Q&A WITH BASTIAAN BOUMA
BASTIAAN BOUMA, executive director/CEO for the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Architects, admits he has a “puzzler” of a name, but it’s no mystery what he would like to see happen with the advocacy group he began leading in November.
The Canadian-born son of Dutch immigrants plans on increasing his membership by 25 percent (it currently numbers about 800), as well as raising the group’s profile in the community at large. He brings a distinct blend of skills to the task, including a law degree and experience in international trade and tourism as a member of the Canadian Foreign Service. Prior to his arrival in San Diego, he worked with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, where he was responsible for large-scale public programs, including Open House Chicago, which shepherded more than 40,000 people through architectural sites around the city.
Q: You lived in San Diego for a short time about 20 years ago. What’s your take on how the city has developed since then?
A: I’ve been knocked out by how great downtown looks. It’s not like it’s problem-free, but the inventory of new buildings is really encouraging. And it kind of creates a new neighborhood here: a downtown neighborhood of working people who are embracing city living. I know there was probably a little bit of overbuilding during the boom years. Nevertheless the secret to Chicago’s revitalization was its ability to attract full-time residents downtown.
Q: Do you have some favorite buildings?
A: There’s really a great collection of vintage, pre-Second World War buildings downtown. … I’m a modernist by instinct but I think it’s very valuable to punctuate your urban environment with historic buildings — provide a context. Architecture is a cumulative art and science. New buildings don’t just pop out of nowhere. They come from a long legacy in engineering and design and materials, and it’s important to have representative historic buildings that can show the public and designers “This is where we come from; this is where we’re headed.”
Q: So are you a strong preservationist?
A: I recognize that preservation is a good value, but buildings just can’t all be turned into museums. They need to be used in commercial ways. There’s an axiom from the 19th century — it’s a little brutal, from Chicago — which is that buildings are machines to make the land pay. … It’s kind of a cynical approach, but there’s truth to it. If you can’t find an economic purpose for these historic buildings and even newer buildings, they’re at risk; and that’s why adaptive reuse is such a great concept and has worked so well in Chicago.
Q: A year from now, what will success look like for you?
A: I would like to see our membership more engaged in the community discourse about architecture and design through formal mechanisms, either serving on commissions and boards or being active with community groups. So a speaker’s bureau and that sort of thing would be a goal. … At the moment, our “find an architect” tool on our website isn’t as effective as I’d like, so we’re very soon turning our attention to improving our communications tools with the public to make it easier for people to find firms and individuals that might be suited to their projects. We’re also wanting to re-establish our relationship with the mayor’s office and the civic leadership and to make ourselves part of the toolkit available to government — government officials and elected officials — as they move forward with thinking about where San Diego is headed for the next decade or two decades or three decades.
Q: What’s your membership like?
A: Architects are kind of a combination of art and science, and they’re men and women who feel like they’re wearing the white hat. They want to do good things; they want to do good work. They want to be successful, and they’re not cynical. Many of them are young. I’ll tell you, architecture and design for the past four or five years has been a pretty tough business. Large numbers of people lost their jobs or were forced to downsize their practices. … Yet a lot of these young people in particular remain enthusiastic and have no second thoughts about their career choices. … That kind of emotional commitment to their careers I find really attractive personally, because I tend to be an enthusiast myself; and I love to see that in the people that I’m serving and working with.
Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
FROM MASTER CITY PLANNING IN CHINA or designing infrastructure in Qatar to renovating a tiny San Diego library or creating a shipping container-sized artist’s studio, it seems no job is too big or too small for the husband-and-wife architectural team of Ricardo Rabines and Taal Safdie. Their portfolio includes a remarkable breadth of work, including the mixed-use Mercado del Barrio in Barrio Logan; the inspiring residential design known as the Tree House in Mission Hills; and Harbor Drive Bridge, one of San Diego’s newest architectural icons. Raised in Montreal, Taal is the daughter of renowned architect Moshe Safdie, whose landmark architectural experiment in affordable housing, Habitat 67, was her childhood home. Ricardo, who grew up in Peru, met his wife when they attended the University of Pennsylvania. They and Moshe Safdie worked together on UCSD’s Eleanor Roosevelt College.
Q: Having worked on the Mercado del Barrio project, what’s your take on the neighborhood? Some have complained that Barrio Logan development isn’t happening as envisioned.
