Tag: Architecture

The UCs: Editor’s Comment

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 06.4, “The UCs.”]

__________

A colleague of mine from my days on the East Coast once observed that a messy desk has its own order, if not a visibly obvious one. Certainly, I know people whose desks are, to my eye, impenetrably cluttered, but who can nevertheless lay their hands on a particular item with no problem at all. The amazing thing to me about some of these desks is that they seem to remain at the same steady level of clutter, unchanging, month in and month out, while projects smoothly proceed.

My mode is different. My desk piles up to a certain point and I have to stop what I’m doing and clean it up, or I simply can’t go on. I suppose it’s a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I find it useful. Whatever time I lose tidying is quickly made up in the more productive pace of work that follows. And getting the small, lingering tasks out of the way makes room for more important ones.

Here at the end of 2006, I’ll pause to take care of two things that I should have been doing all along, but haven’t. Fellow Bay Area architect Bob Hermann, FAIA, has pointed out to me that, while we list our authors’ email addresses, my own has been difficult to find. (It’s been buried in the masthead.) So, here it is, below; I invite you to use it. (Remember: the editor’s garret is a lonely place.)

I can also share our editorial calendar for the coming year. Our first quarter (professional practice) issue will be on patronage—from the classic, individual patron/architect relationship, like that between Phoebe Hearst and Julia Morgan, to institutional structures like the GSA’s Design Excellence program. The second quarter (architect in the community) issue will look at the many forms, motivations, and consequences of design review. In the third quarter (AIACC Design Awards) issue, we’ll compare a range of awards programs, teasing out the divergent values represented in them. And our fourth quarter (works/sectors) issue will be on prefabrication. The first quarter issue is pretty well assigned at this point, but if you have suggestions for the others, please let me know.

__________

 

Coda: Peter Dodge’s Bacci House

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

Bacci House, Peter Dodge, photography by Peter Dodge (left) and Cesar Rubio (right).

__________

Peter H. Dodge, FAIA, recently celebrated his fiftieth year with the firm he helped found, Esherick, Homsey, Dodge & Davis, now EHDD. Peter currently serves on the arcCA editorial board (his second such stint), and his fellow board members have taken this modest opportunity to honor his contributions to the profession and to the built environment.

We asked Peter to choose his favorite from among the many wonderful buildings designed over the course of a distinguished career. True to his principles, he chose this house not because it’s particularly photogenic, but because it is, as he puts it, “an extraordinarily pleasant environment. You like to go there.” He adds, “That would be my goal: to help someone to live a pleasant, elegant, satisfying life.”

The house was the second that Peter has designed for the owners of RAB Motors in San Rafael, whose Mercedes-Benz dealership he also designed (below)—striking evidence of his breadth of talent and his ability to match expression to purpose.

Because the Bacci House is so carefully tuned to its setting, it is perhaps not surprising that Peter’s favorite photograph is not of the house at all, but of its pool and patio tucked into the hillside (above, right), characteristically recognizing the contribution of a collaborator, landscape architect Mai Arbegast.

But it’s finally not about the pictures, which is a good thing for magazine editors and readers to recall from time to time. Thank you, Peter, for that reminder, and for everything.

__________

 

. . . and Counting

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

__________

Synonyms for ‘Patron’
angel, backer, benefactor, benefactress, booster, champion, defender, encourager, fairy godmother, fan, financer, friend, front, grubstaker, guarantor, guardian, guide, head, helper, lady bountiful, leader, live one, mark, money, partisan, patron saint, philanthropist, pigeon, protector, sponsor, sugar daddy, supporter, surety, sympathizer, well-wisher. (Note: ‘client’ is not listed.)
http://thesaurus.reference.com/

Number of AIA Members in California Whose Name is One of These Synonyms
(1) Herbert W. Angel AIA, Desert Hot Springs
www.aiacc.org

Rank of California Foundations in the Nation’s Top 15 (by Asset Size)
J. Paul Getty Trust
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
The California Endowment
www.foundationcenter.org

Top States in Terms of Annual Charitable Giving by Individuals
California: 16.5 billion
New York: 11.5 billion
Florida: 6.5 billion
www.philanthropy.com

Most Generous California Cities (as a % of discretionary income)
San Francisco: 9.3%
Long Beach: 8.4%
Oakland: 8.1%
San Jose: 7.8%
Sacramento: 7.6%
Fresno: 6.9%
Los Angeles: 6.9%
San Diego: 6.9%
www.philanthropy.com

Causes and the Private Support they Garnered (2005)
Education: 15.6 billion
Social Services: 15.5 billion
International: 9.8 billion
Health: 6.8 billion
Religious: 2.5 billion
Community: 2.1 billion
Arts & Culture: 1.4 billion
Environment: 1.4 billion
www.chronicleofphilanthropy.com

Online Patronage
The Red Cross says that in the 2006 fiscal year it raised $496 million in disaster relief gifts online. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it clocked 1,000 gifts per minute.
www.wsj.com

Patron with most named Campus Buildings in California: S. H. Cowell
Mills
Pacific
Santa Clara
Stanford
UC Berkeley
UC Davis
UC Santa Cruz
USF
www.google.com

Number of new structures commissioned through the GSA’s Design Excellence initiative since 1994
Over 400. There are currently 164 additional projects underway equal to 50 million square feet at a cost of $11 billion.
www.gsa.gov

Number of Architects Elevated to Fellowship in Object 4 (corporate architects, campus architects, architects in public service or industry) in 2006
9 out of 82 new Fellows.
www.aia.org

__________

 

The AIA Celebrates a Century and a Half

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

Merrill Hall, Asilomar, Julia Morgan, photography by Ken Roberts.

__________

In 2007, the members of the American Institute of Architects will mark the AIA’s 150 years of service to the profession and the nation by working with their communities to create a better future by design.

The AIA California Council 150 celebration is a statewide effort, focusing on providing local chapters with support in garnering media attention for their specific projects and events. With 21 California chapters, this is an opportunity to increase public awareness outreach activities. With the assistance of the AIACC developing communications plans and materials for each chapter project, the goal is to increase exposure of the value of architects and architecture in each respective community.

AIA California Council has expanded its website, which includes an AIA 150 site identifying and updating chapter activities and providing links to chapter websites for ease of access. The Council is providing regional media training for chapter leaders. Throughout the year, AIACC will conduct a public relations campaign, including articles advocating the value of design, and will write and distribute press releases, Op-Ed pieces, and related news articles. An AIACC 150 Media Kit is available from the AIACC. The California component chapters and their projects are listed below.

AIA East Bay, the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, and the City of Pittsburg are jointly hosting a charrette on the Railroad Avenue Corridor.*

Working with Kern County Community College District (KCCD), AIA Golden Empire is developing a 188-acre site in Bakersfield. The KCCD serves communities across an area of 24,800 square miles, geographically one of the largest community college districts in the United States. AIA Inland California will be joining the City of Riverside for the AIAIC Green Partnership for a Sustainable Riverside. There will be a State of the City/Sustainable Symposium, which will include programs, workshops, and social events.

There will also be a partnership with the City of Redlands for an initiative to establish a Community Collaborative on Design Guidelines. This collaboration will include publicizing the initiative, continuous solicitation of donations, and coordination of four charrettes. The first visioning charrette will introduce the issues, establish core concerns, and establish subcommittees; the second and third charrettes will review and discuss strategies and guidelines; and the fourth charrette will ratify the guidelines and discuss ways to continue the effort. After this process, a graphic development of the guidelines will be presented to the City. AIA Los Angeles is working with the Waste Management Department to implement a massive recycling program. The chapter is developing an administrative mechanism to make it happen. The primary focus is the City of Los Angeles, focusing first on paper businesses and eventually branching out to residences and other areas within the Los Angeles region. The goal is to start implementing the program in the first three months of 2007.

AIA Monterey Bay is promoting awareness and appreciation for architecture from the last 50 years. It is creating a guide to buildings of architectural significance and noteworthy structures built in the area since 1950, increasing public consciousness about the preservation of historic structures, regardless of their age.

AIA Orange County will create a publication commemorating the Most Significant Buildings in Orange County, to be released in the spring. The AIAOC 150 Committee has composed a draft ballot of the most significant spaces and places in the county, and the draft has been vetted by the Fellows and Past Presidents of AIAOC. In February, AIAOC 150 will distribute an e-ballot to all professional members of AIAOC. The membership will vote for the top 15 entries. These 15 projects will be featured in the publication, along with a map of their locations. The publication will also include all projects considered, with credits and photograph. The goal will be to distribute the publication, free of advertising, to schools, newspapers, firms, cities, hotels, etc. by June, 2007.

AIA Redwood Empire is developing a Virtual Architectural Center.

AIA San Diego is planning two projects: a Downtown San Diego/C Street Corridor Enhancement & Revitalization Project and the design and construction of a trolley transit shelter.

AIA San Fernando Valley will focus on the Pacoima Commercial Street Re-Development Project.

AIA San Francisco is developing a series of podcasts.

Since the chapter’s founding in 1983, AIA San Mateo County members have participated in an average of one community design charrette per year. These events generate great public excitement and serve as a catalyst for further community action. Issues addressed have included: revitalizing older downtowns; visions for improving a downtown park; housing; density; local and regional transportation; and public libraries. Several local communities have benefited from these charrettes. For the 150 celebration, AIASMC will systematize the outreach and selection process for the charrettes. This initiative, which will create an open, transparent, and sustainable pipeline for the annual community service events, will comprise three elements: outreach to community organizations, establishment of an advisory group, and formalization of the proposal and review process.

