Today’s architects are helping shape the future with forward thinking and timeless design.
Admit it: Most of us envision architects as working in some alternate, “Mad Men”-style universe, hunched over their drafting tables with protractors and pencils while sketching lavish dream homes or towering, modern skyscrapers. In reality, architects are just as likely to be found attending lectures on energy efficiency, answering questions at a town hall meeting or out in the field studying how people interact with the buildings around them. They’re also likely to be making a positive impact on the face and future of the North Bay.
It’s important to note that the road to becoming an architect is long and intense. Simply graduating with a four-year architecture degree isn’t enough anymore. Today’s graduates must apprentice for five to seven years with a licensed architect, during which they begin to study for extensive state licensure tests. Each state also has its own continuing education requirements.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) was created in 1857 to act as a voice and advocate for U.S. architects and to promote design excellence in the field. Members, who proudly display the AIA initials after their names, are architects in good standing who’ve committed to taking 18 hours of continuing education each year (compared to five hours every two years for a California license.) “The AIA architect represents a level of professionalism, ethics, knowledge base and community participation that’s to be sought after and distinguished,” says Wendy Young, executive director of AIA’s Redwood Empire chapter (AIARE), which covers eight counties from the Sonoma-Marin county line north to the Oregon border. She’s responsible for the educational and social programming for AIARE’s 210 architect members, as well as its associate (apprentice) and allied members (engineers, builders and product representatives). Young has seen AIARE’s role change dramatically in the six years she’s been with the organization. “We’re so much more active now and have a bigger, more unified voice,” she says. “People look to us to see what we’re doing in terms of events, member benefits, educational opportunities and speakers, now more than ever.”
Those events include monthly membership meetings, “Wine and Learn” networking mixers and tours of newly completed projects throughout the Bay Area. AIARE also coordinates mentoring opportunities, associate study groups and scholarships for students pursuing architecture.
The AIARE has been instrumental in the creation of the Redwood Empire Built Environment Collaborative Committee (REBECC), a joint effort of many of the major players in the construction and design community, including North Coast Builders Exchange (NCBE), U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). By connecting the members and leaders of the North Bay’s built environment organizations at lectures and networking meetings, Young believes the groups can better serve our communities.
Through its semi-annual Design Awards, the AIARE hopes to honor architects for the design of our community and to raise public awareness of the important role architects play in our communities. This year, events kicked off on October 26 with a jurors reception and lecture, followed on October 27 with a Design Awards gala and award presentation. The gala took place at the Kaiser Air Hangar at Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Airport, which was transformed into a Parisian market for the occasion, with food, wine and live music. Awards were given in seven categories, including Best Built and Unbuilt Projects, Best Custom Residential Project and a People’s Choice award, which let the public vote online for their favorite submitted project.
Building a home for technology
Doug Hilberman, AIA, is president of AXIA Architects in Santa Rosa and past president of AIARE. In addition to its extensive portfolio of public, business and high-end residential projects, AXIA recently designed the new Sonoma Valley Public Library in Sonoma.
The historic city’s previous library, with its deep overhangs and redwood and masonry exterior, was created in the 1970s and spoke well to the needs and design aesthetic of the time. “Our challenge was to be respectful of that history, but to bring it up to modern-day technological and environmental standards, both as a library and a building,” says Hilberman. This meant bringing in more natural daylight, switching to a solar reflective roof to keep cooling costs down and finding other ways to increase energy efficiency.
In creating a modern library, AXIA’s team spent many hours at the old library during the design process, watching how patrons and staff used the facility during the day and how they set up and navigated library book sales and other special events. Improvements included installation of dedicated self-checkout areas, more tables with access to electrical outlets for laptop users, and retooled spaces for younger patrons. “Designing flexibility into the space was critical, as technology continues to evolve and people are using the library differently,” he says.