RR: I don’t know why they say something like that. I think that probably the big expectation was that it would sort of go off the way that downtown was going. I don’t have the image that it could be a downtown, an entertainment area, a sort of SoHo or something like that. We didn’t expect it to be like that at all. I think that we wanted this to be still a place for the people who live there. … The community has been waiting for this project for 20 years; and now finally it’s being done, and we’re very privileged to be involved with a project like that.
Q: What do you think San Diego’s architecture says about the city?
TS: Well, I think that historically it says that it didn’t really care about architecture that much. But I think that you can see that San Diego’s really changing and its priorities are changing. When we moved here 20, 21 years ago, it just didn’t seem like there was that much emphasis on good civic architecture. There was very little to speak of, and I think that’s changing. Sometimes I think that the climate has a little bit to do with that; maybe it was a sense that it was more a transient place.
RR: A vacation place, solely a destination city for everybody. So I think that reflects in the architecture. When we moved here, we kind of felt everything was sort of done in temporary materials.
TS: Always done on the cheap.
Q: Taal, you grew up in your father’s Habitat 67. What kind of influence do you think that has on your work today?
TS: The funny thing is that when I was younger, living in Habitat, I was more upset by the fact that it was away from all my friends and that I had to take the bus to get to my school. I always appreciated the building, I have to say. Even as a child, I remember standing and looking out at the different views and the gardens. So it’s not like I was
at all immune to it, but it’s funny what you’re more concerned about when you’re 13.
RR: I think this whole thing is about proper shelter and that you grew up in a place that was a big example in the world about a high level of design standards. That definitely helped create an interest. Certainly there was a lot of idealism about giving a house to everybody.
Q: The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer believed architecture was political. Do you think so?
RR: [When we began our practice], we felt that we really needed to work in public work. We needed to do public work because it’s a social context, it’s political. You need to be responsible toward the development of cities and toward people in general; and if we don’t participate at those levels, we just become sort of an artist for a certain group, for elite kind of work or boutique type of work. And that’s not what we want to do. That’s why the affordable housing at the Mercado project became so exciting for us.
Q: What’s the key to managing a marriage and a business together?
TS: There’s no line between work and fun for us; it’s all the same. We never feel like we’re going to work. Your whole life is about architecture if you’re an architect. There’s no way to really stop it;
it’s just all consuming.
RR: It’s a style of life.
TS: I think it makes life a little bit easier, because then you can share it on all different levels.
If you have a question for Ricardo Rabines and Taal Safdie, click on "Add new comment."
San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles offers its deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of architect Graham Downes, who died on April 21, 2013. We have lost a leading light in our community. His rise to pre-eminence in hospitality architecture, locally and internationally, was recognized in our February issue.
FROM LODGINGS LIKE THE HARD ROCK HOTEL AND TOWER 23 to restaurants and nightspots including Basic and Thin to reclaimed gems such as the Wonder Bread Factory, architect/developer Graham Downes has made his mark with some of San Diego’s most design-forward projects. An admirer of the Bauhaus modernist movement (hence the “haus” appended to the name of a number of his buildings), Downes practices internationally (he is working on a casino resort in Jamaica) and is licensed in Great Britain and his native South Africa. A former rugby star, he also hopes to spur inspired development of his own Bankers Hill neighborhood.
Q: Would you say you have a signature style, or is it always evolving?
A: It is evolving, but there are a few things we do as a matter of purpose and consciously. I try to make sure every time we put a mark down somewhere that we make it a very big, powerful gesture for that space or building and that it isn’t just an also-ran that becomes unnoticed. So many times, consumers accept that; they’ve been trained now.
Q: How can you avoid being an also-ran?
A: All these great designs around the world, just Google a few words, you’ll find them and that means you’ve found ideas. And that means you’ve found ideas that you can copy or leverage or lift and reapply, so now it’s made all our jobs much more challenging. And that’s not a bad thing; it does make the world a better place, but it does raise everybody’s expectations.
Q: You voiced some pretty negative opinions about Mission Hills and several other neighborhoods a few months ago. What kind of reaction did you get to those comments?
A: I don’t think I should have had such a heavy opinion about places, and maybe I got some flack. I don’t really care, because I still believe those things. But maybe the way they come across might not be good for me, because it would be construed to be arrogant or disrespectful or whatever. I think it’s about the houses in Mission Hills where it’s almost like a museum — everyone walks around like really in a bubble. Where my house is there are hardly any garages. There are often cars on the street, and there are a lot of real beater cars on the street. Sometimes there’s the odd camper that’s there longer than it needs to be, and oftentimes there’s noise on the street. And it’s a multimillion-dollar house. It’s the biggest house in the downtown area code, by the way. But I don’t care at all, you know? I actually embrace the diversity, and I think that’s what makes a characterful environment, as opposed to a sterile one.
