Barton Myers’s Toro Canyon home is one of six projects ticket holders can explore as part of this year’s ArchitecTours.
Paul Wellman

Now more than ever, no architectural design is complete unless it takes into account the myriad ways in which life depends on water. This Saturday, October 7, the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) presents its annual ArchitecTours, and this time around the theme is “Living with Water.” Tours of six projects, stretching from Toro Canyon to Isla Vista, will be available to ticket holders from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and the event will be capped off with a reception at the Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science & Technology (SBCAST) on Garden Street.

In a recent conversation with ArchitecTours planner and past AIA president Ellen Bildsten, I learned about the history of this popular event and about the dynamic understanding of water that drives the leading edge of contemporary design in Santa Barbara. The event became known as “ArchitecTours” in 2009, one year after Bildsten got involved. In light of her discovery that it was the AIA’s most popular public program by far, the organization chose to devote greater resources to it, and in 2011, renowned Santa Barbara architect Dennis Thompson suggested that it would benefit from having an annual theme. To this day, according to Bildsten, that initial themed edition, called “Fire Rebuilds,” remains the most successful ArchitecTours ever. Santa Barbara residents flocked Mountain Drive and adjacent areas to witness the rebirth of homes out of the ashes of our region’s most traumatic natural disasters.

Although “Living with Water” emerges from a similar sensitivity to the catastrophic effects of recent drought, there’s much more to it than that. Each of the structures reflects a multifaceted understanding of what it means to live with water. At the iconic Barton Myers house in Toro Canyon, for example, a rooftop reflecting pool augments the site’s island views while providing additional protection for the modern steel structures from possible wildfires.

Other stops on the tour include the Barnick House in Hope Ranch, with its giant Channel Islands mosaic and in-wall aquariums; HO:ME, a sustainable structure on the hillside above San Roque constructed from containers; the Greenhouse in Montecito, which has underground storm-water infiltrators to recharge the water table; a Mediterranean-inspired Greek house in Isla Vista; and MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, where a water-harvesting system sends rainwater through a filtration system that then stores it in large cisterns before returning it to replenish our aquifers.


For more information on the 2017 ArchitecTours, which takes place Saturday, October 7, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., visit


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