AXIA also recently completed an extensive interior remodel for Enphase Energy in Petaluma. Enphase has made the decision to grow its business here in the North Bay, but needs to be able to attract and retain tech workers who would otherwise migrate south. “One of the challenges we had was to bring the Silicon Valley feel to the facility, putting it on par with the company’s peers in other tech centers,” says Hilberman. The design includes spaces for more informal brainstorming and collaboration, with small conference rooms and seating areas, as well as easy access to outdoor spaces. “By bringing these design principles to the North Bay, I believe we’re doing our part to spur the revitalization of a North Bay tech corridor,” says Hilberman. “I’m hoping that more and more of these types of businesses will feel they can achieve their goals here.”
Drafting a plan
As a principal at ArchiLOGIX in Santa Rosa, Mitch Conner, AIA, has built a reputation as an innovator in fire station design and other community planning and urban design projects. He’s also a strong advocate for a national AIA Communities by Design program called Regional/Urban Development Assistance Team (R/UDAT), now in its 45th year.
Communities can apply for a R/UDAT study to help them develop a personalized, long-term planning strategy. Some applicants are small towns trying to recover from devastating storms or the loss of a major employer; others are struggling to fill empty downtown storefronts or define their community identities.
After a town is chosen, an advance R/UDAT team is sent to talk with area leaders and citizens about the community’s specific needs and goals. “An amazing team of objective, interdisciplinary professionals comes in from around the world—not just architects but economists, transportation experts, sociologists or whomever is most needed—and at no cost to the community other than housing and feeding them,” explains Conner. “During an intense four days, these experts hammer out the foundation of a 25-year plan of action.”
Healdsburg went through the R/UDAT process in 1982 to help it deal with growth challenges. Downtown Santa Rosa completed its plan in 1998, which grew into the nonprofit group City Vision, with Conner acting as its first president. (City Vision has since blended into Main Street, part of a national redevelopment organization.) Teams build long-term relationships within the communities and return periodically to check on progress. Conner says Sebastopol is in the process of applying for its own downtown plan, and he and his staff are working with the small Delta town of Rio Vista, in Solano County, on its application.
Conner believes the future of urban development rests on our ability to rethink growth. “A big movement in this country is the repurposing of infrastructure,” he says. “Planning commissions and design review boards aren’t just evaluating a project on the basis of planning policy or aesthetic merits but on whether it meets economic development and public health goals as well as helps a community strategically reuse existing infrastructure. While it can take longer to design this way, it makes what we do that much richer and more meaningful.”
It can be hard enough to for an architect to succeed in designing a visually inviting housing project, but Katherine Austin, AIA, of Sebastopol strives to create entry-level housing that’s attractive, affordable and environmentally responsible. Since founding her firm in 1995, Austin has designed many North Bay projects, including Parkland Farms in Healdsburg, Meadow Park in Santa Rosa and Woodstone Village in Sebastopol. “I’ve focused on affordable housing because I think that’s where I can do the most good,” she says.
At Timothy Commons in Santa Rosa, a development she created for nonprofit Burbank Housing, Austin placed parking lots on the outer edges of the property and added interior walkways that let children visit friends or the playground without crossing the path of a car. She often tries to provide homes with front porches and pushes garages back from the street, so neighbors have the chance to meet and build a sense of community. “Also, whenever I design a multi-family project, the central red building is always the community building,” she says. “It’s like the red barn or the little red schoolhouse in the neighborhood that stands out from everything else.”
Austin was one of the early proponents of green building guidelines for affordable residential design, helping to craft guidelines on energy efficiency for such projects in affordable housing for the AIA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); they’re available through www.designadvisor.org. She currently acts as a director in AIA’s statewide component.
Austin also champions the idea of visitability, a design concept that encourages architects and home builders to design basic accessibility standards, such as wider doorways and a bathroom located on the ground floor, into all new construction. With millions of baby boomers getting older and, often, caring for aging parents themselves, these changes may help many people stay independent and in their homes longer.
For Austin, it’s all about keeping an eye on the future. “It’s important for builders to consider that houses should last a long time—100 to 200 years instead of just 40 or 50,” she says. “Building a home to last means fewer materials will be wasted. It can also mean that people can stay in their houses at all ages and levels of ability.”
