus. Drawing by Christopher Grubbs.

Christopher Adams and John L. Kriken

Christopher Adams was Campus Planner for UC Merced from 1998-2003 and served on the staff that advised the UC Regents on selection of the site. Prior to that time, he was Director of Long-Range Planning for the entire UC system. John L. Kriken, FAIA, AICP, is a Consulting Partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, San Francisco. His work, during many years of distinguished practice, has ranged from regional policy and the structure of cities to the detailed design of neighborhoods, streets, and public spaces.


As the campus planner and lead campus design consultant for the new University of California, Merced, we wish to comment on the Spring 2005 article “New Campuses for New Communities: The University and Exurbia,” by Richard Bender and John Parman (Places, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 54-59). Among other things, this article dismisses the idea of a campus as “more and more of a distraction to what real investment in higher education is coming to mean.” Such provocative questioning is an important aspect of our profession, and, contrary to some of their assertions, the new UC Merced campus reflects this kind of investigation.

Contrary to Bender and Parman’s argument about the changing needs of university campus design, we believe that a UC campus remains a distinct and single place, in the sense described by Frances Halsband in the same issue. The University of California has a basic mission in the state for research and historically has served as the primary public institution for residentially focused undergraduate education. A UC campus is more than individual buildings to be inserted into the fabric of a town; it requires quasi-industrial districts for research, large playing fields, and significant land reserves for the housing of students and faculty.

The program for UC Merced was based on a study of the space requirements of public and private research universities throughout the United States. At such institutions, academic space needs are a function of number of faculty, not students. In converting space needs into land coverage, we considered elevator demand at class changes; building and safety codes, particularly for laboratories; and the surcharge for remodeling high-rise spaces, all of which led us to mid-rise coverage. Because a university is always changing, we provided land for construction staging at all levels of growth. Our observation of UC campuses over the last half century led us to provide generous reserves for faculty housing to allow Merced to remain competitive in recruiting faculty, regardless of the cost of housing in the adjacent community. Finally, parking demand, even at campuses with good public transportation, led us to provide realistic amounts of space for surface parking and eventually for parking structures. (For example, UC Berkeley is considering increasing its parking from approximately 7,700 spaces to 9,000, despite its location on a BART line and at the confluence of a number of bus lines.) The resulting total land area requirements were beyond what any city in California’s San Joaquin Valley could accommodate.

In proposing the integration of the new campus into the core of Merced, Bender and Parman make significant assumptions about the city’s eagerness to welcome the University with its power to reshape the community in pursuit of its academic mission. This proposal also assumes that the University has the administrative and financial resources to acquire the hundreds of separately owned parcels that the new campus would ultimately require. As Halsband noted, when faced with a campus pushing outward, “neighborhoods are likely to push back— and often with good reason, since these neighborhoods themselves have evolved into historic districts, with their own memorable and distinctive qualities of space and architecture.” Merced’s older neighborhood, with their tree-shaded street grid, provided us with a model to emulate, not to destroy.

Bender and Parman cite the examples of UC campuses built in the 1960s at Santa Cruz and San Diego, which, we agree, suffer from their degree of separation from their host communities. Instead, we studied UC Davis, Chico State University, and the Claremont Colleges, as well as older East Coast institutions in small cities, to see what worked and what didn’t. From these examples, we learned that a successful town/gown interface requires close and continuous proximity on at least one edge of both the campus and the town and that car and truck traffic should go around, not through, this interface.

Our solution, which was developed in concert with Merced County planners, places the campus at the border of a new community at the edge of the existing city, within a grid of streets—which would organize development of both. A town center, within the county’s plan and also shown in the campus master plan, forms the heart of the interface. Museums, performing arts facilities, and sports venues will be built at this interface, while other university operations, such as the storage of hazardous materials and certain kinds of research, will be located away from the town. Even further away, a reserve for future research facilities—perhaps for something that cannot even be imagined now—is provided. (Who would have imagined a cyclotron when Berkeley was established in 1878?) We planned that traffic would not separate the campus from the adjacent community, but instead would connect to a new loop road around Merced, which had been initiated prior to the decision on campus location.

In the long run (which is the only way to consider a university master plan), we believe that Merced, the campus, and Merced, the town, will develop jointly as a thriving and exciting community. It will take a while (see photo of UCLA in 1930), but we urge Bender and Parman to come back and take a look.


UCLA, 1930.


Donlyn Lyndon, FAIA, editor, Places

Donlyn Lyndon, FAIA, is editor of Places and an Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.


Opening questions and turning attention are central purposes of our journal. We are concerned with the design of places—with examining decisions that affect the quality of our lives because they change the things that stand around us. The circumstances of daily life, one might say, are always being altered—it’s a fact of life. The days change, the seasons change, the landscape changes, we change; why shouldn’t places change? They should. They will.