AIA Santa Barbara will focus on various areas of architecture in Santa Barbara.

AIA Santa Clara Valley is planning a series of events and projects, including:

AIASCV/AIASM Hard Hat Café, a series of meetings to follow specific projects through the construction phase from awarding of a contract to granting a certificate of occupancy;

Door Open AIA150 Architects, a monthly lunchtime visit to various Santa Clara Valley architectural firms, who will provide presentations of their work;

A Virtual Podcast: 150 Years of Architecture Foot Tours of Santa Clara Valley, self-guided tour of great architecture in Santa Clara Valley, through to modern-day award-winning designs, providing information from the designers, builders, and users;

AIA 150 Week, for which AIASCV will solicit mayors to dedicate a week to the AIA 150 Year Celebration, to coincide with National Architecture Week; and

Architecture 101: Offered to every city in the chapter area as an educational training program for planning and review boards as well as professional planning departments to train non-architects to:

  • Better understand architectural vocabulary
  • Read drawings
  • Gain an understanding of basic design principals
  • Expect more from design professionals

AIA Sierra Valley is still in the selection process of a project.

__________

*Editor’s Note: The original publication of this article in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage,” erroneously reports that AIA San Mateo County is hosting a Regional Urban Design Charrette.

__________

 

Kaiser Permanente

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

East LA Telford Medical Office Building, Taylor and Associates, photography by Doug Peck.

_________

Author Clark Kellogg helps organizations create better futures using design, clarity, strategy, and communication. He also teaches, facilitates, lectures, writes, and designs. Clark is often accused of deploying stealth levels of advanced common sense.

__________

Kaiser Permanente is one of California’s largest architecture clients. The health care provider has over $24 billion of construction in the works. The surge in facilities construction is fueled by both membership growth and California’s seismic safety legislation. Enacted in 1994, Senate Bill 1953 requires California hospitals to be earthquake resistant so they remain operable after a major quake. But Kaiser Permanente is also building to accommodate membership growth and to reshape its facilities in alignment with its vision of promoting health, safety, and environmental sustainability.

The concept of patronage has two dimensions at Kaiser Permanente. One of them is recognizable as a twenty-first-century extension of the classical model. The other is not. And it is here that the concept of patronage presents its most challenging and provocative twist. But the future patronage is rooted in the present model, and that’s where our story begins.

 

Ontario Medical Office Building, WWCOT, photography by David Peck.

Kaiser Permanente has organized all its facility functions in one group called National Facilities Services (NFS). Under the leadership of Christine Malcolm, Kaiser Permanente’s Senior Vice President of Hospital Strategy and National Facilities, the group includes strategy, planning, design, real estate, facilities operations, project operations, program management, and finance. This integrated view of facilities is designed to align these functions with Kaiser Permanente’s brand promise to its members, employees, and society.

To accomplish this broad and aggressive agenda, Kaiser Permanente maintains a network of pre-qualified architecture firms to streamline the architect selection decisions as well as the design and construction processes. Called the Alliance Program, it consists of architecture, engineering, and general contracting firms. This model is similar to the classical models of patronage, yet there are notable differences in both purpose and function. The goal of the Alliance is not to aggrandize power or wealth. It is to achieve better architecture and to create operational and cost efficiencies.

Firms are selected for partnership based on their expertise in healthcare, their size and location, and the degree to which a firm is a cultural fit with the Kaiser Permanente model and people. Malcolm says, “We value an architect’s ability to stimulate new ideas about our buildings. The best work we do is with firms that completely understand our vision. They know what we’re trying to deliver to our members and integrate it beautifully into our facilities.” That can be a tall order for a traditional, object-oriented architecture firm, so Kaiser Permanente selects its Alliance Partners with a mix of pragmatism and promise. As John Kouletsis, Director of Strategy, Planning and Design puts it, “It’s like higher education. We’ve done the undergraduate course work for the Alliance Partner. We look for firms that can take that knowledge and build on it. We want these firms to grapple with higher-level issues and then make the case for change based on solid evidence-based research and breakthrough thinking.”

Unlike patronage relationships of the past, Kaiser Permanente doesn’t want to be a firm’s only client. In fact, they don’t even want to be their primary client. “We’re most comfortable when Kaiser Permanente represents no more than 30% of a firm’s work,” says Kouletsis. “Being top-heavy with Kaiser Permanente work is a risk to both of us.”

There is a certain level of mutual frustration in the Alliance Program. Architects complain that Kaiser Permanente restricts their creativity with too many predefined elements and components. Kaiser Permanente complains that some architects fiddle with the small stuff at the expense of bigger, more important issues. “It’s not about being published in Architectural Record,” said Kouletsis, “It’s about creating better health outcomes.” Yet, the patronage concept has created a working partnership that tilts the creative abrasion toward good results. As Malcolm said, “Sometimes we’ll walk through a new facility and it’s like magic. The architects embraced the constraints and created a building in which the sum is so much greater than the parts. It works, it’s beautiful, and it makes people happy. That’s what the Alliance Program is supposed to do, and that’s what we are supposed to do.”

Recently, Kaiser Permanente created a new position, Vice President, Delivery System Strategy, and recruited Michele Flanagin, from Rush University Medical Center, for the role. Just a few weeks into it, Flanagin claims to be “just getting my toe in the water,” but clearly she has been thinking of some bigger ideas. “When people here talk about the Kaiser Permanente credo—‘Our cause is health. Our passion is service. We’re here to make lives better’— they mean it. The implications of that for our facilities, our members and employees is profound,” she said. “I’m here to help create a direct link between our strategy and our buildings.” The leaders of NFS think that direct link will be found in the sweet spot where Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance Partners overlap. “Perhaps it’s an idealized view,” says Malcolm, “but we believe if we are accountable for the standardized component of a facility, it frees up the architects to grapple with bigger, more important issues. The location of bathrooms in a patient room is a problem we’ve solved. It’s not a higher-order issue for us. Digital work flows, patient safety, and the implications of new clinical technologies are.” If the Alliance Program is an extension of an old patronage model, then Kaiser Permanente is on the verge of a new one. On a recent day in January, Malcolm, Kouletsis, and Flanagin had just finished a two-hour conference call with three other Kaiser Permanente executives. It was about being patrons. “It’s patronage with a different kind of twist,” said Kouletsis. Their conversation had been about being the patrons of an idea. “We want to change the face of healthcare in this country,” said Malcolm. How that might happen is a different kind of patronage altogether.

 

West LA Tower Replacement Project, HMC Architects.

Kaiser Permanente is big. Their size can be both an advantage and a hindrance. When Malcolm arrived two years ago, approval for a facilities project required 173 internal signoffs before it could begin construction. On the other hand, when Kaiser Permanente does make a move, it has an impact on the whole industry. Not long ago, Kaiser Permanente asked latex exam glove suppliers to reformulate them to be latex free (12% of the population is allergic to latex). Today, latex-free exam gloves are used throughout the healthcare industry. More recently, Kaiser Permanente decided to end its use of PVC in flooring materials because of the environmental and human health concerns related to the production and disposal of PVC. Instead, Kaiser Permanente facilities now use rubber or other non-PVC flooring materials. Other healthcare providers are following suit. (An unanticipated outcome of switching floor materials is a reduction of leg and back pain among employees who stand and walk for a large part of their day). Because of the sheer size of Kaiser Permanente, its moves often change the industry. But what will happen when Kaiser Permanente changes the focus of its patronage from bricks and mortar to patronage of an idea designed to change how an industry thinks?

“We are becoming patrons of an idea,” Malcolm said, “Healthcare needs to be about keeping people healthy and safe, treating and healing them when they’re not, and doing the same thing for the planet.” This is a big idea, but Kaiser Permanente is a big player, and the idea isn’t completely new. The well-known “Thrive” advertising platform is an expression of the same thinking. It is the Kaiser Permanente brand, and it drives decision making throughout the organization. The connection between brand and architecture is not hard to make. But it’s a lot harder to change the healthcare industry.

The two dimensions of patronage that Kaiser Permanente is employing create a significant opportunity for architects. If Kaiser Permanente is going to change the face of healthcare, then it needs to design and build facilities that embody their thinking. To be patrons of an idea requires that they also be patrons of, among other things, architecture that makes those ideas come true. To be an architect in Kaiser Permanente’s Alliance Program will be challenging, because they are being asked to innovate at warp speed within the significant constraints of time, budgets, and a highly regulated building type while still operating in the profession’s outmoded 200- year old business model. This, surely, will test the power of patronage–old and new. Will it work? We won’t know for years, but Kaiser Permanente is one of the few organizations in the healthcare industry that just might pull it off.

__________

 

Book Review: Reach Higher: Long-Cycle Strategies for a Short-Cycle World

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

Reach Higher: Long-Cycle Strategies for a Short-Cycle World

Ed Friedrichs

Atlanta: Ostberg, 2006

__________

Reviewer John Parman edits Gensler’s client magazine, Dialogue, and contributes to design publications including LINE and Places.

While he was Gensler’s CEO, Ed Friedrichs wrote a monthly column in the firm’s employee newsletter that set out what he considered to be the fundamentals of a successful design practice. The general nature of this ambition paved the way for Reach Higher, which is based on that running tutorial, although with a lot of an added material. Reviewing it as an insider (I work for Gensler, but the opinions here are my own), I was curious if he really captured Gensler’s essence. I also wondered if this elixir—at $39 a pop—is something that other firms should consume.

