Maybeck Returns to Oregon
Much of this design work went unbuilt, probably because of the financial failure of the timber company. Some was built but subsequently destroyed when Highway 101 was routed through the middle of town. Then local memory of the famous architect began to fade. Not much of Maybeck remains in present-day Brookings, and some of that is suffering from neglect or lack of knowledge of its historic roots.
The most notable exception, a beautiful house designed for the timber company's top manager, is now a well-preserved bed-and-breakfast inn. Indeed, one of the South Coast Inn's owners, Keith Pepper, is the Brookings city council member most vocal about the potential for a Maybeck revival. But Maybeck's worker hostel, the Chetco Inn, now a nursing home, has been compromised by vinyl siding and other remodeling inconsistent with its historic value.
Some of the worker houses may survive, but Buchanan says that the documentation of these houses was so scant that it will take some door-to-door research before houses can be positively identified as Maybeck originals. Some residential streets still bear the characteristic contour-respecting curvature, but there is little evidence of his extensive garden walkways. Driving through Brookings today, with its "anywhere-USA" commercial strip, it is virtually impossible to guess at its place in architectural history.
But thanks to the enthusiasm of Buchanan and Pepper, this is about to change. They are determined to restore, rebuild, and revive Maybeck in spirit, and they are mounting this work on two fronts.
At the civic level, Pepper is urging the city council to adopt design guidelines that respect and preserve any existing historic buildings. It often feels like an uphill battle in this rural community where any guidelines may be interpreted as bureaucratic intrusions on personal freedoms. But he is gradually making inroads in persuading other city leaders that there is potential economic benefit from good design.
Inadvertently supporting Pepper's cause, the State of Oregon's Department of Transportation has recently decided to reroute part of Highway 101. This not only frees up part of downtown to allow it to return to Maybeck's original design, it promises a moderate level of funding to make such a dream feasible.
Meanwhile, Buchanan has begun site planning work for a housing development on a 630-acre parcel on nearby Harbor Hill. Because it's within the urban growth boundary, state land use regulations require that housing be developed at certain densities. Despite the area's steep terrain, he will build about 1000 dwellings.
To the meet the requirement for a certain proportion of affordable housing, Buchanan is turning for help to his mentor, Maybeck. He will use some of Maybeck's ideas for worker housing in the low-income houses. He will also apply Maybeck's principles of designing roads to fit hilly contours to reduce the amount of hillside that needs to be cut-and-filled for pavement.
Despite expected controversy from historical purists, Buchanan is planning to dust off original Maybeck drawings of the more upscale houses and public buildings, revise them to meet current codes, and build them into the mix within the Harbor Hills development. He has been encouraged in this by Cherry Maybeck Nittler, the architect's granddaughter. A high priority for Buchanan now is a community hall, based on Maybeck's original design. University of Oregon architecture student Oktavianus Ludiro has developed and rendered computer models of this structure.
Far from insisting on a strict interpretation of Maybeck's designs, Buchanan favors a creative approach that adopts Maybeck standards when appropriate and blends those with modern design ideas. He believes that if Maybeck were alive today he would be taking this same flexible approach.
In fact, Buchanan feels he will be imitating Maybeck when he adopts state-of-the-art technologies to realize some of Maybeck's ideas that were perhaps impractical 80 years ago. For example, Maybeck used plants as part of the architecture, frequently placing them on rooftops and in other hard-to-tend places. Too often they died from neglect. Another of Maybeck's impractical ideas was a bedroom that rolled outside for sleeping under the stars. It received little use, perhaps due to the inconvenience of being caught by a rain shower.
Buchanan will be developing solutions for these design problems in partnership with NexGenEx, Inc., a local startup that offers exciting possibilities to architecture. The Harbor Hills development will be the first site to use NexGenEx's new fiber-optic based system, based on Sun Microsystems's Java technology. It will not only give the community ultra-fast Internet access, but will allow automation based on community-wide intelligence.
For example, real-time data will be available to all buildings from one weather station, so at the first sign of rain that bedroom can roll inside or roofs can close. Watering systems will "know" not only the soil's moisture content, but whether temperatures in the nearby Chetco River are such that water can be extracted without threatening salmon smolts.
Buchanan understands it would be impossible to duplicate a Maybeck development, or even a single house, in a new location, in a new century. But he hopes that the spirit of Maybeck will offer inspiration to both clients and designers.
Copyright 1999, B.J. Novitski
B.J. Novitski is Managing Editor of ArchitectureWeek.
Illustrations for this article are supported by a generous contribution to ArchitectureWeek from William Buchanan, Harbor Construction Ltd.