Protectors of the Presidio – Alumni Robert and Christina Wallace

Robert Wallace, B.A.E.D. ’77, M.Arch. ’83 and his wife, fellow UW graduate Christina Wallace, ’85 have spent the last 24 years in charge of restoring and preserving one of the oldest continuously operating military posts in the United States – the Presidio of San Francisco. Now converted to a national park, the 1,491 acre Presidio and nearly 800 buildings is now home to 3,000 people and 225+ businesses. Rehabilitated and converted spaces also include museums, schools, cultural and learning centers, a hotel, numerous recreational facilities, art installations, hiking trails and a campground. As the Associate Director of Architecture for the Presidio Trust, Robert has managed the majority of the park’s rehabilitation projects. Christina also works for the Presidio Trust as the Senior Preservation Project Manager.

How you came to work in preservation?

Rob: My pre-professional UW degree was focused on architectural design without much emphasis on existing or historic buildings. But before returning to graduate school my first projects as an intern architect in Seattle all involved historic buildings and I think that initiated an appreciation for the challenges of working with the constraints of existing conditions. It wasn’t until my graduate studies and the influences of department faculty who emphasized the study of history and urban form that my interests gravitated towards this area of the profession. Since becoming licensed in 1985, I have worked on numerous new buildings and additions but I estimate that 80 percent of my professional portfolio has involved the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings in an urban context. Of course, having a preservation specialized spouse has also been a major influence on my interests in historic preservation!

Christina: After graduating from UW in 1985 with a degree in Architectural History from the College of Arts and Sciences, I went directly to graduate school at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York. I had always been interested in history, architecture and preservation and knew that Columbia offered the best program, coupled with the fact that Rob and I both wanted to live and work in New York City. I graduated with a Master of Science in Historic Preservation, with a concentration in Conservation. We both worked in New York City until moving to San Francisco in 1992.

Aerial view of the Presidio. Photo: Carl Wilmington
Aerial view of the Presidio. Photo: Carl Wilmington

What Presidio projects are you most proud or found most challenging?

Rob: I’m most proud of being the primary Presidio architect since the beginning of this amazing transition, even before the Army transferred the post to the National Park Service in 1994. As a group, we have since rehabilitated over 350 of the historic buildings and I have had some sort of design management role on all of these buildings. I often say that the current project is the most challenging but our current project is proving to be pretty darn challenging. We are converting an 1895 brick barracks to a 42 room lodge for park visitors, using carbon fiber, shotcrete and micropile seismic reinforcing methods while protecting an archeologically sensitive site under the basement. And we will have some very interesting and unusual guest rooms too. Come visit us!

Christina: I have been at the Presidio for 10 years and have worked primarily on the oldest structures with the most complex preservation and conservation issues. The most challenging was the rehabilitation of the Officers’ Club, including the seismic strengthening of the original adobe walls. I recently completed the new Presidio Visitor Center, where we rehabilitated an original guard house (jail) into a new use open to the visiting public.

Why is the Presidio important?

Rob and Christina: The entire Presidio of San Francisco is designated as a national historic landmark, the highest level of historic recognition in America. Not just because it is one of the oldest continuously occupied military installation in the U.S. (founded by the Spanish in 1776) but because of its amazing variety and quality of military buildings and landscapes of all types in a spectacular location. The buildings themselves are not monumental or particularly unusual but the collection of so much in this one strategic location is what makes it special. So we don’t have many individual landmarks, but the whole is a landmark.

Another aspect to note is that our special enabling legislation required the Presidio Trust to become financially self-sufficient within 15 years of transfer or the entire site would be disposed of as surplus government property. I am very proud to say that the Presidio Trust accomplished this goal in 12 years and, with the National Park Service, we are successfully preserving the Presidio for future generations to use and enjoy.

Do you have a favorite memory of UW?

Rob: There are too many, but here are a few: The camaraderie of the students in the design studios, good coffee, using the city of Seattle as an opportunity for projects, getting the Architecture Thesis Award, more coffee and of course, the Architecture in Rome program, which can be a truly life changing experience.

Christina: Attending the Architecture in Rome program was a highlight of my UW years, not only the time spent in Rome, but the preparation classes before and the annual fund raising dinner back in Seattle. At that time the students prepared the entire meal, including making the pasta by hand! It was a labor of love.