Taken from Gensler’s playbook

The heart of Reach Higher is Friedrichs’ discussion of the attributes that made Gensler so successful—and Attribute #1 is to recognize that time can work for or against you. Every business, design included, has natural cycles that you ignore at your peril. Take leadership transition, that bugbear of architecture firms. You have to start to think about it almost from the beginning to attract the next generation of leaders, keep them engaged, and then pass the torch to them without torching the firm.

Gensler got this one spectacularly right. An ESOP made everyone a shareholder while steadily buying out the founders. The resulting sense of ownership was reinforced from top to bottom by policies that compensated people fairly, even in lean times, and that invited valued employees who chose to leave to “boomerang back whenever you want.”

Listening to the market is another attribute that Friedrichs emphasizes. Given Gensler’s experience in the recent downturn, he stresses the need to hedge and diversify. He also points to Gensler’s readiness to build profitable new offices and practices around its market opportunities, noting that its long-term growth has been largely organic. For firms that intend to grow, this is an important attribute, and he could have said more about it. It’s not the only way to grow, of course—merger and acquisition is increasingly popular, but it poses challenges, especially of cultural integration, that organic growth sidesteps.

While Friedrichs discusses Gensler’s interest in client relationships, noting its preference for ongoing rather than episodic engagements, he only touches on its most revolutionary implications: that time and space are both valid measures of a client’s potential, and that focusing on these relationships makes it completely natural to push client interaction as far down in the organization as possible, flattening it in ways that encourage individual initiative and support a viral marketing style that pulls work in through many portals.

When to dispense with hierarchy

As Friedrichs notes approvingly, this same attribute facilitates a collaborative workstyle that, at its best, spurs design, process, and delivery innovation. That creativity results from a felicitous pairing of talented leaders with equally talented and influential teams. You need both—leaders and influencers—in an operationally flat mix to produce strong and innovative work at the pace that clients now demand. (That clients are part of the process, and a potent source of its creativity, is another reason for Gensler’s success.)

Every firm has and needs a hierarchy, but has to be able to dispense with it in the course of collaboration, understanding that, to function optimally, the team has to allow room for each person to contribute to a necessarily fluid process. Leaders and managers who fear for their authority in the midst of this fluidity inevitably get in its way; those who are confident in themselves and their teams exert their leadership flexibly and intelligently.

You can find this in Reaching Higher, but it’s implied rather than explicitly stated. Friedrichs left Gensler in 2003, just before BIM came on the scene in a big way. In its integrative aspect, BIM almost requires that design be approached as a team sport, a fluid one like soccer where the roles of individual players naturally overlap. Given a more direct experience with it, he might have gone deeper into the issue of how design firms are organized. As it stands, he points to the importance of having an empowering culture and to the need to cultivate individual empowerment at all levels for the good of the firm.

Friedrichs has done us all a favor by turning his in-house tutorial into an accessible guide to running a design firm as a business. Gensler isn’t the only design firm to figure this out, but others can surely learn from its example. Whether you’re reading it to grow a firm or advance your career, Reach Higher is worth buying. In fact, it will pay for itself.

__________

 

Under the Radar: Arthur Dyson’s Woodward Library

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

Woodward Park Regional Library, Arthur Dyson Architects, photograph by Kyle Pegram.

__________

Woodward Park Regional Library, Fresno, California

Woodward Park, at 22,000 square feet the largest regional library built since Fresno’s main library, caters to a growing suburban, pedestrian-friendly, middle-income community. Offering self-service, computerized checkouts, automated book processing, and beverage service, it is the region’s most technologically advanced, user-friendly library.

The library achieves civic prominence through the interplay of volumes, at the same time weaving itself into the suburban fabric by association with the colors, textures, and materials of the neighborhood commercial and residential districts. Linking the Eaton Trail Access to the San Joaquin River, the site is characterized by a dry streambed, which is echoed within the building’s curvilinear walls.

 

Woodward Park Regional Library, Arthur Dyson Architects.

The building provides energy savings over other buildings of comparable size. Solar tempering was a primary goal. Enhanced glazing, protecting the books from UV light, is strategically placed, most on the south side where daylight is welcomed in winter, while deep roof overhangs offer ample shade in summer. The interior clerestory volume provides a wealth of natural day-lighting.

The exterior terrace and entry spaces offer locations for displaying the work of local and regional artists. A 128-foot long mural, suspended ten feet above the floor, depicts the life of the San Joaquin River.

 

Woodward Park Regional Library, Arthur Dyson Architects, photograph by Donald Landon.

 

Woodward Park Regional Library, Arthur Dyson Architects, photograph by Michael Urbanak.

Project Team

Design Architect: Arthur Dyson, AIA

Architect: DKSJ Architects, Inc.

Structural Engineer: Parrish Hansen, Inc.

Landscape Architect: Susan Asadoor

General Contractor: Zumwalt Construction

 

 

The Packards and the Aquarium: an Interview with Chuck Davis, FAIA

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, EHDD, photography by Jane Lidz.

__________
Charles M. Davis, FAIA, is a founding partner of EHDD Architecture. In 1978, he undertook the seminal project of his career, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The project was funded entirely by David and Lucile Packard, who were very involved in the building’s design. Davis talks about this remarkable collaboration and the changing nature of patronage. Interviewer Yosh Asato is a communications consultant and co-editor of LINE, AIA San Francisco’s online journal.

arcCA: The Packard Family and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have been your clients for nearly thirty years. What has this taught you about patronage and architecture?

Davis: We’ve been extremely fortunate with Monterey. The era of just calling up so-and-so because you’re comfortable with them or you’ve worked with them is almost a gone thing. Today it’s about competition.

arcCA: And what do you think is driving that?

Davis: It’s a natural outcome of the amount of information that we have available today. When I started, there were maybe three or four voices in the profession, magazines based in the east, and they gave out the monthly gospel. Now we have arcCA, we have Dwell, we have Wired, and countless online sources. A person who has a reasonable amount of brains will want to look at the array of choices.

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, EHDD, photography by Peter Aaron / Esto.

arcCA: The Monterey Bay Aquarium was a family endeavor from its earliest moments. What were the implications of this?

Davis: David Packard was the founder and president of HP for many years, and he had just stepped down. He was looking for something to do. It so happened that two of his daughters, Nancy Burnett and Julie Packard, were marine biologists, and they approached him and his wife with this idea of building an aquarium in Monterey that focused on the marine biology of the Monterey Bay. Packard hired Stanford Research Institute to do a feasibility study, and they said, “Well, if you build a modest aquarium in Cannery Row, you might get a million visitors per year.” That’s how it started. The next thing that happened was a competition. Big table, a lot of people. I was at one end of the table, Mr. Packard was at the other end of the table. It was an hour and a half long interview, and at the end he stood up and said, “When can you go to work?” I was shocked. It was the only time I’ve ever been hired on the spot.

It was on a Wednesday, and the next Monday, I was down in Monterey setting up an office. After two days, he showed up in his red pickup truck and dirty khakis and boots, and I didn’t even notice him. He walked up behind me and said, “Well, I can see you’re doing good here.” I had a Skil saw and tools, and I was making drafting tables. And he said, “Let’s take a walk.”

And I was thinking, “Oh, what the hell is this? I’m just barely getting started and now we’re taking a walk.”

So we walked looking over the Pacific, and he said, “The kids have this idea to do this damn aquarium, and I don’t know whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea. So, my deal with you is going to be this: I’m going to come every Friday to look at what you’ve done. If I like what you’ve done, we’ll work another week. If I don’t like what you’ve done, I’ll pay you off and send you home. Is that a deal?”

arcCA: And his decisiveness set the tone for the entire project?

Davis: He was very imposing; six foot eight and very gruff, an archetypical business tycoon, tough and opinionated. At the same time, I had never been around somebody who could take apart issues or problems and then make good decisions like he could. I’ve always said that if I needed a consultant to help me make ten life or death decisions, it would be David Packard.

So every Friday, he would come in around ten o’clock, and he’d be chatting with his wife, Lucile, or his daughter. Then we’d go into the conference room, and he would become all business, with a set jaw. I would present the results of the last week’s work, and he would ask some questions. And he would also fry me on something. He would jump up and say,

“What the hell is this right here?”

And I would say, “That’s the otter tank.”

And he would ask, “How much does that tank weigh filled with water?”

“Oh, I don’t know. 400,000 pounds.”

“Why in the hell doesn’t it have a column underneath it? If you don’t know anything more about structure than that, we’re going to get somebody else to work on this project.” That’s the kind of guy he was, and he could always tell when he’d really gored you.

But after about an hour, he would calm down a bit and say, “Well, you know, Chuck, I’ve been thinking about the location of the otter tank. It’s out here in this wing, and I understand all this stuff about the storyline and where it fits in the story, but what is Ruth from Duluth going to see when she comes in the front door?”

I would say, “Well, there’s no big exhibit right there right now.”

“Exactly. So I think we ought to put that otter tank over there by the front door.”

“Wow. That’s interesting, that’s a good idea. I’m going to look at that immediately.”

Then we’d go have lunch at a really terrible Chinese restaurant. That was how the project developed, and it’s how the relationships between all of us developed. It was arduous, it was tough, but it was a lot of fun.

By the next meeting, I had moved the otter tank. Of course, the exhibit designers were all fried, because it wasn’t sequential learning and all of that kind of stuff. But there was always a very healthy dialogue between him and his wife, sometimes Julie, sometimes Nancy. And I was taking in everything, and doing what the architect does, which is sift it, grind it, and by the next week we had a response to it.

I was able to withstand the withering ground fire, but I also was able to very slowly earn his respect. He realized that I was working my butt off. I usually would come home on Friday night, do the errands around the house, because I was a bachelor at the time, and then I would drive back in on Sunday and start all over. It was the most intense six months of my career.

