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The Year of Living Architects

Over the past year or so, I’ve traveled around the country meeting and interviewing some of the most accomplished architects in the field of historic preservation and historically inspired residential construction. Their collective body of work is diverse, and each firm has improved the built environment aesthetically and functionally, often from a sustainable perspective.

In San Francisco, I met with Andrew Skurman, whose stately Classical mansions and European villas grace the Bay Area. Equally adept at Mediterranean and French styles, his work in time-honored styles displays an artistic hand. His recent Neoclassical house was a unique choice for Victorian San Francisco.

Outside of Washington, DC, in Silver Spring, MD, I spent a day with Torti Gallas and Partners, and left heartened with its devotion to rebuilding cities in a New Urbanist perspective. The firm’s charter is grounded in the belief that even a city’s most modest citizens deserve livable, attractive housing that should blend in with the existing historic fabric. Their projects for military personnel and their families beautifully address an oft-neglected facet of architecture.

Cate Comerford of Ocean Grove, NJ, impressed me with her sensitivity working within the tight parameters – both physically and within the building codes – of her town. Her rebuilding of Methodist summer tent cabins that had burned, and her ability to essentially reconstruct shoddily built (to put it mildly) century-old houses from the inside out, displayed much thought and inventiveness.

Kelly Sutherlin McLeod of Long Beach, CA, has made a name for herself as the go-to person for conserving Greene and Greene houses, and she continues that sensitivity with other Arts and Crafts homes in the area, reversing years of neglect and creating seamless additions where desired. Well-versed in more recent architectural styles, she showed me fascinating mid-century and Colonial revival projects.

Geoffrey Mouen of Celebration, FL, is one of the great names in New Urbanism and his single- and multi-family residences reveal his passion for creating livable cities and towns while designing them in the indigenous styles of their surroundings. A highlight was his award-winning house that was able to utilize the prevailing winds to cool the structure, no mean feat in Florida.

It was delightful to observe Connor Homes of Middlebury, VT, design and build top-notch historical reproduction houses with accurate detailing. By using a factory to prefabricate the traditionally stick-built walls, stairways and such, the firm has been able to offer customized, high-quality antique homes designed for contemporary living at substantial savings, while completely avoiding the “kit-built” appearance.

In New Canaan, CT, I was welcomed into the grand offices of Wadia Associates and came away duly impressed with the firm’s pragmatic approach to designing and constructing sprawling estates in and around coastal Connecticut and Long Island. Despite the seemingly unlimited funds available to their clients, the firm insists on guiding them through the design and building process without wasting time and money.

There’s more to come throughout 2009, including Alexander Latham of Long Island. The work I have seen has given me hope for the future of historically inspired architecture and preservation and their responsibility to a changing environment.

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  1. Tricia
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:11 | #1

    Ah, in another life, I’d have been an architect. Now, I have to settle for architecture junkie. But it’s a good life; glancing down once in a while as you walk keeps one from falling into a hole whilst staring at some amazing architectural turn or detail.

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