Time is On Our Side

John Webre

January 6, 2015

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. ~ Hal Borland

John Webre, AIA, is President of Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects. He’s been with the firm for almost three decades and shares his reflections on what can be learned from the past.

Inspired by the heroes of 20th century Modernist architecture like Ludwig “Mies” van der Rohe, Leonard D. Blackford sought to do more than work for the Office of the State Architect. He had visions of landmark design in Sacramento. Albert M. Dreyfuss shared that vision and together, with their bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses, they were quite the team.

Al & Len_1963_blog

Al and Len collectively harnessed their individual talents to deliver exceptional building designs and land notable clients. Al was the businessman. Len, the stronger designer. So each of them let the other do what they did best. The rest, as they say, is history. Our history. One we are proud of and live to this day.

Our Commitment: Real Things are Timeless

Way back when, our tools were big and apparent. From blueprints to vellum, there was much more physicality to design. Your drafting table was littered with T-squares, S-curves and protractors…and Skum-X erasure granules pulverized into dust. You sprinkled it across your pencil drawing to prevent smearing, then you’d use your drafting brush to sweep it off…right onto the floor. The floor of a good drafting room was covered with the sawdust-like stuff. Ahh, the good old days.

Now, the tools of the trade are different and less “dusty”, but it’s just as critical you know how to use them and when. CAD, Computer-Aided Design, has largely replaced hand drafting and Building Information Modeling (BIM) is changing how buildings, infrastructure and utilities are planned, designed, built and managed. Other tools including FUZOR, let you walk yourself virtually through your building before it is built. It’s a far cry from hand drawings and Skum-X, but the rigorous discipline Len had for high quality construction drawings still prevails. He fully understood the importance of clear and accurate detailing and contractors appreciated his thoroughness and exactitude. We may use a different tool to get there, but the road we travel is the same.

Our Designs: Staying True

Simple forms, clean lines, natural light and the use of glass and steel to divide interior spaces – all made famous by Mies – are Len’s signature. From SMUD Headquarters (circa 1961) to Dreyfuss & Blackford’s current office on Folsom Boulevard (circa 1965), Len captured the Modernist “less is more” style and Sacramentans took notice. Then, and now. We have recently been given the privilege of renovating the SMUD building. Talk about coming full circle. The “bones” of the building will remain the same, as will the free-flowing open space inside. Furniture styles will reflect that era but are as cutting edge now as they were then.

It is interesting to note this. Today, design and even fashion is emulating the past. Mid-century furniture styles are widely used in today’s buildings. Architecture has returned to the Modernist tradition – a tradition we never left.

A recent example is the Headquarters and Operations Center for the California Independent System Operator, Cal ISO. Designer Kris Barkley, a protégé of Len’s, took his mentor’s advice when creating this glass clad facility that houses the mission critical operations for California’s high-voltage electrical grid. The spaces inside are very modern, open office environments accented by bright and vibrant color with an abundance of natural light. Mies would have been proud; Len sure was.

Designer Jason A. Silva furthered the tradition on the University of California, Davis Health System’s Parking Structure III. The 7-level structure is made of 3,740 extruded aluminum fins, each blade rotated at a distinct angle designed to reflect light. Lit from the outside in, this structure provides natural light in the interior for safety and security, with the added benefit of dynamic light and shadow pattern changes throughout the day. As if a reflection of the building’s internal use, at night it performs a light show for the vehicles driving by…and people love it.

“I love driving past this parking structure in the early evening as sunset colors play on the multiple surfaces. It’s literally a symphony of colors and light images. Genuinely a beautiful piece of work. Who knew a parking structure could be that cool?”

-Robert Waste, PhD, Assistant Director, Government & Community Relations, UC Davis Health System

Our People: Our Stories.

We believe that work should be challenging, fun and rewarding. Life is too short for drudgery. Quality design requires quality people and I feel very fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented people in the profession since arriving at D&B 27 years ago. Many staff members have been at the firm more than 10 years; several more than 20. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with designers young and old who have stayed the course by mastering the tools of  the day to create designs that help us deliver quality projects to our clients. Having this diverse range of ages and experience brings such value to our team. It also makes for great employee stories about poignant and funny moments along the journey that is “design”.

In short, as was the case for Al and Len years ago, each person brings unique skills to the mix. Our approach is to get out of each other’s way so we can continue to do our best work. “Those days” may be gone but the lessons learned remain. We are reminded by the past to be wise moving forward, for our roots have a timelessness that will last way into the future.

Happy 2015 from all of us at Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects! And, if you want to hear some of our first experiences working an architectural office go here!


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