I was able to establish a dialogue with him about what the building was going to look like. I think Mrs. Packard thought of the building being much more finished on the inside. But I tried to sell him on the idea that the building would have exposed surfaces and be easy to maintain. We were concerned about leaking pipes and a lot of water flying around overhead. I thought it made good sense that all of that stuff would be organized and exposed, and if you had a problem, you could get to it. Well, he got really excited about that, because he identified that with one of his chip plants.

I got along with him really well, because I had been a general’s aide in the Army, which meant that I shined the boots and got the guy to meetings on time. And so I was used to that sort of authority figure. I always told consultants on the team, “Listen, this guy is not like your dad. He is not like anyone you know. This guy is Mr. Packard, and he is different, and you have to show him respect, or you’ll be history.” And we fired a lot of consultants. We’d call them in, and they’d do their presentation, and he’d say, “Thank you very much, but we don’t need your services anymore, so could you please leave immediately?”

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, EHDD, photography by Peter Aaron / Esto.

arcCA: Yet your instincts recognized the remarkable potential of this project and this client.

Davis: It was the seminal project in my career, and it did two things for the firm. It convinced people that we could do large projects, and it opened up a whole new dimension of work for us. And, of course, the Monterey Bay Aquarium keeps coming back to us. We did the first expansion, which opened in 1996, and we’re getting ready to do another remodeling of the exhibits.

arcCA: When they did the expansion, was David Packard still involved?

Davis: Not to the same extent, but he would come to board meetings where the progress of the project was presented. Mrs. Packard was very involved in the interiors. She was the leveler, the one who could smooth over the rough edges of the old man. And, no joke, he loved her dearly and he respected her enormously, but there were even sparks between them, because he was a tough dude.

But you have to earn the return gig. Since we started to work on Monterey, whenever Julie Packard or Linda Rhodes or Marty Manson or whoever is involved in Monterey calls, I drop everything and I take care of it. I’ve always put their needs and their interests first and have been very careful to keep my ego in my back pocket, which isn’t the trend nowadays. It’s been almost twenty-nine years, and there’s been huge continuity of people. Six months into the first project, Packard hired Linda Rhodes, who had been working for me, to be his project manager, and we’re grateful that she has since managed all of the aquarium’s major projects. But the organization also has changed, and my organization has changed a bit, too. Now, Marc L’Italien, one of my partners, will carry on and continue to keep the institution happy and contribute to its future quality.

__________

 

GSA: the Modern Medici?

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

United States Courthouse, Fresno; Moore Ruble Yudell, design architect; Gruen Associates, executive architect; photography by Tim Griffith.

Mark Tortorich, FAIA, is the Vice President for Design and Construction at Stanford University Medical Center overseeing the hospitals’ renewal and replacement program. From 1983 to 1998, Mr. Tortorich was a manager at GSA’s Regional Design and Construction Division in San Francisco and a national Design Excellence Advisor. He was appointed a private sector Design Excellence Peer in 2000.

__________

With the stated objective of hiring America’s finest architectural talent to assemble a national portfolio of exemplary buildings, the General Services Administration (GSA) should be considered our country’s most influential architectural patron. Not since the New Deal has the federal government embarked on a deliberate pursuit of excellence in architecture, art, and design. Comparisons to the Medici’s influence on the Renaissance might seem glib, but GSA, like the Medici, ignited a nation’s passion for great works of art and architecture.

In the early 1990s, as GSA was experimenting with initiatives to improve quality, the agency was intensely aware of the legacy it needed to improve. Federal buildings constructed in the 1970s and 1980s were competent, but not uniformly excellent. At the 1992 GSA Design Awards program, new construction projects were nearly shut out. The vast majority of awards went to historic renovation projects. The jury chairman, Eugene Kohn, FAIA, challenged the government to raise institutional expectations for new construction quality. With a looming federal construction boom, the prevailing approach to creating contemporary federal architecture had to change. The architectural elite would not compete for government business unless GSA removed longstanding barriers to competition or, at the very least, rationalized them. The critical ingredients for this change included streamlining the architect selection process and introducing private sector peers to the design review cycle. These initiatives became the foundation of the Federal Design Excellence Program.

Another catalyst for change came from influential members of our nation’s establishment. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from New York and Federal Judges Stephen Breyer and Douglas Woodlock in Boston pushed the GSA into evaluating public architecture in fundamentally different terms. Breyer and Woodlock wanted their Boston Courthouse to be a gift to the public rather than a fortress for justice. They lobbied for a broader list of architects to interview for the commission and greater inclusion of the private sector in design reviews. Prior to this time, architecture firms were eliminated from competition if they were outside the geographic region of the project. Harry Cobb, architect for the Boston Courthouse, was originally ineligible to compete for the project because his office was in New York.

The challenge of enticing distinguished public buildings from a seemingly unimaginative bureaucracy was daunting. In the 1990s, GSA was better known for buying computers, office supplies, and automobiles than commissioning inspired works of architecture. Remember when Vice President Al Gore smashed an ashtray on the David Letterman Show to symbolize old fashioned government ways of doing business? The ashtray was built to GSA specifications, but why was the government specifying custom ashtrays, when it could purchase them at substantial savings? The Clinton administration sought to reinvent government by challenging conventional wisdom.

The Design Excellence miracle comes from creating our nation’s leading architectural patron in such an unlikely setting. Edward Feiner, FAIA, GSA’s Chief Architect from 1996 to 2005, answered the call of transformation and corralled additional private sector support for his Design Excellence principles. Officially adopted in 1994, the Design Excellence Program was reinforced by the 1962 Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture drafted during the Kennedy administration. These Guiding Principles, apparently dormant for three decades, are as relevant today as they were in 1962. They just needed an interpreter.

Fourteen years later, the once criticized agency maintains the legacy of Design Excellence and carries it into the future. As the new Chief Architect, Les Shepherd, AIA, is empowered to maintain the momentum created by Edward Feiner. Shepherd is an experienced architect and inspired leader who spent a significant portion of his GSA career in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The culture of excellence created by Feiner is now a source of pride for the agency. It is also an expectation of communities that lobby for government projects.

Supporting excellence and innovation, GSA defends architecture against compromising forces of reality, such as construction financing and rigid land-use policies. Construction cost benchmarks are sufficiently scaled to support the performance standards provided to design teams. With a threshold of $10 million or more, Design Excellence projects are also large enough to bear the added expense, if any, of originality. Additionally, federal sovereignty means that project designs are not subject to the mandatory community evaluation process that sometimes creates unwanted compromise.

Evaluating buildings as a 50- or 100-year asset, each project has the potential to be an historic structure, representing American culture at the time of construction. Design reviews to evaluate multiple schematic options are an important step in the process of creating future landmarks. The private sector peers facilitating these reviews are encouraged to critically evaluate proposed designs. Frequently, architects are asked to redesign projects in order to achieve the timeless architectural qualities sought by the government.

The desire to innovate comes as much from GSA as it comes from the private sector. This quest for originality has emphasized environmental stewardship and sustainability since the early days of the program. Although these objectives have public policy underpinnings, the driving force for energy efficiency is life-cycle cost savings. Today, the government understands that being environmentally friendly is also economically sensible.

 

Left: Sandra Day O’Connor United States Courthouse, Phoenix, Arizona, Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP, model photograph by Josh White; right: San Francisco Federal Building, Morphosis, photography by Tim Griffith.

Sometimes trend-setting, GSA projects are never whimsical. Each project has a client, and that client needs space or modernized facilities. The program does not allow for experimental works of architecture. An aesthetic or functional failure would take decades to correct, but the program supports and encourages innovation. Take, for example, the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona. The Richard Meier-designed courts building incorporates an adiabatic cooling system for the football-sized interior atrium. Without using conventional air-conditioning systems, the six-story atrium stays twenty to thirty degrees cooler than outside temperatures in the summer months. The atrium was a bold, untested idea and a logical alternative to air conditioning in the desert.

Leadership in sustainable environments is being reinforced with the passively air-conditioned San Francisco Federal Building. In addition to providing operable windows throughout the facility, the new Federal Building, originally authorized in 1988, incorporates skip-stop elevators and on-site childcare. Architecturally, the Morphosis design defies traditional styling of San Francisco high rises. No other developer in the city would take these risks on a 450,000 square foot project.

In addition to environmental stewardship, GSA understands the balance of community needs and national design objectives. The architectural implications of this balance are demonstrated with the federal courts program. The reconstruction of our justice infrastructure was a primary push for design excellence. But it also provided an exciting opportunity to test diverse themes in contemporary American architecture. The courthouse program applied nearly identical functional and aesthetic criteria to projects throughout the country. Therefore, these courthouses provided a template in which architectural expression was the major variable. Moore Ruble Yudell’s Fresno California Courthouse and Mehrdad Yazdani’s Las Vegas Nevada Courthouse are dramatic illustrations of this variety. Each project springs from identical functional criteria and vision statements, but each is individually appropriate for the local landscape and culture. Following the guiding principles from 1962, GSA recognized that creating this variety and texture begins with the architect selection process.

