Thanks to the sudden sense of destiny that struck when the American frontier met its western limit on the shores of the Pacific, California became the world’s greatest competitive arena for the art of architecture. Mindful of the achievements of ancient Rome in shaping land through roads, aqueducts, and bridges, and blessed with access to every major tradition of building in the Mediterranean along with the latest in construction technology, the artist/architects who designed Santa Barbara’s early landmarks — George Washington Smith, Bertram Goodhue, Lutah Maria Riggs, and Mary Craig, among others — all benefited from the notion that architecture was not only an art but the art form of the highest value when it comes to both summarizing and shaping human civilizations. They lived for the idea that a strong design could complete nature, rather than resist or despoil it. 

On Saturday, October 5, the American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara branch will celebrate the art of architecture with its 11th anniversary ArchitecTour, which lasts from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. There will be an afterparty at SBCAST on Garden Street from 4-6 p.m. The tour is self-guided, but you can expect to encounter the architects and lots of other highly informed parties at every stop along the way. This is one of the best ways to meet other people in Santa Barbara with either a professional interest in or a personal passion for great architecture. Every time I have done the ArchitecTour, I have learned something not only new but important about the conditions that make our lives here possible and possibly beautiful. 

The theme of the art of architecture has allowed the tour’s organizers to intertwine two major threads in our community’s pursuit of the ideal 21st-century life. One is the notion that buildings can themselves be art objects; the other is that some buildings should be built to conserve and display works of art. There’s also a third, particularly suggestive outlier, which is represented by two structures on the tour, and that is the idea that buildings support the activities of artisans.

Direct Relief

The Artisan Court in downtown Santa Barbara is a City Housing Authority project that provides 55 affordable studio apartments to three groups of people: youths aging out of foster care; special-needs adults, including the formerly homeless; and low-income downtown workers. Architects Christine Pierron and Mark Wieneke imagined the structure as a series of three courtyards where a population of artisans could live, meet, and constitute a viable sub-community. If you have any interest in how Californians will respond to the largest public challenge of our era — equitable access to housing — then you need to see this project. 

The new Direct Relief building in Goleta, also on the tour, is equally relevant to any discussion of public planning policy for the region going forward. Architects DMHA “healed” a former runway at the Santa Barbara Airport into a green structure that’s based on the environmental history of the slough from before 1900. The building uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure that Direct Relief will be able to deliver supplies to remote places as well as our immediate region even if catastrophe strikes and it must go off the grid for up to six months.

Six extraordinary private residential projects round out the tour’s 2019 offering, each of them with unusual features guaranteed to generate interest and provoke animated discussion. AB Design, Barton Myers Associates, Blackbird, Thompson Naylor, The Warner Group, and Stephen Olson are all represented in this thrilling set of contemporary homes.  In addition to DMHA’s project, Kupiec Architects will showcase a second industrial complex in Goleta. For a day at least, you can live the ultimate California dream by visiting the best examples of contemporary architecture in our region.

Participants can pick up their maps, apps, and wristbands at the organization’s headquarters at 229 E. Victoria Street from 9:30-11am, Wednesday, October 2, through Friday, October 4, and on Saturday, the day of the tour, beginning at 9am. In a new development, participants can also check in at locations on Ladera Lane in Montecito and in Goleta. For full information on how to check in, see the AIASB website,


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