Q: So you won’t be moving to the suburbs anytime soon?
A: We have this American dream; or we’ve been told about it, so we feel like we have to have this big house and have all these things. Ultimately, it might take a long time for a lot of people to realize it limits your ability to travel and do other things when you build these compounds around yourself. You limit your whole mental expansion when you have to clean the pool and you gotta do this and you gotta fix those things. And then you’ve got five different toys in the garage that you never use, and you just fill your life with clutter. It didn’t make you a better person or even have more fun, if happiness is important to you. So being in an urban environment is so critical to a higher, more-civilized, better-educated race. I think the more we learn to be in contact with each other, we’ll be much more tolerant.
Q: Tolerance through architecture?
A: Integration is a big word for me because, of course, I come from a world that was criminally segregated, so integration to me means people having better access to each other. The environment that I left, one of the primary reasons was because segregation is a very damaging thing. There’s integration that also could be with use. It’s really fun when you walk through a retail store and there’s a restaurant in the back. It’s really fun when you walk through a restaurant and they’ve got some retail going on, and then maybe there are some rooms upstairs and maybe there are just unexpected things. Everyone’s just getting along, and then it kind of feels a little bit like some other place. Everything should not be as it always has been and as it’s expected to be. I think that’s when you end up dumbing down society.
Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
ANNE KELLETT WANTS YOU TO STAY right where you are. An award-winning interior designer and instructor at the Design Institute of San Diego, Kellett, ASID, is a Certified Aging-
in-Place Specialist who concentrates on creating safer, smarter, more-accessible home environments that promote long-term, independent living. Her firm, A Kinder Space, offers help with floor plans, lighting, appliances, cabinetry, plumbing fixtures and more — developing barrier-free design for all ages and abilities, but paying special attention to our graying population. Kellett will be participating in ASID’s 2014 Designed for Life competition, which will provide pro bono bath and kitchen remodels to two deserving San Diegans.
Q: Functionality versus beauty — do you have to sacrifice one for the other with aging-in-place remodels?
A: I’m so glad you brought that up, because that’s really what I’m all about. And I think that’s what designers who are entering into this type of design are really pushing: Beauty, functionality and safety all go hand in hand. … If you’re going to do this kind of remodeling — especially with the boomer generation — it needs to be beautiful, or at least it needs to be as invisible as possible.
Q: Wider doorways, bathroom grab bars — it seems like a no-brainer to incorporate these kinds of design changes. Why has it taken so long for this to go mainstream?
A: I’ve wondered that myself. I think part of the problem is that many builders seem to be stuck in the way things have always been done and have been slow to realize that there is a market for universal design, particularly for people who are growing up, as I say, rather than aging. … That has begun to change, because now both the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Association of Home Builders have certification courses and training for their members in both universal design and aging in place, which is a positive step.
Q: What are some of the common obstacles you run into?
A: The first obstacle is when you walk up to the house. I have a saying: If you can’t get in or out, you can’t call it home. So the entry into the house can be the biggest obstacle — and not just for someone in a wheelchair. If you have neuropathy or you have a little arthritis, climbing stairs can be a challenge. There’s also a safety issue associated with that. So the first thing is, ‘How do you get into the house?’ Then when you’re in the house, the two biggest areas of challenge are kitchens and baths.
Q: What are some common solutions?
A: The most common solution is education: letting the client understand the challenges to safety. … Bringing up the subject can be difficult with boomers, because we don’t think we’re going to grow old; we’re going to go on forever, and there’s a huge denial about the need for changing where we live so we can stay there for as long as we can. Usually change doesn’t happen until something serious happens, and then it’s an emergency. That’s what I’m fighting against. I’m trying to educate people so that they do it before anything might happen so that it’s not such a traumatic experience. And it can be done more easily and seamlessly and beautifully rather than in a quick way.
Q: So how do you start that conversation?
A: I like the concept of visitability. That’s an issue that is much easier for people to understand. Almost every one of us might have someone we know who can’t come see us because they can’t get into our house or they can’t use the bathroom or they can’t stay overnight because there’s no bedroom downstairs. … People tend to think that they may not need [aging-in-place design] for themselves, but there might be somebody in their family [that does]. So if I can bring up the subject of visitability and making those kinds of adaptations so that their house is more welcoming, then things are already in place for ease of use for the people who live there.
Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
If you have a question for Anne Kellett, click on "Add new comment."
Q&A with Interior Designer Rebecca Jessen