The Design Excellence program should be evaluated comprehensively based on its contribution to construction at all levels of government. Individual projects have achieved success based on a wide range of variables. But preserving the qualifications-based selection process was GSA’s most important step in creating a national portfolio of distinguished public buildings. Not surprisingly, this is where the democracy of the public bidding process generates the greatest benefit for architects. By encouraging the entire architectural community to compete for its business, GSA has remained fresh in its thinking and bold in its actions. Where else can relatively unproven talent be seen as a competitive equal to architecture practices with a multi-generation lineage? These neophytes are not always selected, but the lay and professional jury process is enriched by the exposure to forward-thinking ideas. Architects are judged on their talent and persuasive thinking. And with the help of private sector peers, many rooted in academia, GSA is fed a steady diet of the avant-garde. The richness of architectural talent interested in public work is the direct result of Design Excellence and GSA’s inspired architectural patronage.

Not to be forgotten is GSA’s successful incorporation of art with architecture. One-half percent of the construction budget is dedicated to creating site-specific artwork to support and enhance the architecture. These commissions are as important to the Design Excellence legacy as architecture. Graphic design and landscape design are also contributing factors to the program.

In a relatively short time, GSA’s architectural patronage has supported extraordinary innovation in design, the arts, and construction technologies. This inspired leadership is not the result of an entrepreneurial campaign but a fundamental shift in institutional culture. A recent leadership transition maintains the momentum started in 1994, so that, like the Medici, GSA can be the catalyst of genius for decades to come.

__________

Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture

From Report to the President by the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space, June 1, 1962.

1. The policy shall be to provide requisite and adequate facilities in an architectural style and form which is distinguished and which will reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American National Government. Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought. Specific attention should be paid to the possibilities of incorporating into such designs qualities which reflect the regional architectural traditions of that part of the Nation in which buildings are located. Where appropriate, fine art should be incorporated in the designs, with emphasis on the work of living American artists. Designs shall adhere to sound construction practice and utilize materials, methods and equipment of proven dependability. Buildings shall be economical to build, operate and maintain, and should be accessible to the handicapped.

2. The development of an official style must be avoided. Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa. The Government should be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings. Competitions for the design of Federal buildings may be held where appropriate. The advice of distinguished architects out to, as a rule, be sought prior to the award of important design contracts.

3. The choice and development of the building site should be considered the first step of the design process. This choice should be made in cooperation with local agencies. Special attention should be paid to the general ensemble of streets and public places of which Federal buildings will form a part. Where possible, buildings should be located so as to permit a generous development of landscape.

__________

 

A Contemporary Relationship: an Interview with Jim Jennings and Steven Oliver

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

Jim Jennings (left) and Steven Oliver, photograph by John Loomis, FAIA.

__________

Jim Jennings (JJ) is an architect in San Francisco. A monograph on his work, Ten Projects: Ten Years is available from William Stout Books. You can view examples of his work at www.jimjenningsarchitecture. com.

Steven Oliver (SO) is President of Oliver and Company, a Bay Area construction company. He is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

arcCA : How did you two meet?

SO: We were both at UC Berkeley at the same time and pledged a fraternity together, although neither of us ever became active members—in my case because I was on probation three-and-a-half of the four years I was in college.

JJ: Then it was twenty some-odd years later that we reconnected through our mutual association with the California College of the Arts (then called CCAC). I was teaching a design studio with the first group of students in the new architecture program, and I wanted to take them to see work under construction. I had heard that Steve, who was then chair of CCA’s board of trustees, had a ranch where he was starting a site-specific sculpture collection, so we arranged to stop by and take a look.

SO: But first you took them to Healdsburg to see the Jennings and Stout-designed house you had underway for Chara Schreyer.

JJ: Yes, and then we went over to Sonoma to visit the Oliver Ranch. We drove up the driveway expecting to arrive at Storm King; instead we found two laborers and a trailer. They were laying stonework for the main house.

arcCA : Who designed that house?

SO: I had hired Bob Overstreet, with whom I had worked before on some other projects. He was one of the five so-called “Goff Balls” in California—disciples of Bruce Goff who did very individualistic, beautiful design, but quirky. I had always wanted a stone house, so those two laborers Jim saw were at it for thirty-three months.

arcCA : How far along was it?

JJ: I don’t think the windows were in yet.

SO: Right. And to show you how well I had planned the project, the windows FOB on the truck were more than the original budget of the house.

arcCA : They were from Hope then?

SO: Of course.

arcCA : So Jim, how did you end up doing the interiors of that house, if Steve was that far into it?

JJ: While he took us on a tour of the house, he overheard the students talking about the Schreyer House. He asked if he could have the gate code to take a look on his way back to the city.

SO: I stopped by and walked through it. I realized that the calmness of its interior would be a perfect counterpoint to what Overstreet had done for my exterior, so I asked Jim if he would consider working with me. He said yes, and my wife Nancy and I have lived in various environments designed by Jim ever since. Jim even designed the extremely low budget CMU building that acts as our company headquarters.

arcCA : When was that ranch house project finished?

SO: 1989.

arcCA : What was the next thing you did together?

SO: The ranch house was relatively small, with only one guest bedroom and an open plan. I realized we’d need a guesthouse, so I asked Jim to look at a site near the main house that I thought could work.

arcCA : This is the project that got a 1992 Progressive Architecture award?

JJ: Yes, although it went on hold for many years and was only recently completed.

arcCA : The idea had staying power, obviously, since it just won a 2006 Institute Honor Award for Architecture. Did anything major change from its original design?

SO: Only that I had the idea that we should incorporate an artist’s work into the construction. I had seen a temporary installation in New York at Barbara Flynn’s gallery on Crosby Street by an artist named David Rabinowitch. He had incised a plaster wall with these narrow cuts where the subtlety of the width and depth of the cuts were its brilliance.

arcCA : Had you thought about getting him involved initially?

SO: Yes, but he went through dealers faster than I could find a way to contact him. It was a blessing that we put the project on hold, because it allowed me the time I needed to finally get him involved.

arcCA : The way he went through dealers makes it sound like he was a bit of a large personality. As someone who works both with architects and artists, where would you rank the two on this subject?

SO: Architects are a distant second. So I asked Jim to go to New York to meet him and get it worked out.

arcCA : While the guesthouse was on hold, you two did a fair amount of other projects together.

 

CCA Barclay Simpson Sculpture Studio, Oakland Campus.

SO: We worked together on some mausoleum work at Colma. We also did two projects with CCA ties: the Barclay Simpson Sculpture Studio on the Oakland Campus and a post-fire house in the Berkeley hills for CCA’s chair of graphic design, Leslie Becker.

arcCA : And for yourself, you built a nice house on Telegraph Hill.

SO: That one took seven years to build—longer than Mario Botta’s SF MoMA building, which I was leading tours of at the time as chair of their building committee.

JJ: Technically, that house was a remodel. We took down a four-unit apartment building and saved just one brick, building the new structure in the old building’s footprint.

arcCA : In that neighborhood, you still must have gone through hell with the neighbors.

JJ: It wasn’t too bad. When we held the obligatory neighborhood open house where you show the neighbors (and their lawyers) the model and plans so that they can prepare their opposition for the public hearing, there was some initial rumbling—“I don’t know about this . . .,” etc. Then in walks one of the most distinguished neighbors, Harry Hunt, a real connoisseur of architecture and design who lived across the street. He asked Steve, “Who’s your architect?” and when Steve responded, “Jim Jennings,” Harry said, “Oh, that will be fine.” All grumbling immediately ceased.

arcCA : The result was a Record House.

SO: Yes, but not before it was in Architectural Digest.

JJ: Record almost never names a project a Record House unless they have an exclusive on it.

arcCA : However, they made an exception and selected it the following year, to our knowledge the only time this has happened. Now by this time, Jim, you had worked with Steve as a client and his construction company as a builder for some time. Can you give us an example of the benefits of this familiarity?

JJ: When we were building the Telegraph Hill house, the superintendent, Steve Chambers, was forming up the base of the concrete cylinder that is the central element of the plan. He asked me whether I wanted an 1/8- or 1/4-inch reveal at the glass floor that would be at the top of the cylinder. This was for a detail that wouldn’t be realized for three years. That’s when you see the value of a well-developed client/ architect/builder relationship.

arcCA : So the client lived happily ever after in this wonderful house?

SO: I loved living in the house, but my wife Nancy hated the notoriety. One day I came home and she was showing six French architects around who had figured out where it was and just knocked on the door. She could never say “no” to anyone. There was also tremendous pressure from SF MoMA and others to use it for functions. The pressure of turning down these requests two or three times a week just wore on us. Meanwhile, I was building a TLMS-designed residential mid-rise near the Bay Bridge, which I took Nancy to the top of while it was under construction. While we were standing on the rebar on the top floor looking out at the bay she said, “Why don’t we sell that big-ass house and move here?” We bought half the top floor and had Jim design our new compact setting.

arcCA : Was it hard to find a buyer for the Telegraph Hill house?

SO: No. An attorney called me and said his client had read about the house and would pay me whatever I wanted. I arranged to meet them at the house and was told that the buyer was bringing his financial guru who said “no” to everything, so not to be upset when this unfolded. They pulled into the garage, I rotated their car around on the turntable we built into the floor of the garage and then took them up the red leather elevator to the open-air, glass-floored deck at the top. As we stood there overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk on what had to be one of only five warm days out of the year when you wouldn’t be blown out to sea, I heard the financial advisor whisper under his breath, “Pay him whatever he wants.”

JJ: Steve called me and said, “The bad news is we’re selling the house, the good news is we’d like to finally build the guest house at the ranch.”

arcCA : When Jim first started working with you, there was only one artist with work installed on the ranch—Judith Shea. How many are there now?

SO: Seventeen. The last of 600 concrete trucks was there last week finishing up the tower that Ann Hamilton created to serve as an interactive performance space.

arcCA : How has your work at the ranch with Jim and the artists affected your “day job” as the head of a construction company?