Watch Robert and Christina’s lecture, part of the Department of Architecture’s 2016 Winter Lecture Series – The Presidio – Lessons from the Presidio of San Francisco: Building Rehabilitation and Adaptive Reuse.

Forging bold climate solutions

Fast-forward 100 years and picture cities and states with boundaries reshaped by the dwindling availability of a precious resource — water. After a century of climate change, ecosystems everywhere face intense development pressures. Plant and animal species have adapted and migrated to new habitats in their fierce struggle to survive.

Students in our McKinley Futures Studio spend one mind-bending quarter pondering scenarios like these, collaborating on potential solutions to a host of challenges that might someday change the way every living thing on the planet coexists.

Funded through an endowment from distinguished Seattle architect and UW alumnus David McKinley and his wife, Jan, this interdisciplinary studio broadens students’ perspectives on how to envision the problems that will test them as they plan, design and build for the future.

“This studio pushes students to think about problems from a larger sphere of ecological influence, to look beyond the boundaries of a particular building site and to engage all the forces that come to play on a city or region,” says Dave Miller, former chair of the Department of Architecture and the professor who leads the studio.

Students like Kameron Selby push themselves to ask critical questions on both abstract and pragmatic levels as they collaborate across disciplines to plot out their vision for ways cities like Seattle or Los Angeles might adapt to a future short on water.

“It was an opportunity not only to design something, but to dig deeper and consider how our ideas might actually play out in the future,” says Kameron, who’s pursuing a dual master’s degree in architecture and landscape architecture. “We created this narrative, something that could be true — how the government reacted, what happened to people. It taught us to push the limits with our critical thinking and decision-making.”

In the era of “New Age Nomads” that Kameron and his studio partners envision, people with scarce access to water would lead migratory lives. They’d take shelter from place to place in structures formed when algae essentially slurps up a sea shell-like byproduct of desalinating water, forming the façades of buildings where these nomads would live for a while before packing up and moving elsewhere.

A type of nuclear energy that doesn’t create toxic waste would power the process of making seawater drinkable. The heat given off by desalination plants could also be harnessed as a renewable source of energy for cities.

“This is such a forward-thinking and creative studio program — one that captivates both students and professors by projecting design concepts into the realm of ‘possible, probable and preferred’ futures,” says David McKinley.

“Jan and I are deeply impressed by the research that’s come out of this studio so far and hope that someday all UW students get such imaginative and informative opportunities to think critically about the future of their disciplines.”

Healing gardens bring Nature in

Surrounded by the sights, scents and sounds of nature, two veterans speak softly with each other seated side by side on a mahogany bench. Moments earlier, each was surrounded by stark white walls in a treatment room steps away inside Seattle’s VA Hospital.

“When you’re dealing with PTSD, this is a beautiful place to come just to take a deep breath,” says Richard Coleman, who served on submarines in the 1970s.

His friend, Vietnam vet Tom Urban, describes the healing garden designed and built by UW landscape architecture students as “my medication.”

Professor Daniel Winterbottom speaks passionately about the therapeutic value of nature to all people, but especially to those who have faced trauma.

“When you are stressed, it is nature that will bring down the cortisol levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and restores our energy to deal with stressful situations,” he explains while sitting amid the sound of falling water, the flutter of birds and dragonfly wings, and the wafting scent of budding blooms in the VA Hospital garden. Above his head, etched into the wall, is one of several plaques: Nature surrounds me with peace, soothes my torn nerves and comforts me.

Gina Kim, who graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture, served as project manager for the 27-student team who created the garden over 20 weeks.

“While this was a culmination of everything we learned it class, it taught us things we could never have learned in the curriculum,” she says. “We had to consider the availability and cost of materials. Some things that might have looked good in design weren’t good ergonomically for the veterans. It was a dose of reality.”

Students conducted focus groups with veterans and VA staff, read letters from vets through the ages, and considered the poetic and sensory effects of their work. Gina called it “humbling.” Her professor called such projects “transformative for students who are just figuring out their place in the world.”

