February 1, 2002 - From the February, 2002 issue

A Case For Expanding The Scope Of The State Architect's Duties

The definition of "city" is evolving. It once focused heavily on the needs of the individual house or neighborhood, it now looks more broadly at the relationships that those structures, geographies and communities have with one another. But as planners, developers, environmentalists and politicians begin to think beyond the individual site to this greater scale, are our architects following suit? Stephan Castellanos, California State Architect, believes that they must and is focused on altering the definition of "architecture" to go beyond aesthetics and include the experience of the end-user as a determinant. TPR is pleased to provide this candid interview.


Stephan Castellanos

Stephan, the Governor and the Legislature are moving toward putting the first of perhaps three state school construction bonds on the Nov. 2002 ballot. What is the interest and agenda of the State Architect re: such bond measures?

The State Architect's current mandate emphasizing design and construction focuses on the importance of realizing the total value of public investment. Many believe that realization to refer merely to the reaction a building evokes visually. That is not the case. The relationship I am striving to construct goes well beyond visual design and gets at the heart of a seamless integration of public institutions with the surrounding community. By doing that, we've gone beyond the mere aesthetics of a building and gotten at the core experience that a facility evokes.

That emphasis seems to parallel the recommendations forwarded in last spring's LAO report on school facilities. In light of that, are there any roles that you wish to pursue given the significant amount of public capital invested throughout the State?

California represents the second-largest public builder in the nation, second only to the federal government. Based on that level of investment, we have the ability and opportunity to be a positive influence for public construction and a transformational opportunity for the California market.

To make sure that such an investment continues to aid in the evolution of the California market, the State Architect's Office has initiated a program entitled The Excellence in Public Buildings Program. The sole purpose of that program is to find and collect new methodologies for design and construction and begin to utilize those components in our new projects. If we can continually allow and encourage our construction and design paradigms to evolve, we are going to make enormous strides toward benefiting cities throughout the state.

Public school design falls under your purview. What have you seen through the Excellence in Public Buildings Program that could be directly applicable to new school facilities?

The school construction/modernization process is disjointed, but there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

We are currently in the process of finding and creating synergies between the principal agencies involved in public school construction-the California Department of Education and the Office of Public School Construction. If we can do that, we can begin to see an optimized system that provides safe, healthy and positive environments for our customers.

Is joint-use one of the ways of benefiting and optimizing the system?

I see no reason why the goals of agencies such as mine cannot be implemented concurrently with the goals of joint-use. However, the way that agencies are currently set up and interact causes real barriers to joint-use. Those breaks between agencies are fixable, but in order to get to a point where we can deal with the real problems and regulatory barriers we must get past the historic misperception that joint-use is inherently difficult.

What can be done to align state rules, regulations and funding formulas to better optimize jurisdictional collaboration and joint uses?

The collaborative model we've set up with the California Dept. of Education and the Office of Public School Construction really gets at the heart of the issue that Sen. Alpert talks about. But while we've set up a mechanism to encourage collaboration, it is still not an easy process. However, if we want to create more livable communities, it's a process we have to engage in.

The same thing can be said of local governmental interaction and collaboration. If we are all committed to better communities, this type of collaboration must be initiated.

What's amazing to me is that regardless of whether one is building public schools, libraries, parks or other public institutions there are common barriers. Because of those commonalties, each agency could more easily cope with those dilemmas if they increased collaborations. Creating that environment will incentivize the kinds of projects that address a number of divergent issues and create a climate where the community truly benefits.

Stephan, it's often been said that architects are the last to really understand that the decisions about the buildings they're asked to design are made long before they are involved. Is that the case in the public facilities world as well? How do we fix that?

Architects have been trained to think about their work as an iterative process of design, documentation and construction. As architecture is currently practiced, that is no longer the correct role of the architect in our society.

The role of an architect has evolved beyond merely process and now integrates the end-result and experience a structure elicits. That experience is not developed or nurtured on the drafting board, it is developed in meeting rooms, boardrooms, legislative halls and committee rooms. Those are the places where the investment is actually determined. That is where the user experience is defined. That's where architects belong. And that is where architects must be the most vocal.

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No one has ever accused architects of being too politically active. What leads to the fact that they are not involved in the committee hearing rooms and the discussions about the language of bond measures and the allocation formulas?

Architectural schools have defined the role of an architect as being focused on the object and not the experience of the end user. And while I love beautiful buildings as much as any architect, we must begin to move away from a focus which forgets all the other aspects of architecture.

Instead of merely an aesthetic or object-orientation, architects must move toward an understanding of the funding of the project, how policy is determined and how those policies evolve into development codes, guidelines and regulations that govern the built environment. Those elements are at the core of what buildings can and cannot be.

Those aspects are where buildings are being designed in today's world. And that is where architects are the least vocal. If we are to move beyond the aesthetics of a building, begin to harness how a building relates to its surroundings and finally create a sustainable and livable experience, the design community must evolve and begin to pay more attention to state policy debates and bond allocations.

Let's turn to one of those policies: design-build. What should be the policy? What should be the interface between the design community and the creation of that policy mechanism?

Design-build is another way of delivering buildings. As such, the relationship between the design and policy communities is fundamental. In that particular process architects have a very significant leadership role as the trusted voice of the design and construction communities. Maintaining that voice through the use of design-build gives architects a tremendous amount of moral authority over the legitimate use of that process.

The Gov.'s Office, the Sec. of Business and Transportation, the Sec. of Consumer Affairs and your office have been active in trying to create a prototype of a high-performance, environmentally smart new public building. The proposed Caltrans L.A. Headquarters building is the result of that vision. What lessons should be derived from that effort?

The Caltrans process was a prototype of this new design dynamic that I've talked about. The goal was to satisfy the needs of the community, achieve some very lofty goals with regard to sustainability and energy efficiency and at the same time satisfy some very specific needs of the client.

The state, through a very deliberate process, invited a multitude of people to the table and created an enormous amount of opportunity through that discussion. Because of that, we now have the right people on board to determine what that end-result will be so that the aforementioned concerns are all addressed. Because of that process, the team we assembled understands the community and has really focused on constructing a building that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but serves as a bridge between the facility and the neighborhood.

What lessons have already been learned from the Caltrans process?

The State of California is not alone in using cost as the primary determinant of how projects are awarded. However, there is certainly a growing recognition-through the Governor's Executive Order on Sustainability and the subsequent release of the Blueprint on Sustainability from the Department of General Services-that minimizing the lifetime cost of a building is where the real savings of the building reside.

As we budget for buildings in the coming decades I think we will become more focused on looking past initial cost and instead look to the lifetime cost of a building and its impact on the surrounding environment as the determining factors of whether it will be constructed.

How might new public school construction/modernization conform to the standards you've set for public investment in the state?

I'm incredibly excited about the possibilities. The $30-50 billion of available state park, library and school bond money coupled with an equal amount of investment from local resources provides an incredible opportunity to set and define a new direction for California's communities. This investment, combined with the lessons we are learning from the high-performance experiment can set the tone for a sustainable design and construction paradigm for generations to come.

Lastly, what should be the role of the design community in taking advantage of that opportunity? The role in the past has been that of a reactionary. What is the possibility that the role of the architect will become a more visionary one?

Visionary leadership is an important and fundamental role for both current and future generations of architects. They must understand the significant role that they play in the built environment. And they must fulfill their professional obligation of shaping the future by explaining to the citizens of California how important design and capital investment are to the built environment. The success of the state and its localities rely on architects continuing to understand, leverage and explain that relationship.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.