Works in Progress

Kris Barkley

July 8, 2014

“In this bright future you can’t forget your past”. ~ Bob Marley

Kris Barkley, AIA, is the Design Director at Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects and the current president of the American Institute of Architects Central Valley chapter.

What is the architect’s responsibility when renovating a landmark structure for modern use?

Here’s a prime example. The Washington DC public library announced the winner in a competition to renovate and expand the iconic Martin Luther King library designed by Mies Van der Rohe. The competition was fraught with controversy, starting with a program that adds market-rate housing on top of this historic building. Historical purists are upset with the new addition and diminished spaces in the library.

Finding a creative solution to this dire problem was not an easy task. Some say that without the capital from the air-rights sale, this municipal library project was dead in the water and in danger of simply being shuttered. Instead, this project will allow evolution of the public library to meet modern community needs. The finalist proposals are posted for public view and are a study in contrasts. The committee chose Martinez and Johnson + Mechanoo. On paper, theirs is the most respectful of the original design and detailing.

The SMUD headquarters has a myriad of details, finishes and themes to respectfully preserve and honor. There are also many modern functions that should be considered for this structure to work efficiently and effectively in the 21st century. Our task is to strike a balance between reverence of the past and embracing the future. Energy efficiency is a hallmark of SMUD’s mission. We will consider the full range of emerging technologies to boost this building’s performance while lessening its energy footprint. Communication, security and accessibility needs have all changed markedly since this building opened in 1961. We will seek imaginative solutions that are aesthetically and architecturally minimal, with maximum functional effectiveness.

The SMUD headquarters is a significant example of mid-century modernism, executed skillfully by Len Blackford, FAIA in the spirit of Mies and holding its own today. When you start with a good design – “good bones” – you have a greater chance to preserve and extend the life of any given building. We are thrilled to be leading the creative effort to recast this venerable structure in the 21st century.

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