Page C1.2 . 09 May 2001                     
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    Turnbull - Buildings in the Landscape


    Bill Turnbull's great grandfather, George B. Post, was one of the first architects to win the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, his father studied architecture at Yale and at Cranbrook under Eliel Saarinen, and he was raised on his family's dairy farm in New Jersey. Neither architecture nor the farm — its buildings, land, and processes — nor the drive for excellence were ever far from his thoughts.

    In the end, he grew grapes and created fine wines in Napa and Knights Valleys while conducting a busy and distinguished architectural practice in San Francisco.

    Bill's commitment to the land has always been one of his distinguishing characteristics. While each of us at MLTW — Bill, Charles Moore, Richard Whitaker, and I brought to the table differing attitudes towards and experiences with the landscape, Bill's was the most distinctive.

    He identified with the land and its processes; he considered himself a part of it. For Bill, the landscape was not a prospect or a figure of speech, it was intensely real and present. Bill approached the land not in worship, but as a partner; sometimes with a watercolor brush; quite regularly with a shovel. He taught us all to honor the forms of the earth and he knew what it meant to coax the land into productivity.

    He also knew what it was like to place beams and nail shingles. One of Richard Whitaker's favorite images from the halcyon MLTW days is of Bill high in the timber framework of Condominium I at Sea Ranch, measuring the precise point at which beam should be bolted to post.

    It probably caused the contractor, Matthew Sylvia, some anxiety to let someone else locate a critical connection, but it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Matt and Bill. The continuing exchange of craft and outlook between architect and contractor became fundamental to the life of each while the swing of Bill's arm, hammer in hand, became part of the places he occupied.

    The precision of Bill's buildings was a way of cultivating structure and imbued even the most expansive projects with a sense of economy. In his buildings, the roof structure is often exposed, spinning a tale of prudent placement in the structure overhead.

    The widths of his buildings are also generally spare, measured closely to the scope of activities that takes place within so that there is no floppy excess, no space that simply happens. When Bill's plans spread, they do so with purpose into bays, nooks, and porches that are shaped to the body and its resting places.

    Turnbull's disposition owed much to his awareness of his own Scotch ancestry. His psyche was inscribed with the motto "Fortune Favors the Bold" from the Turnbull clan seal (as was the Johnson-Turnbull wine label).

    Notwithstanding the expansive maxim, he took pleasure in being teased about frugality. The intent to spare resources, to avoid excess, and make each move purposeful, graceful, and direct was always with him.

    So too was his bold insistence on excellence. He seldom let down his guard. Each line in a drawing, each passage through space, each timber in a structure, each chimney in a landscape, was located precisely and sized acutely. Each added its part to the lineaments of enclosure, the measures of a place. Each was like a segment of himself embedded in the world, and he made certain that it was right.

    Bill's stairs tend to spread as they reach the ground — or grow out of the ground and narrow to a more determined path — depending on which way you envision movement. They are never simple machines structured by building code requirements and minimal action.

    Stairs are the building form most intimately related to the body; they structure its movements, determining the direction and pace of the body's actions. And when empty, they retain the direct traces of that action, endowing inert space with the recollection of human passage.

    They are also the place where it is easiest to be clear about the experience individuals will have because you know how they will move and what views they will see.



    ArchWeek Photo

    The Condominium I prototype groups ten units tightly together to create a community while leaving most of the site open.
    Image: William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW

    ArchWeek Photo

    The condominium units were created as 24-foot (7-meter) cubes, modified by pitch of the wind-deflecting shed roofs.
    Image: William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW

    ArchWeek Photo

    MLTW created a master plan for a spectacular, though rugged, 35-acre (14-hectare) swath of coast that would retain the poetry of the landscape.
    Photo: Morley Baer

    ArchWeek Photo

    The condominium was designed to preserve the character of the landscape while housing people at a greater density than traditional single-family neighborhoods.
    Image: William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW

    ArchWeek Photo

    Some units have enclosed private gardens or greenhouses; all face southeast toward the coastal panorama to west to a bay.
    Image: William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW

    ArchWeek Photo

    Parking is clustered in a walled compound, and the units are closely packed around a courtyard.
    Photo: Morley Baer

    ArchWeek Photo

    Glass bays, terraces, decks, and walled gardens creating more outdoor than indoor space are extensions to the modules.
    Photo: Morley Baer

    ArchWeek Photo

    The spare condominium complex complements the rugged pasture land and rocky cliffs that distinguish Sea Ranch as a magnificent site.
    Image: William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW


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