How is change directed and by whom? Whom does it affect, and by what values is it measured? There are also questions of what can be done at any given time, and how we can turn attention to strategies for change that bring benefits to many—to the “have nots” as well as the “haves”; to subsequent generations, not only to “nows.” Change may be inexorable, but its nature seldom is.

Places has also sought to be a source of dialogue, and for this reason we initiated our “To Rally Discussion” section. Christopher Adams and John Kriken make good use of this section to question assertions made in our previous issue on “Considering the Place of Campus.” They argue, with care, in favor of decisions made as chief planner and lead design consultant for the new University of California campus at Merced. Many of these are wise decisions, but they are set within a framework that is questionable. Among the premises that can be questioned are the supposition that UC’s presence in the Central Valley needed to take the form of a single, integrated campus, and that its design and construction should follow the dictates of more commercial kinds of development: lowest available land cost, least complicated process, and most predictable result within the boundaries of the contract. More particularly, they argue persuasively for a vision of “town” facing “gown” across a traffic-less boundary. But that town will be of their own making, beyond the reach of the city that currently exists.

Merced, meanwhile, is left to its own inadequate devices as it copes with the influx of traffic, new populations, and its already heavy load of the underemployed and ill-housed. Like the profiteering developers before them, the university has chosen to move out into the farmlands, consume their apparent emptiness, and leave the troublesome city behind. By contrast, Frances Halsband, guest editor of the campus issue, argues that universities could well become the most enlightened developers/redevelopers of our cities. “Their mission statements suggest interest in educating the public (especially state universities!), in advancing knowledge, building on history and culture, and providing a forum for discussion—all good ideas for cities.”

This issue, “Retrofitting Suburbia,” reports on the many ways low-density, existing places are being reconceived to accommodate higher levels of civic amenity, meet the needs of differing populations and interests, and provide more engaging and effective systems of access (like walking). These are projects that seek an appropriate complexity and that chart new territories in areas previously abandoned by the market. They are a small sampling, but a welcome sign of growing interest in working with (rather than stepping away from) the complexities of the existing.

The projects and articles presented here argue vigorously that thoughtful adjustment should be at the center, not the periphery, of our concerns. They also remind us that to retrofit is not only to reinvest, but also to relive the places that we have. They argue implicitly against the incredible misuse of resources that comes from constantly moving into new areas beyond our previous investments, consuming more “empty” land and neglecting what’s left behind. Wasting places is a habit we can no longer afford. Finding opportunity is a skill we must nourish.


Pedestrian oriented retail weaves the campus and town center together. Drawing by Christopher Grubbs.



Substance Over Superfice: EHDD’s F10 House

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]


F10 House, EHDD, photography by Doug Snower.

Author Zachary R. Heineman is a research consultant with Public Architecture, a San Francisco non-profit firm focused on improving the built environment.


Marc L’Italien is tired of hearing about “green” architecture as if it should be in its own category (which it often is). He generally stays away from the term, leaning instead toward “high-performance design,” which he and his team at EHDD Architecture employed in creating the F10 house. “It’s all about efficiency,” he says.

Designed for a competition sponsored by the City of Chicago, and built as one of the winners, the F10 house is named for its intention of reducing the typical environmental life-cycle impact of an American house by a factor of ten. In addition to efficiency, the house exudes an elegant simplicity that plays out in numerous ways. The house manages to distinguish itself from the neighbors not by dramatic design moves, but instead through subtle gestures that refer to, as well as redefine, the locale’s urban form.

Many of the house’s features read like a laundry list of typical green tactics: fly-ash foundation, sod roof, cork floor, cellulose insulation, recycled carpet, low-VOC finishes, and dual-flush toilets, to name a few. In addition to the expected, however, there is ample innovation.

In plan, the two-story, 1,234-square-foot structure could be mistaken for a typical rowhouse; in section, the logic of its two intersecting rectangular solids becomes clear. By locating the stair in its own shaft, the architects created an unimpeded vertical space that functions as a “solar chimney,” facilitating the flow of air through the structure: up and out in the summer, down in the winter. South-facing clerestory windows at the top of the chimney allow natural light to cascade down through the white painted stairway core.

L’Italien believes green design at its core is “about using common sense, not about all the bells and whistles.” The philosophy that EHDD built into F10 is about substance over superfice, about comprehensive solutions rather than ones that simply pay lip service to the concept. And L’Italien is quick to point out that the challenge with F10 was to create a house that was both green and affordable, two goals that are not inherently contradictory, but are rarely found in tandem. Staying within the budget meant eschewing expensive recycled materials and leaning more toward typical materials used in an intelligent manner. For example, 2′-x-6′ certified timber is set two feet on center to minimize construction waste.

Inherent to the house is the idea that truly productive environmental architecture may demand convincing clients not only to build green, but to live green as well. “It’s not just about spec-ing recycled carpet in a 10,000-square-foot house,” L’Italien says. “It’s about helping the client make the right decisions.” The right decisions, he believes, are easier to make if the benefits are clear and the changes are well designed and convenient. Still, it is reasonable to expect that some behavior shift may be necessary. L’Italien points to the recycling movement: At one point the idea of using different waste bins was considered “crazy”; now it is commonplace. “The end result may be changing the way you do things, changing the way you live a little bit.”