SO: It’s widened my awareness of the realm of possibilities.

 

Left: Oakland Hills House; right: Visiting Artists House.

__________

 

Institutional Patronage: an Interview with David Meckel, FAIA

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

 

The “nave” of CCA’s Montgomery Campus in San Francisco, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and Jensen and Macy Architects, photography by Karl Petzke.

__________

This year marks the California College of Arts centennial. Since David Meckel joined the California College of the Arts over twenty years ago, the school has added several award-winning spaces to its campuses. Jim Jennings and Mark Horton have completed new buildings on the Oakland campus, and Leddy Maytum Stacy and Jensen + Macy have either renovated or designed new buildings on the San Francisco campus. Yet Meckel’s view of the institution’s patronage extends beyond building commissions into its role as an urban catalyst and in educating the public, corporations, and even their own patrons. arcCA contributor Kenneth Caldwell interviewed Meckel in his light-filled San Francisco office.

arcCA: Can you define the concept of patronage in architecture?

Meckel: To me it implies an investment—you invest in relationships with designers, and you learn how to achieve a better result by going through the design and construction process multiple times. With an ongoing relationship, you learn to leverage each other’s assets.

arcCA: What about the difference between architectural patronage in Europe and architectural patronage here in the U.S.?

Meckel: You are seeing business step into that role in a way they probably haven’t done in about forty or fifty years, since IBM and Polaroid and some of the big corporations made their name because of their affiliations with people like Eliot Noyes, Herbert Bayer, and Charles Eames. Once again, corporations are seeing the value of design, with the designer in the role of trusted advisor. But, historically, Europe has always been ahead of us in the sense of state-sponsored projects being more holistic, taking a longer-term view—which is why they were out ahead of us on sustainability.

arcCA: Can you talk about patronage in terms of the outreach role that an institution like this can have in teaching companies the benefits of being patrons?

Meckel: In any given semester, we partner with companies, some of which are already invested in design. For example, we did a studio with Design Within Reach this past fall. But we also did a studio last year with Simpson Strong-Tie, looking at connectors with the idea of bringing prefab thinking to on-site construction methods. They don’t think of themselves as a design company, since they make joist hangers and other connectors that they describe as “sharp, oily, and ugly.” Our hope for that class was that we could look at their DNA and say, “Okay, how could we extend that DNA into beautiful products that they don’t yet make?”

arcCA: And do you see that as a growing opportunity for this institution to educate people who could become patrons?

Meckel: A little bit. That is, of course, our role in dealing with contemporary visual culture: that we would make design more valued and more visible. And we do when we get these sponsored projects. Last year, we did one with a Turkish pet accessory company. And the students took that to the Milan Furniture Fair.

I think what you’re asking, though, is something that I don’t feel we’re well equipped to do. If you went to Yale (or Brown or Harvard) thirty years ago, you would have been taught by Vincent Scully or another great architectural historian. You knew you weren’t going to become an architect; you were getting your business degree or law degree or whatever. But you were going to become a citizen. And part of the university’s role was to make you aware of and put you in a position to leverage the creative forces of our economy.

Because we’re such a specialized school, we’re preaching to the choir. By the time somebody gets to our doorstep, be it a student or a company, they are at least halfway there.

We have had some success going at it another way, by having a public component to the college, which is called the Center for Art in Public Life. [http://center.cca.edu] We send students and artists out into the community, and we’re just finishing up a project in the East Bay called “100 Families Oakland.” We’re working in the community, using art-making as a tool to bring families together. So it’s part social intervention and part creative intervention. That kind of outreach work tends not to be pointed at national corporations. It tends to be pointed locally.

 

CCA’s Montgomery Campus, Tanner Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and Jensen and Macy Architects, photography by Karl Petzke.

arcCA: Let’s talk more about your impact on local communities as a kind of patronage. Maybe we should be talking about influence rather than patronage. You once said that you thought it was good for a school to move its campus every ten years. Do you still think that’s true?

Meckel: I do think it’s true. While I love our Oakland campus, there was a built-in template to the way education could be done there. Ceramics didn’t really have any kind of conversation with sculpture. There are discrete buildings with virtually no relation to each other. The campus we developed here in San Francisco is actually probably an overreaction to that.

When we started to invest in our San Francisco facility, the goal was the opposite of the result in Oakland. How could you—even though you’re going to suffer on the acoustic front—do something where just by the act of walking through the studios you participate in the creative life of the school? By being that open, happy accidents happen. While we all had great professors, we often learn as much from our fellow students. And you do that late at night when you’re eating pizza next to each other. And that’s hard to do if everybody goes in a studio and closes their door.

We were over on 17th Street where Jamba Juice is now, and we had a really hard time finding space for expansion. I went and talked to Lu Blazej in the planning department, and he was impressed by what we had done in terms of the impact on the community.

arcCA: What do you mean?

Meckel: When we moved in over there, the only liquid available within a mile radius was probably a screw-top bottle of Thunderbird. By the time we were ready to expand, you could get twenty kinds of lattes and scones across the street. But it wasn’t gentrification; it was the kind of vibrancy you get from student life. So Lu said something like, “Could the planning department use you guys and just move you every ten years, because you’re like a little incubator in whatever neighborhood you go to?” So he was thinking of it more from the life of the city, that a school could, as we have done here, generate community around it in a non-confrontational way.

While the neighbors here have stopped all kinds of projects from ball parks to Home Depots, everything we’ve done they’ve supported, because they like having students working for them, shopping in the neighborhood, living in their rental units, and going to the restaurants. So, in that sense, moving has a good urbanistic component. We have, however, purchased these facilities. So, we’re going to aggregate around them.

But we’re well aware that it’s just good for the lifeblood of the place to not hunker in and say you’re never going to change anything.

 

Left, CCA Grad Studios, photography by Richard Barnes; right, Montgomery Campus studios, Jensen and Macy Architects and Office of Charles F. Bloszies, photography by Richard Barnes.

arcCA: Is there any relation between the selection of architects for a CCA project and architectural pedagogy?

Meckel: We are the most unlikely of patrons. We have no state money, no federal money. But we have a great board of trustees, and we’ve had some amazing presidents and CFOs who understand the bond and real estate markets. We go into projects knowing we’re going to have to cut everything out of them. You could say that is a formula for disaster, for not doing good architecture. I think where those constraints meet opportunity is a form of pedagogy that exists in our program—a kind of functionalist inventiveness of how you make things. And so we have tended to hire architects who do more with less, who basically go into it knowing that it’s not going to be the materials; it’s not going to be the surfaces. It’s going to be about daylight and spatial order.

First, I think, “Can whatever we do accept the punishment and changes it’s going to get inflicted with?” So, stay away from anything precious. And then, secondly, “At what moments do larger concerns beyond the walls of our campus, say sustainability, intersect with an elegant solution?” So, did we go into this saying, “Gee, we should have a solar heated building”? No, we went into it saying, “We have a 35-foot-high volume with single-glazed windows. We’re never going to meet Title 24. Even if we get heat in this space, only the pigeons will be warm.” So, eventually you get to a radiant slab once you go through that exercise. And a pretty easy way to heat a radiant slab is with solar panels.

As we make the decisions, we are always testing them against “We should practice what we teach.” In other words, the DNA of the buildings should embody the kind of values that we would like to transmit, because when we’re not teaching, we’re still transmitting them.

Doing these beautiful projects with so little money has proved to me that having a small budget is no excuse for bad design.

arcCA: Besides being a client for projects by some of the leading lights of the Bay Area, can you talk a little bit more about how CCA fulfills a role as a patron of design?

Meckel: In addition to the urbanistic component I mentioned, the faculty has an off-campus role within a larger community. For instance, Mitchell Schwarzer, who is head of our visual studies curriculum, has also written a critical guidebook to architecture in San Francisco. He could have just as easily done yet another book on modern German architectural theory, which only a handful of scholars would have read. But I think being at CCA has encouraged him to direct his scholarship to engage the region. As a member of the faculty, you possess a kind of political diplomatic immunity that a lot of other people don’t have. So the press calls us to comment on local architectural culture. Many of us also serve on award juries, selection committees, and non-profit boards—all supporting the patronage of design and architecture.

arcCA: Can you comment some on how the institution influences its own patrons? Do they change their pattern of giving or their goals as a reaction to the architecture?

For example, the large open spine at the San Francisco campus does not have several obvious naming opportunities. But you stuck to a kind of Miesian universal space idea anyway.

Meckel: That space is the heart of a dynamic campus. The goal of most educational or other non-profits is to have their philanthropy be as non-restricted as possible. It doesn’t help a non-profit if the gift adds pressure to the operating budget by creating new initiatives. In our case, the push is towards student scholarships. Having said that, there are buildings and spaces that suit the named-gift strategy well, and we’ve tried to match those with interested donors. I think that our donors are excited by the gestalt of the architecture in use and its synergy with our mission. Since we haven’t named everything down to the water fountains, their expectations are often in line with what we already do. When we are in session, there is no facility I would rather walk a donor through than our campus. When trying to secure a gift, what matters is that the energy is palpable, and that’s because it’s not all hidden away behind closed doors, it’s out in the open.

 

The nave of the Montgomery Campus, photography by Karl Petzke.

