At Whaler's Cove in Foster City, California, Rodney created real neighborhoods of simple but elegant (restrained also comes to mind as an adjective) homes when most builders were content to grind out monotonous subdivisions.
As the overwhelming majority of builders continued to, in effect, endorse and defend sprawl, Rodney — almost a full generation before both his architectural peers and builders — took up the call for an alternative: an urban, high-density, mixed use development.
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Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco and called Golden Gateway Commons, it stretched for three blocks. Scaled perfectly and built with brick in sympathy to nearby older buildings Golden Gateway Commons set an early standard for urban infill development and proved that urban living could be a real, desirable alternative to suburban tract projects.
When, over the last ten years or more, the housing industry gave itself over almost exclusively to building monstrous McMansions, Rodney counterpunched with a home like the Aptekar Residence in Stinson Beach, California.
Yes, this is a custom home, not a production home, but at 3,500 square feet (325 square meters) it's about half the size and half the price of many McMansions. Subtle, low slung, dominated by big glass walls, clad with a single material, the house stands in stark and proud contrast to the gawky, over-sized, over ornamented houses that, alas, have spread across the whole country.
There are many more good examples of Rodney's outstanding work, which over his distinguished career totals over 250,000 housing units. Put another way, Rodney has landed 250,000 good, hard punches to the gut and the chin of his adversaries. He's tirelessly spoken to builder audiences and lobbied magazine editors to be more selective about what they published.
He's fought the good fight. But during the same time, the mainstream housing industry built more than 50 million units. So clearly in the battle royale Rodney has waged, he has been, for the most part, one against many. He's never given up, but I have seen him frustrated.
Why? Twenty years ago he told me that if you asked 100 Americans, be they doctors or plumbers or bankers or teachers or even small children, to draw a house, they'd draw a square punctured by a door and four windows, topped by a triangle with a chimney.
Since then as I've traveled the country speaking to housing industry groups I've asked thousands of Americans to draw a house, and virtually every one of them has drawn the picture Rodney described.
So, Rodney is frustrated sometimes because the form of a house is so simple, so iconic as to be known to even most children. Yet, the mainstream housing industry continues to try, with little success and far too often disastrous results, to improve upon a very good thing.
Rodney wishes, as do I, that that would stop. His body of work makes a strong case for that. But he did not, because he could not, single-handedly convince the mainstream of the housing industry to espouse his simple, elegant form of architectural modernism. Is he frustrated still? Probably.
But, without question, his influence, particularly in California, the epicenter of the American housing industry, has been pervasive and positive.
Frank Anton is Chairman of the Board and President of Washington, DC-based publishing company Hanley Wood LLC. He was editor and publisher of the company's Builder magazine for over 25 years and was Hanley Wood CEO from August 2005 to May 2012. Anton is a graduate of Dartmouth College and earned an advanced degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
At the Oriental Warehouse Lofts, the building's original exterior brick facade and some heavy-timber structural elements were preserved while others were replaced with a more modern steel structural system to improve the building's seismic performance. Courtesy ORO editionsExtra Large Image
The 66 live-work residences of the Oriental Warehouse Lofts are double-height spaces with the more private sleeping areas located on a mezzanine level at the rear of each unit. Courtesy ORO editionsExtra Large Image
The Oriental Warehouse Lofts successfully combine sleek modern details, like this main entrance, with the original 19th-Century building's more rough, industrial character. Courtesy ORO editionsExtra Large Image
Fisher Friedman Associates (FFA) designed the Golden Gateway Commons (1976), a three-block mixed-use development in downtown San Francisco, California that provides 155 condominium units organized around second-floor courtyards. Parking, commercial, and office spaces occupy a tall ground-floor level. Courtesy ORO editionsExtra Large Image