Shortly after establishing his own firm in 1986, Mark Quattrocchi, AIA, now a principal at QKA Architects in Santa Rosa, was asked to work on a small school project in Mendocino County. Something about the deep commitment and involvement of the school staff, the challenges of a tight budget and the significance of creating spaces where children could learn resonated with him, and today Quattrocchi is considered an expert in the field of 21st century learning environments.
“After working with such passionate and committed teachers, it was clear to me that designing spaces for children to learn in was far more meaningful than simply designing houses,” he says. “I was hooked and haven’t looked back since.”
As Quattrocchi explains it, American schools evolved from multiage, one-room schoolhouses of the past to a late 19th-century factory model of school design, with children moving through rigidly divided rows of grade- or subject-based classrooms. The problem is, these schools simply don’t fit the way teachers teach (or students learn) in the 21st century. With an acknowledgement of different learning styles, today’s teachers are more likely to be working together, breaking classes into small groups and encouraging project-based learning in an effort to prepare students for a world where collaboration, creativity and problem solving are prized.
A good example of this new model of school design is the 2,200-student American Canyon High School in Napa County, which was designed by QKA and completed in 2011. Fulfilling its role as the new hub of the community, the school includes a 400-seat performing arts center, a small Napa Valley College satellite campus; academics in areas such as global studies, culinary arts and environmental sciences; and a host of sustainable design features that will save the district thousands of dollars every year. These features include a 1-megawatt photovoltaic system that will generate 8 percent of the campus’ electrical needs, a ground source heat pump and an abundant use of daylight to reduce dependency of artificial lighting.
Classrooms are clustered into four learning communities, each serving a group of 400 kids for all their core classes, and many rooms are larger so classes can be combined or broken up into smaller groups. For many of the classrooms, furniture is on wheels so students can easily transition between large and small groups. Additionally, American Canyon High School, like many of the firm’s projects, provides easy connection to outdoor learning spaces for individual, peer-to-peer and group work. “We’re blessed with such a great climate,” says Quattrocchi. “And with the goal of creating differentiated learning environments that supports different learning styles, why wouldn’t we include outdoor spaces for teaching and learning?”
If any of these changes sound similar to those Hilberman describes bringing to the Enphase facility in Petaluma, it’s because they are. “If we want to see how kids need to learn to be prepared for the future, we shouldn’t be looking at other classrooms. In designing one of our recent schools, we looked instead at innovative places like Google,” says Quattrocchi. Teams from QKA have toured the campuses of Google, Sun and Apple, gathering the ideas and inspirations they brought to American Canyon and to ongoing projects like Healdsburg High School and a new elementary school in Larkspur. The firm is also designing an innovative geospatial facility at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, where students will have hands-on learning spaces, such as an observatory and planetarium.
Constructing the future
It’s been said that every building is a community building. We may not recognize the thought, time and experience that have gone into the buildings all around us, but it’s just that seamless design that architects strive for. As we struggle to keep up with the North Bay’s technological changes and community needs, local architects will continue thinking of new ways to bring identity, innovation and beauty to our communities for years to come.
AIARE’s Design Awards
The AIARE’s semi-annual Design Awards gala and award presentation included awards in seven categories: Built Project, Unbuilt Project, Small Project, Alteration/Rehabilitation/Restoration, Custom Residential Project and People’s Choice. Award levels (from first to third) were Honor, Merit and Citation—all of which are terrific recognitions for architectural excellence. Congratulations to the winners!
Mendocino Transit Authority Maintenance Center
(Built – Honor Award)
DeTurk Round Barn
(Alteration/Rehabilitation and Restoration – Honor Award)
Michael Hennessey Architecture
(Alteration/Rehabilitation and Restoration – Honor Award)
Obie Bowman, FAIA
Agava Rose Vineyards Water Tower
(Small Project – Citation / People’s Choice)
Siegel & Strain Architects
Bayer Neighborhood Park & Gardens
(Unbuilt – Citation)
Nick Noyes Architecture
(Custom Residential – Merit)
Moose Road Residence
(Custom Residential – Honor)
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects / Richard Stacy, FAIA
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