__________

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presents

California College of the Arts at 100: Innovation by Design

Friday, March 23, 2007 – Sunday, August 26, 2007

This exhibition of works from SFMOMA’s architecture and design collection is a tribute to the centennial anniversary of the California College of the Arts (CCA). The exhibition features works by such esteemed architects and designers as Yves Béhar, Thom Faulders, Donald Fortescue, Mark Fox, Jim Jennings, William Leddy, Jennifer Morla, Jennifer Sterling, Lucille Tenazas, Michael Vanderbyl, and Martin Venezky. CCA’s faculty and graduates have influenced—and, in many cases, led—almost every mid- and late-20th-century art movement. Throughout its history, SFMOMA has provided an active forum for examining issues of architecture and design in relation to modern art; this exhibition maintains the Museum’s commitment to the collection and exhibition of experimental design and theoretical architecture in the Bay Area while celebrating the students and faculty of an important educational institution. It will include a separate section on all the buildings and graphics CCA has commissioned for itself.

___________

 

The Architecture of Patronage, Part I: From Institution to Avant-Garde

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 2nd quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

Author Mitchell Schwarzer, PhD, is the author of German Architectural Theory (1995), Zoomscape: Architecture in Motion and Media (2004), Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area: History and Guide (2007), and the upcoming Home Egonomics: America’s Obsession with Real Estate. He is Chair of the Department of Visual Studies at California College of the Arts.

__________

Toward the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film The Night (1962), there is a conversation between the writer Giovanni Pontano (played by Marcello Mastroianni) and the industrialist Gerardini. The conversation takes place during an all-night party at Gerardini’s estate, a bacchanal of loose play, sexual innuendo, and clothed leaps into a swimming pool. Gerardini wants Pontano to come work for him, to write a history of his company, and then direct the firm’s public relations office. After telling Pontano that his garden already holds over 1,000 rose bushes and a trove of precious statues, the millionaire Gerardini goes on to reflect that his commercial enterprises are themselves works of art. Only he, the great capitalist, can stir up grand design anymore, lasting monuments to the times. While Pontano wants to differ, his words end in affirmation. Yes, he sadly reflects, the free artist is today an anachronism; the times indeed are in the hands of industrialists.

Amazingly, in Italy, in the land whose great family names—the Medici, the Este, the Sforza—are the very symbol of patron, Gerardini’s patronage is to be altogether different. Pontano is a sellout. Why would a successful young writer want to work inside of the bottom-line walls of industry? It was one thing for artists to array themselves under the wings of the great noble or mercantile families during the Renaissance. It would be another thing to do so in the twentieth century, prostituting oneself for the likes of Fiat, General Electric, or Toshiba. In the intervening centuries, the once-steadfast relationship between artist and patron had dissipated within the shapeless social geographies of modernity.

During the Renaissance, the fine arts began their famous journey away from strict religious subject matter and control by artisanal guilds. High above the medieval plateau were forbidden philosophical speculations as well as perceptual delights. Artists began to create works that opened onto pagan myth, secular history, and outright fantasy. Architects designed buildings that elevated their society to the splendors of the ancients.

The very notion of an artist or architect pursuing beauty was extraordinary and only made possible by an alliance with a new group of patrons. These patrons—who included kings, nobles, the mercantile elite, and even popes— derived their wealth more from urban commerce than rural farming. It is no exaggeration to say that the gargantuan palaces, sumptuous pleasure gardens, and canvases of delectable nudes of the Early Modern Era overflowed with the riches of Europe’s growing cities.

 

Stills from Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Night.

Patrons wanted beauty from the arts, but not just for its own sake. Commissions for art and architectural works were also political acts, both a demonstration of the new urban culture’s power to manufacture monumental images and a fencing-in of that urban culture against inevitable winds of reaction. The monopolization of wealth and power in the hands of a few—the new urban patrons of the arts—was steadied and ennobled by the persuasive powers of the arts and the heroic imaging of artist and architect. For several centuries, patron and artist would be linked by the world they sought to create, rationalize, and control. Nothing lasts forever. During the second half of the nineteenth century, amid the pandemonium of industrialization, the one-to-one alliance of patron and artist began to crumble. By this time, the Early Modern culture of pleasure and beauty had come under assault by the proliferating gradients of profit and utility. Classical regularity and natural imitation were undone in time’s changes, stacked in museums and expounded in universities. Elsewhere the old world was ground to pulp under the oiled wheels of economic and technological change.

Patrons and artists were changing. The class of patrons became much larger and less unified, because industrial capital created huge quantities of new wealth and conditions for fluid social mobility. Added to the nobility and mercantile middle class were the nouveau riche of industry and the new representatives of middle-class democracy. When it came to matters of art and architecture, the newly mixed masters of business and politics began pointing their sights toward antagonistic cultural galaxies.

Shadows were simultaneously crossing the space of art and architecture. Beginning with such figures as the painter Eduard Manet and the architect Henri Labrouste, artists and architects began to question the values of their patrons and of the academies of design and salons of exhibition supported by those patrons. In times of severe social dislocation, visual art produced in celebration of the established order could no longer go unquestioned. How could artists represent the tens of thousands of peasants flocking to new factory jobs in the cities through their customary venues of mythological or historical paintings? How could architects design buildings to house and educate those masses behind facades carrying the weighty language of classical pilasters and pediments? Furthermore, would art that supported the social order also bristle with that order’s flaws? Would tradition-bound architecture capture the furious, unbalancing movement of its new world?

 

From the 1860s to the 1960s, the great story in art and architecture was the rise of the avant-garde. The avant-garde signaled an end to the cozy relationship between artists and patrons that had been built up since the Renaissance. Avant-garde art and architecture were revolutionary. They sought to overturn or at least destabilize dominant artistic practices and institutions. Self-consciously ahead of its times, the avant-garde was caught up with notions like progress and originality. To be progressive meant not accepting the conventions of the times, and, instead, striving for higher truths. To be original was to explore aspects of reality suppressed by societal order and its codes of meaning.

If avant-garde artists and architects saw themselves as leaders of the modern pack, their identity came from standing apart from the social conventions and business economy that had produced them. Opposing social codes and perceptual protocol meant separating modernism, as the creation of a new world led by artists, from modernity, the social world as it developed according to the forces of bourgeois capital.

Accordingly, the avant-gardes broke ties with both imitation of the old order and harmonious relationships with patrons of the old order. They explored form- and space-making in ideal, utopian worlds. Their manifestoes paid homage to excess and marginality. The avant-gardes also frequently identified as bohemians—as outsiders, wanderers, yet possessed of an integrity of character lost to the unreflective participants of industrial modernity. Adapted from observations of gypsies in the Czech lands, the identity of the bohemian was patently anti-patron. Interestingly, the identity of the bohemian has proven to be as durable as that of Avant-garde. All through the twentieth century, bohemia would migrate within an astoundingly vast array of social identities, inclusive of folk hoboes, jazz musicians, beatniks, hippies, punks, and, of course, all types of artists.

While architects wore less outrageous bohemian dress and were less hostile to the established social order than painters or sculptors, their relation to modernity was also one of critical utopianism. Through such epochal figures as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, architects claimed the skills and insights necessary to resolve the great contradictions of industrial society. To be sure, architects, more than artists, were dependent upon the commissions of patrons to realize their projects. But, by and large, they worked with patrons—individuals or municipal governments—who also saw themselves as oppositional and enlightened to the need for radical social reforms. The great modernist utopias from the 1920s to 1960s were conceived as expressions of a world where patrons followed the lead of architects and where artists implicitly led industrialists by the nose.

What are we to make, then, of Giovanni Pontano’s surrender to Gerardini in 1962? Hadn’t architects created impeccable high-rise cities set on green terraces and enveloped by smooth-flowing traffic? Hadn’t artists recaptured the primordial beginnings of form- and space-creation? Wasn’t world culture finally routed along the prophetic arc of avant-garde insight?

Alas, a host of factors like National Socialism, the Stalinist Gulag, Hiroshima, Dien Bien Phu, urban renewal, and worldwide Coca Cola had intervened. The dogmatic ideologies that had brought the avant-garde to life in the first place became its own worst enemies. Avant-garde modernism was undone by its success and its ensuing association with other, more extreme rational systems. In other scenes of The Night, especially Lidia Pontano’s alienating walk through the concrete and glass jungle that had become modern Milan, Antonioni astutely anticipated the upcoming, massive critique of modernism.

Between the early-1960s and mid-1970s, the modernist project was abandoned. After the emergence of Independent Group in Great Britain, Pop Art in the United States, and postmodernism just about everywhere, the modernist avant-garde became historical. The art critic Clement Greenberg’s category-bound modernism was defied in gallery shows of loose interbreeding. Architectural students stopped reading Sigfried Giedion’s high-limbed Space, Time, and Architecture and plunged into a junkyard of chrome-plated columns and dancing cupolas. Mies became a bore. Only a few years after Jackson Pollock’s adventure into self-realization, Andy Warhol dissolved the artist’s heroic identity within the vulgarities of money, advertising, and social status.

How could the projects of avant-garde modernism, over a century in the making, come crashing down so quickly? How could the status of architect (and artist) as superior partner in a marriage with their patrons have had such a short life span?

__________

To be continued in arcCA 07.2, “Design Review.”

 

Patrons and Architects: the Perfect Couple

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

Author Pierluigi Serraino is a project designer at Anshen+Allen Architects in San Francisco. His recent projects and writings have been published in Architectural Record, Architectural Design, and arcCA. His latest book is NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism (Chronicle Books, 2006).

__________

Money and Architecture make a most durable marriage, despite the crisis of such a venerable institution in the Western World. Like all long-term relationships, this union has gone through its highs and lows ever since the dawn of construction. In its noblest dimension, it is the perfect partnership for the making of the landmarks of humankind throughout history. In its lowest expression, it is the grimmest exploitation of land for speculative purposes at the expense of the living conditions of its users, with its added social cost. Typically, architects openly aspire to the former kind of operation, and yet for the most part contribute to the chaotic city Rem Koolhaas has been theorizing about for almost thirty years.

