GROWING UP IN ARCHITECTURE
Mills High School, Millbrae, California (photo from carducciassociates.com)
A 1960s cover of Time magazine featured my high school as a building that could be assembled and disassembled with a screwdriver. Though not literally so, the architects of Mills High School made a bold assertion relating an entire school campus as a simple kit-of-parts. Before the recent marketing ploys of prefab homes, this school that I attended comprised prefabricated parts that could be put together like a child’s toy.
Though the high school was comprised of nothing more than several dull institutional buildings, I wonder if the innovative thinking in the school’s design influenced how I experienced architecture.
During these teen years, my family resided in Burlingame, a quiet suburban community a few miles south of San Francisco. Though initially appearing to be not much more than some average tract homes, Burlingame had an architectural legacy unknown to general home buyers. Our little neighborhood contained one of the largest collections of Mid-Century Modern homes by illustrious developer-builder, Joseph Eichler. Over 100 homes.
The streets where I rode my bike, where I learned to drive, and where I played ball, were lined with the iconic architecture of the period. The design vocabulary of clean lines is commonplace now, but back then, it was ground breaking. Eichler explored indoor-outdoor spaces, abundance of natural light, large walls of glass, thin roof lines, open floor plans, carports, and an overall composition of efficiency and elegance.
How did growing up in two such impactful architectural environments influence my future?
Prior to living in Burlingame, the urban fabric of San Francisco was home, from the steep streets and Victorian homes of Russian Hill to the patina and history of Chinatown, from a job at a music studio in the Tenderloin of the then decaying Mission District to the deeply fogged-in hillside of South City, and from the hustle bustle glamor of Union Square to the comic book stores of North Beach. This was all an architectural sonata of intensity, risk and exploration.
I suspect that if I attended a generic suburban high school and not a gutsy innovative architectural work, that if my teen experiences were contained in the Taco-Bell-style tract homes of California and not a community of production homes from one of history’s eminent Mid-Century Modern architects, and that if my childhood was in a city that lacked texture, adventures and delight, I would not be the architect I am today. I believe that somehow the creative and random tapestry of various conditions threaded into my head, and decades later, seeped out of my architectural hands.