As Gina plans a career in human-centered landscape design, she says she “can’t imagine designing without seeing how real things affect real people. It’s not just aesthetics alone. (The VA project) was colossal in terms of my education. I learned so much from it.”

Professor Winterbottom believes the future holds great promise for even more hands-on work like this that has an impact far beyond its direct beneficiaries.

“As a public institution, the UW can both teach and give back to the community in a very powerful way to benefit both students and taxpayers,” he notes.

Thanks to private funding from generous donors, the VA Hospital is brightening the lives of the 100,000 patients served there each year. Gifts to UW College of Built Environments will continue projects like these, which Professor Winterbottom says “makes students not just better designers but better people.”

Travel scholarships change perspectives

Rome

Huddled over his sketchpad, Justin listened intently as renowned artist and UW Professor Emeritus Francis Ching opened students’ eyes to new ways of zeroing in on the most remarkable architectural details worth capturing in his drawing of the Pantheon.

“He wasn’t teaching us how to draw or sketch,” Justin says. “He was teaching us how to see.”

The 10-week travel studio in Rome led by Department of Architecture Chair Brian McLaren stands out as one of the most formative experiences Justin had as a master’s student in architecture at the UW. He’s grateful for the donor-supported scholarships that made the trip possible for him and many other students.

“I never would’ve been able to go if it hadn’t been for my scholarship,” says Justin, who now works as a sustainable design specialist at the Seattle architecture firm GGLO.

Because of limited private funding, some students don’t get these amazing opportunities.

“Every student should have access to these leading-edge experiences,” says Professor McLaren. “The lessons you learn when you venture outside your culture, your comfort zones — they’re invaluable.”
Standing in the City Center of Copenhagen, Joel Miller never would have guessed that a network of beautifully spacious public squares used to be four-lane roads.

Denmark

Forty years ago, thick traffic jams clogged streets throughout the Danish capital. Today, Copenhagen reigns as one of the most pedestrian- and bike-friendly cities on the planet.

Joel and other students could have learned about it in a classroom lecture or textbook. But during a study abroad trip funded by our generous partners at the Scan Design Foundation, they got to see, hear and really experience answers to their questions about how and why it all happened.

“It was incredibly inspiring to see both how a city could transform like that, and how they pulled it off while facing a lot of the same civic obstacles that we see today in the United States,” Joel says.

Returning to the UW, Joel applied lessons learned in Copenhagen to his travel studio project: a bold proposal to transform the heart of Seattle’s University District with more people-friendly spaces.

Tomorrow’s innovations in our labs today

Professor Kimo GriggsBy both designing and doing, our students will build a better world.

What role might robotics play in designing and building tomorrow’s structures?

How did the tools used to construct buildings hundreds of years ago evolve into the tools we use today — and how can they lead us to invent new tools for future innovation?

In what ways can we meld conventional tools with digital design technology to devise creative ideas that can change the world?

The answers to these questions and more are being discovered by students in the UW College of Built Environments’ Fabrication Laboratories. Evolved from the traditional wood and metal shops of the past, our contemporary Fabrication Labs are vibrant centers of experiential learning and student-driven research.

“These are places where students both design and make things, so they are forced to deal with the consequences of their designs in very real ways,” explains Professor and Associate Dean Kimo Griggs, faculty advisor to the labs. “Once they’re in the working world, if they want to do something new or better or innovative, knowing how things are made helps them come up with ideas that can be produced efficiently, individually or on a mass scale. And it’s those kinds of ideas that can change the world.”

Thanks to the opportunities they have to stretch their curiosity and develop their skills in the Fabrication Labs — something we do differently than the majority of other universities — our students graduate with a richer and more nimble ability to practice their craft, Professor Griggs says.

“Students come to understand that they’re part of a continuum, using tools that have been developed incrementally through the years,” he points out. “They learn that they can contribute to the next innovation by mimicking what’s been done before but with different tools, coming up with fresh ideas, trying out cutting-edge methods and then using the strategies they learned here when they enter the workplace.”

Donors play a critical role in keeping the labs up to date with high-quality tools and equipment. One example is a recently purchased robotic arm.

“We may add tools to the labs without knowing what students might do with them, and then train them and let them tell us what those tools are good for,” says Professor Griggs. “Our students are the innovators and experimenters.”