Patrons and signature architects each hold unique magnetism in the eyes of the design audience. While the signature architects are romantic donors in their self-referential idealism (whether as celebrators or denigrators of their projects’ sponsors and recipients), patrons remain the primary givers of life to schemes often too far off the grinding machine of real estate. To push this metaphor even further, if landmark designs are usually architects’ labors of love, the patron is the midwife enabling the coming into the world of these experiential wonderlands. The patrons of art and those of architecture are not necessarily the same people, but they share a common theme. For both worlds, patronage customarily entails the routing of a financial gift to the pocket of a character committed to the realization of a significant venture for the cultural and social life of the receiving community.

 

Barbara, patron saint of architects, builders, and stone masons.

There are many versions of this stage set, but the players and the pieces necessary for those wire transfers to occur are essentially the same. An individual of abundant wealth who wants to share a portion of that plenty; a complementary party of recognized talent as a willing beneficiary of that endowment; an unrealized opportunity of sizeable public visibility to be built; and an environment where these members of a highly distinct class background can be linked in prestigious and moderately pressured settings, such as a museum, private university, foundation, or similar cultural institution. The chosen architects are required to project some snob appeal, charm, and notoriety. If they also navigate the art world, like Frank Gehry did at the onset of his career, their design stocks go up. Each person takes on a specific role—acting out behavioral stereotypes, rehearsing the rituals associated with that world, and reproducing its patois—for the reinforcement of an elite subculture.

Other connotations of patronage are symbolically relevant to architecture, since additional meanings fold into this term. In the list of possible interpretations available in any dictionary, a patron is also a saint, some kind of father (or mother) figure protecting the design vulnerability of the architect from the looming dangers of metaphorical annihilation. This is definitely a seductive presence for architecture, whose knowledge base is constantly questioned by public judgment and whose gripping fear of being ultra-dispensable in the development process is simply paralyzing. The patron as savior is a welcome figure, if not integral to the very existence of architecture as a built civic proposition.

Another meaning of patron is someone who believes in his or her personal superiority over the other party and makes a social form out of that perceived hierarchy. The patron donates money and dictates the conditions for its use to specific ends, at the same time blocking alternative avenues for the expenditure of that money for ends perhaps more noble, but inconsistent with the intent of the donation.

The culture of giving is a cornerstone of American architecture. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Whitney are some of the large donors whose gifts have indelibly shaped New York City, as the Hearsts have shaped California. They still serve as a model for the contemporary roster of privileged individuals disposed to finance avant-garde design ideas. Architect Philip Johnson, head of the Architecture + Design department of the New York Museum of Modern Art in the ‘20s and ‘30s, made an art form of nurturing relationships with that financial aristocracy for the benefit of his own agenda, even though his political leanings were at times in utter opposition to those of his patrons.

Yet the design propensity of the patron has to resonate with those of the artist and architect. In a phone interview, Byron Meyer, an expert on the subject and a trustee of prestigious institutions on both coasts of the United States, commented: “For me, architecture is an extension of volume in space. And patronage in architecture does exist. However, architecture is usually not collectable, and when it is collected is a major commitment.” He adds: “Patrons are often also collectors. And they will occasionally want a particular building associated with their collection.”

 

The Hearst name marks many buildings in California, both gifts to the public, such as the Hearst Mining Building in Berkeley,(left, photograph courtesy of Wikipedia) and commercial buildings, like the original Hearst Building in San Francisco, right.

The autonomy of architecture is something of great cachet among the most radical designers and a concept of great fascination to architects of renown. In a recent article, Thom Mayne, founder of Morphosis, confessed, ‘‘I fought violently for the autonomy of architecture. . . . It’s a very passive, weak profession, where people deliver a service. You want a blue door, you get a blue door. You want it to look neo-Spanish, you get neo-Spanish.” (NY Times, Dec 19, 2006). Calls for sovereignty are sprinkled in the history of architecture since the Industrial Revolution. This unarguably fascinating idea is unfortunately void of any function the very moment a design moves from paper to the world of construction. Unless the desired outcome is paper architecture—the only legacy a recent generation of architects has left us with—or the small-scale project insignificant to the life of the city, or a temporary design, it is in the very best interest of architecture to develop the greatest comfort level with the rollercoaster of commitments and negotiations the economy of building imposes on the profession.

It is no surprise that tax deductions are great motivators in activating and sustaining the practice of giving and keeping up that disposition at the nation-state level. Other motives to cut those checks are equally compelling to patrons. Museum curators give tons of advice to collectors who are also patrons. Insiders in the art and architecture worlds give advice to route investment toward people whose work will have an increase in market value. Los Angeles-based billionaire Eli Broad is a powerful force in shaping the design future of the city through his major contributions. Phyllis Wattis (1905-2002) was immensely generous to Northern California institutions and trained the current generation of patrons on how to make decisions and the criteria for what to give to the community. There is also the case of rich industrialist Peter B. Lewis, most definitely a different type of patron, who, as a form of personal entertainment, kept paying the design fees of Frank Gehry for ten years for a never-built, $82 million, 40,000 square foot house.

What makes it attractive for a donor to share wealth? A standard answer is that it is for the good of the community. Meyer adds: “It is the attachment of your name to some long-term design enterprise.” Due to the recent publication of his latest best seller, The Architecture of Happiness, author/philosopher Alain de Button has brought to renewed relevance Stendhal’s idea that to think of something as beautiful is to see in it a promise of happiness. As a parallel concept, to think of oneself as a patron is to see in it a promise of aggrandizement. That is the same promise that architects have made themselves. Patrons are simply making architects accountable for that pledge.

__________

 

Patronage: Editor’s Comment

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 1st quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.1, “Patronage.”]

__________

Twenty years ago, I got a job teaching architecture at Rhode Island School of Design. The previous year, RISD’s architecture department had published a little book—a record of student work from four studios—titled Architecture in the Margins. Its premise was that the profession of architecture was so caught up in the tangled motives of the capitalist political economy that it had lost whatever capacity it might have had to shape society for the good. To effect significant change—if such was even possible—one must step out of the tangle to take a critical position “in the margins.”

It’s not an absurd thought, but it was a rather discouraging one. Fortunately, that sentiment has long since passed, and even what Architectural Record calls the “design vanguard” is clearly willing to mix-it up in the mainstream economy. Or at least the mainstream commercial economy. What is less clear is what design currently brings to political economy—to the representation of the collective will of the town, the state, or the nation.

Over the last few years, I’ve been working with half a dozen colleagues on a study of the early design work of the Tennessee Valley Authority. As you may know, the TVA began as a New Deal program (it is still at work today), the first comprehensive regional planning effort to be defined by a geographic entity—the watershed of the Tennessee River. What has fascinated me is how thoroughly the design disciplines—architecture, landscape architecture, graphic design, industrial design—were mustered to build a representation of collective will. What the TVA designers—and the political appointees who hired them—recognized were the power of beauty to engage the public and the pride that beautiful places can inspire. Many of the design decisions of the TVA were subtle, but its declaration of intent, emblazoned in brushed aluminum Art Moderne lettering on every facility, was not: Built for the People of the United States.

Design was a respected and integral part of government in the middle of the century, as the more widely known work of the WPA demonstrates. As industrial design historian Barry Katz has revealed, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the World War II predecessor of the CIA, had a Design Branch that included among its staff Eero Saarinen, Benjamin Thompson (later the designer of Boston’s Fanueil Hall Marketplace), landscape architect Dan Kiley, and Walt Disney. Their work was largely in information design, enabling the president and joint chiefs to take in vast quantities of intelligence information from around the world, but among their architectural works was the rhetorically brilliant courtroom for the Nuremberg Trials.

Looking back at that era, in which design engaged the most significant geo-political issues of the day, I can’t but wonder how things might have gone in Baghdad if, instead of Halliburton and KBR, Apple and IDEO and had been in charge of reconstruction. Or some really fine architects. The coherence of public space and the beauty of civic representation might have made some difference. It might have made some difference to have been able to inscribe, proudly: Built for the People of Iraq. It still might.

One correction from 06.4, “The UCs”: for the UC Riverside Physical Sciences Building, shown on page 47, the architect is properly known as HGA/KMW. HGA was the executive architect and KMW was the design associate.

__________

 

Coda: 1 Kearny Street, San Francisco

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 2nd quarter 2007 in arcCA 07.2, “Design Review.”]

 

Photo and rendering courtesy of the architect.

1 Kearny Street, San Francisco
Office of Charles F. Bloszies, AIA

The 1902 Mutual Savings Bank Building, by William Curlett, is one of the few survivors of the devastating fire that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. This French Renaissance Revival building was paired in 1964 with an addition by Clark & Beuttler in association with Charles Moore. Moore’s abstract interpretation of the original building’s massing reflected the struggle of early post-Modernism to discover an appropriate way to extend an historic building form. Today, Moore’s structure, like Curlett’s, is an historically protected building.

An approved addition by Charles F. Bloszies, flanking the original building, adopts a different strategy for contextual response. A contemporary language of glass and steel reflects both the pattern and the delicacy of the original façade, forming a visual continuity while recognizing the progress of construction technology.

At press time, it was unclear whether Bloszies’s proposal to carry the new pattern of glazing into the now largely opaque shaft of the Moore addition would qualify for federal historic preservation tax credits. Whatever the outcome, this trio should form an instructive ensemble for students of the changing process of historical review—itself an historical phenomenon.

__________