The design of the house emerged from an analysis not only of green building techniques, but also of human behavior. For example, in American culture, air conditioning is typically left on when residents leave the house, so they can return to a cool interior. In order to remain comfortable during the summer months, F10 places some demands on its owner. Upon returning home on a hot August day, the clerestory windows must be opened and a whole-house fan turned on. The large fan is not meant to run constantly; instead it facilitates the process of rapidly excising warm air from the interior (the owner runs it for about five minutes). According to L’Italien, during the summer months when the temperature was ninety-three degrees outside, the house still measured seventy-two degrees inside.

The process works in reverse during the winter, with the clerestory windows allowing light energy—allowed in by the lower sun angle—to enter the house. The goal of harnessing this energy led to the development of one of the most iconic elements of the house: a wall of water bottles that create a thermal mass, storing the sun’s energy during the day and releasing it during the night. The large bottles (SmartWater with the labels steamed off) are held to the wall using wire brackets that would typically be seen attached to a bike frame. In this case, they are screwed directly into the wall. The point of the wall was to create a visual statement that would illustrate the concept of thermal mass in a display house that was equal parts education tool and habitation structure. “It is more aesthetic than functional,” he admits, given that the clear bottles are not ideal for absorbing heat and are supplemented by a basement boiler that feeds baseboard heaters throughout the house.

Once selected to be built, F10 was subject to many real world considerations, and the design team was forced to “value-engineer” extensively. The clerestory windows at the top of the shaft, for instance, were initially intended to be operated with electric switches, minimizing the effort the owner would need to expend. Now, opening the windows requires cranking with an extension pole. “Cost is an issue,” L’Italien says. “Right now, there is a premium to be paid for green design.” The construction cost of F10 was around $200,000, although under Chicago’s affordable housing program, the F10 sold for $145,000 (with the difference made up through subsidies). L’Italien points out that many of the costs could be reduced through repetitive production, eliminating, for example, the need to cut large amounts of siding on site.

As a response to the repetitive developer housing that constitutes thousands of units built each year in Chicago, the design considers social factors as well as sustainable ones; the construction of the front porch was a reaction to slab-on-grade construction typically used for infill housing, as well as “dark interiors,” the excess of “beige” exteriors, “paper-thin historicism” without precedent, and “residential behemoths” that are the norm more than they are the exception. A 600-square-foot basement, built to contain the boiler and a washer and dryer, brought the first floor off the ground, making a front porch logical. The porch, built from sustainable Ipe wood with a long life expectancy, was one element that the architects were able to shepherd through the value-engineering process.

Although the house has what some might consider a European look, particularly in its use of color, L’Italien says that his influences were purely American: Joseph Esherick (one of the firm’s founders) and William Wurster, to name two. Their influence is apparent in some of the detailing, such as a window positioned tightly against an interior wall and ceiling. “Often, a window that lets in a lot of light puts the wall in silhouette,” he says. “But using these auxiliary surfaces allows for a great deal of reflected light.”

The architects considered four primary categories when conceiving the F10 house: size reduction, impact reduction, improved efficiency, and potential reuse. L’Italien feels that their greatest failure was in the last category, primarily as a result of the short timeframe, as well as value engineering that inevitably occurred. They had originally worked with the idea of demountable parts, which would have meant, for example, attaching the siding with a metal clip system, rather than traditional fasteners.

The siding of the house is fiber cement board (Hardie board), cut into wide strips that were tightly butted. From a 4′-x-8′ sheet, they could get several wide strips; the remainder was cut thin and used on the exterior of the solar chimney, giving it a subtle differentiation. Left uncapped, the siding would begin to fray, so the architects developed a metal corner flashing, painted to match the red stain that gives F10 its distinctive color. The lack of a corner blocking piece differentiates the house from its neighbors.

To reinforce the point that green design is simply good design, L’Italien submitted the F10 house for two different AIA awards: one specifically for green architecture, the other for overall design excellence. In the project statement submitted for the Distinguished Building Award, EHDD writes, “We believe that, eventually, all buildings designed by mindful designers will be green.”

Although the house was intended to be prototypical, L’Italien is the first to emphasize that much of what they did was not particularly innovative, but simply common-sense thinking. “What we did was, in some sense, not radical at all,” he says. “We went back to methods that were commonplace before the turn of the century, employing, for example, tall spaces and building fans.” But despite the extensive design effort put toward maximizing natural ventilation, the building department made them put outlets under the windows (for air conditioners), as required by code. This does not bother L’Italien at all. “If someone wants to put in air conditioners, that’s up to them,” he says. “But we are confident that our solutions make it unnecessary.”


F10 House, EHDD photography by Doug Snower.