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Profiles in Design: Thompson Naylor Architects

Santa Barbara Firm Is ‘LEED-ing’ the Way in Environmentally Correct Building


Studio: 900 Philinda Avenue, thompsonnaylor.com

Specialties: Environmentally correct green architecture, modernist/contemporary design

Notable Projects: Santa Barbara Hillel in Isla Vista; La Casa de Maria; Laguna Cottages for Seniors; El Zoco artists’ lofts; Trinity Episcopal Church remodel; All-Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church remodel

Upcoming: Unity Church of Santa Barbara (interior upgrades and creation of outdoor gathering place); La Cumbre Country Club (pool facilities renovation)

“We’re eclectic,” said Dennis Thompson, president of Thompson Naylor Architects, an area firm with a formidable foothold in sustainability for more than 25 years. “We’ll do traditional; we’ll do contemporary or kind of a blend.”

Thompson said his firm’s clientele is about 70 percent residential, 30 percent nonprofits, such as religious institutions and private schools, and 90 percent of their work is in Santa Barbara County, mostly on the South Coast.

As part of the Green Building Alliance of Santa Barbara, Thompson Naylor has long championed sustainable design, organizing solar design and related conferences since the early 1980s. His firm — cofounded by his professional partner of 30 years, Susette Naylor — has become an award-winning leader in environmentally correct building.  

“By choice and by accident, we’re local,” said Thompson, whose firm only handles Ventura and Santa Barbara County projects. (Permit-wise, Los Angeles is “a whole other ball of wax.”)

“There’s not a lot of new construction here. I can trace my career in terms of forest fires,” Thompson continued, half-jokingly.

Working in the shadow of Santa Barbara’s historically dominant Spanish Colonial Revival style has not been overly oppressive, Thompson said, largely because beyond El Pueblo Viejo District, fidelity to the Mediterranean style is not an issue.

There are other single-family-unit design boards to impress — in Summerland, Goleta, etc.

“We almost always have to pay attention to some kind of regional compatibility. Within that regime, there’s a certain kind of freedom.”

Certain communities, such as Isla Vista, do offer more creative license. “You can just see it when you drive through there,” he said. “It doesn’t look like Santa Barbara at all, evolving with modernist buildings.” Ditto Montecito and Camarillo: “They don’t have much design review there.”

One of his proudest achievements is the three-couple residence Victoria Garden Mews. “The people had their heart and soul in it,” Thompson said.

Thompson first became environmentally conscious while attending UC Berkeley (following Princeton undergrad) during the 1974 Arab oil embargo. “That was a wake-up call to everybody,” he said. “[As architects], we’re part of the problem and part of the solution.”

Thanks to his first wife’s UCSB schooling, the Angeleno came to Santa Barbara and never left. The Community Environmental Council is where he “got a second education,” becoming an early green adopter.

The good news is that California leads the way nationally in codifying the very energy-conservation advocacy he once battled for. “It hasn’t always been easy to convince people to spend extra to make their homes green. Now it’s legislated, so we don’t have to argue it,” Thompson said. All new California houses must have net-zero energy by 2020; commercial buildings, by 2030.

“The beauty of Cali is we haven’t had to build a power plant in 30 years,” Thompson said. “Our standard is the level of European countries. We’re comparable to Sweden and Germany. I’m absolutely proud to be a resident of a state that takes global warming seriously.”

Thompson enjoys new challenges. In 2008, the longtime Mesa resident cofounded Mesa Architects (mesavillage.org). Their biggest accomplishment: turning Cliff Drive into a bike-friendly neighborhood street instead of a city highway.

“It felt great to have normally competing architects collaborating,” he said.



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