April 1, 2001 - From the April, 2001 issue

State Architect Envisions A Built Environment Enhanced By Design

Our urban environment is more than the structures we design, the buildings we construct and the infrastructure that links them together. Like most creative endeavors, the most important parts are those key details that-while perhaps oblivious to the naked eye-help bind our urban fabric through the creation of vibrant communities, exciting plazas and active gathering spaces. California State Architect Stephan Castellanos understands the complexity necessary in forwarding the goal of making California a place that's not merely aesthetically pleasing, but known for responsible design. But he's careful to caution that while important, design is only as good as the experience it creates for the end user: California's citizens.


Stephen Castellanos

When you were introduced by Gov. Davis as the new State Architect, President of AIA California Council stated, "California's built environment from livable communities to quality school construction relies heavily upon the involvement of the California State Architect and Stephan has the breadth of experience and leadership needed to excel in this position to the benefits of all Californians." For the benefit of our readers, what does the State Architect do? And, what leadership is needed from this Office to accomplish that grand task?

The State Architect is loosely defined as California's policy leader for design and construction. Our job has historically been to shape the built environment through the provision of regulations that make public buildings accessible, safe and comply with Title 24 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But that definition doesn't really focus what I believe to be the true role of the Department. We really need to broaden our role and begin to understand how the state can define excellence not simply in terms of design and construction but in terms of influencing a marketplace throughout the lifetime of a building.

And in order to do that we need to reform the current culture of the Department in an attempt to break down bureaucratic barriers and create stronger collaborations so that we can create great public buildings and more schools.

Lets delve further into schools before we talk about some other issues. You're a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and are familiar with school siting from your work in Stockton as well as your collaborations with New Schools • Better Neighborhoods. What can you do in the school facilities arena to improve what has been a rather meager and non-performing new school facilities program in the metropolitan areas of our state?

Our flexibility and performance depends on effectively managing partnerships both internally and externally. And right now we're neither flexible nor efficient. It has become painfully obvious that we're not providing service and support at an adequate level.

But, we're addressing that in our current efforts to link governmental agencies together and clarify a development schedule that stakeholders can understand and access. For the first time, we're feeling a real sense of collaboration and have begun to solidify a number of strong lines of interagency communication.

But our job is far from complete. We must continue to be open and willing to implement these necessary changes. We need more clarity in the school construction process, more clarity in the Field Act and we need to curb the current process of "handing things off" from one agency to the next.

We need to create a seamless connection between the school districts, the design profession, the community and the State Architect. School siting is not an isolated program, it's one that should be linked and integrated to other programs and agencies and that collaborative spirit and clarity needs to come from this office.

Stephan, you're on record as having also noted that school districts often chase their tail in pursuit of matching state funds for their facilities projects, that instruction is not driving design, that community participation is frustrated and that state regulatory review makes the process so complex that any product that results in a better learning or smaller school is doomed. What can you do to change that?

A current characterization of our construction system is that of a one-product supermarket. There is no choice, no alternatives. That paradigm cannot continue.

We need to mirror the marketplace and begin to identify what the private sector is doing with regard to project delivery and design-build-finance that can help us build high-performing, sustainable and supportive learning environments. We need to put more products on the shelf through varying uses of plan review, the use of local building departments, the expansion of our consultant pool and the implementation of a concurrent plan review system so that we can shorten the approval process. We simply need more options.

Stephan, I know the State Architect's office is a partner with New Schools • Better Neighborhoods and that you are aware of the "What If?" Report. The central theme of that report was the inherent opportunities of joint-use parks, libraries, health facilities and schools in our innercity and innersuburban neighborhoods. Everyone embraced the idea, but it appears it's very difficult to implement. San Diego seems be making some remarkable strides towards this form of school siting, should they be looked to as a model for what the future may hold?

I hope so. Joint-use and other opportunities that can make schools the center of our communities need to be encouraged. However, the Field Act is perceived as being quite restrictive in that regard and without a strong force pushing that type of joint-use facility they rarely get designed, let alone built.

There is a distinction in the California Building Code between public schools and every other school that we need to consider. And while it may be controversial, we need a more common set of building standards in California. That would open up the opportunities for enhanced joint-use opportunities.

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So how do we do create a single standard that still adequately protects children yet doesn't provide any bureaucratic or regulatory disincentive? I don't know. But, it's certainly worthy of a dialogue.

One of the themes in the San Diego project is to use school facilities as the centerpiece of rebuilding or revitalizing a blighted neighborhood, City Heights and using housing, parks and a school as part of a collaborative city-school district effort. Again, are there incentives in the present procedures to encourage that kind of city-school district collaborations? What do we need to do to reincentivize that effort?

The position of State Architect has no ability to offer incentives other than what might be contained in the existing process. But we're open to taking a look at assisting people in traversing the current regulatory process and perhaps providing incentives for good practice. We are currently talking with utility companies about sustainable, energy efficient schools. And we've made a commitment that we'll consider providing incentives to school districts for Title 24 energy compliance.

Let me jump in here and say that The Planning Report just completed an interview with Secretary of State and Consumer Services Agency Aileen Adams on this very topic where she outlined the state's intention of not only encouraging but perhaps mandating sustainable state buildings in the future. How can you partner and how can the language in the next school bond encourage this kind of effort?

We first have to break down the misconception that sustainable, energy efficient construction costs more money to design and takes longer to deliver. And we need public policy support to do that.

There has to be some recognition that paying for these things, while they may add to the initial cost, is smart business. We need to start collecting data to provide the evidence that this is simply good business practice. We must recognize that the lifecycle of the building, not merely the initial investment, is where the real cost is. It's the job of the State Architect to provide that foundation of understanding.

Stephan, you actually practiced for years in the Stockton area. Maybe you could share with our readers the realities of finding General Contractors, Subs and other professionals willing to change the way they do business and implement some of this sustainable, energy efficient vision. How do you convince someone who has been constructing buildings for 20, 30, 40 years to change so that your vision actually becomes a matter of practice?

Contracting is contracting. Roles, responsibilities and expectations have to be very clear from the beginning. I was involved in private practice for a long time and if there was any single reason for failures, it was always communication and a lack of understanding about the expectations.

Large clients, small clients, big firms, small firms, big contractors, small contractors all suffer from the same thing. So, we simply have to make clear in our contracts what we want in terms of materials, energy efficiency ratings, etc. and make sure that we're clear and concise.

You spoke of smart investments. The Urban Land Institute in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land just convened a statewide coordinating committee to focus on a Smart Growth initiative agenda for the state. How would the state architect's office in the matters we have just discussed fit in to such an effort to introduce these kinds of ideas into the whole state land use and facilities agenda for the next decade?

Like it or not, we influence the marketplace--the practices we employ, where we site our buildings, how we share our facilities, whether we develop a model for good practice and whether we enhance quality of life through sustainable and livable communities all factor into a Smart Growth agenda for the state. All of us have to be equally committed to being good partners and good neighbors.

A year from now, how would you like the State Architect's Office and your tenure to be judged? By what criteria? By what benchmarks?

I would love to see California known nationally and internationally as the epitome of a responsible and great public client, not just in the quality of our buildings-because that is often mired in aesthetic judgement-but actually in the success, performance and experience of the users.

It's wonderful to have delightful buildings and I love great design, but we have a greater responsibility-to satisfy our clients, the people of California. If we can create great looking buildings and become a great public client, I think we'll accomplish that.

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