Sacramento architects often complain that they're passed over when it comes to major commissions as clients look for big names from bigger cities. So the architectural community here cheered when a local firm Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects recently was singled out as the state's best.
The honor reverberated beyond Dreyfuss & Blackford's east Sacramento office. For the first time in at least 32 years, California jurors in the American Institute of Architects' contest had bypassed Los Angeles and San Francisco to pick a Sacramento architectural practice.
"It's huge. It's a big thing," said Davis architect Maria Ogrydziak, who as president of the AIA's Central Valley chapter took part in the California Council's vote for the 2013 firm award.
"It's significant to get the recognition for a firm in our region because it's recognizing the fact that we're players in statewide architecture," she said.
John Webre, managing principal of Dreyfuss & Blackford, interprets the honor in similar fashion.
"I think the Sacramento design community lifts their head a little higher because it's recognized statewide that we have talent here. You don't have to go out of town to find design talent," said Webre, who oversees 17 other architects and a dozen support staff at Dreyfuss & Blackford.
Dreyfuss & Blackford is one of Sacramento's oldest and biggest architectural practices. The firm was chosen for the 2013 honor for its body of work as well as its contributions to the field in general, including leadership roles in events like the recent Capitol Mall Design Competition.
"There seems to be an emphasis around preserving not only the profession of architecture but encouraging the future leaders of the profession. I think Dreyfuss & Blackford does that really, really well," said Evelyn Lee, vice president of communications and public affairs for the statewide AIA. "They're kind of an example of a firm that's doing all the right things to be engaged in the community and ensure the future of practice."
For 62 years, since Albert Dreyfuss opened a small design office in Sacramento, Dreyfuss & Blackford has hewed to a streamlined, modernist aesthetic. The SMUD headquarters along Highway 50 in east Sacramento is a prime example.
The precast concrete, steel and glass building was designed in 1959 and featured sun-tracking aluminum louvers to control temperature and lighting. It was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places, lauded in part for its "virtually pristine example of post-World War II modernism" in the tradition of renowned international architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
In the years since, Dreyfuss & Blackford has focused on public works and health care facilities. "That's our strong suit: purpose-built headquarters," said architect Peter Saucerman, planning principal for the firm.
Highlights include the Lincoln Plaza CalPERS Headquarters at 400 Q St., distinguished by its rooftop gardens and cascading greenery, Sacramento International Airport's Terminal A completed in 1998 and the 275,000-square-foot headquarters of the California Independent System Operator, completed last year in Folsom for managers of the state's electric grid.
Dreyfuss & Blackford spent roughly four years on the ISO headquarters design. It was a challenging project because of the property's hilly, tree-studded location (about 100 native oaks were preserved) and its tight security needs. Ample natural lighting is a hallmark, with floor-to-ceiling windows along the north side of the curving building and casual gathering spots for employees. The headquarters earned a LEED Platinum rating, the highest possible eco-conscious honor bestowed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
"We're kind of a dry, engineering kind of place. We could've built something that looked like it was built in East Germany," said California ISO President Steve Berberich of the new digs. "It turned out to be exactly what we needed and exactly what we wanted."
Like many large Sacramento architecture firms, Dreyfuss & Blackford has relied on the state of California the city's biggest landlord as a bread-and-butter client. But these days that doesn't necessarily mean dull. Webre said the state has evolved, due in part to technology and to a growing recognition of the benefits that quality design brings to the community.
"Public buildings are far more innovative than they ever were," he said. "They're more intellectually interesting."
Some Sacramentans may know Dreyfuss & Blackford as the firm behind the 24- story Capitol Square tower at 450 N St., occupied by the state Board of Equalization and plagued over the years by water leaks, falling windows and costly repairs. An independent inspector brought in by the state Department of General Services determined the faulty panes were a manufacturing problem and not a design flaw, Saucerman said.
The American Institute of Architecture's California Council has given out an annual company award for at least 32 years, the AIA's Lee said. One of the earliest recipients: Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis or EHDD Architecture of San Francisco, which designed the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill won the award in 2011.
EVENT SHOWCASES REGION'S TOP DESIGNS
Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects is helping put on the Central Valley Region Architecture Festival this month. It will showcase building design in the Sacramento area and "highlight existing relationships between the region and its architecture."
Events are scheduled from Saturday to Oct. 28 and include lectures, movie screenings, bicycle and walking tours, as well as open house nights at several area firms.
Visit aiacv.org or the AIA Central Valley Facebook page for more information.