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Descriptive Narrative:
Submittal for AIA California Chapter Lifetime Achievement Award 2008

 “As the daughter of Peter Dodge, I grew up expecting that people should be empowered to enjoy their lives, to be healthy and fulfilled, and that we all have a responsibility to make sure things are good for everyone around us, not just ourselves. I see now why some of my greatest personal satisfaction comes from creating wonderful experiences for people, whether it’s a satisfying work environment, an event, or a piece of artwork. I have been inspired by my father — through an unspoken conviction rather than through lecture or proselytizing — to work for a higher good for people, even in the face of the exclusion and selfish divisiveness that permeates our culture.” —Sarah Lenz

Peter Dodge’s passion, if it can be defined in words (which he resists doing, as if it may somehow dilute its potency), is about creating deeply satisfying environments for people. For him, architecture is about people. Not the building itself, not a visual statement, not fame or notoriety, but how it serves its functions and what kind of experience it is for those who live and work in it every day. This belief is so deeply a part of his character that its expression is complete and consistent throughout all his thoughts, decisions, and actions, as well as in his brilliant and sensitive buildings.

Peter’s career is characterized by professionalism, collegiality, and service, and by the application of design insight and business acumen across the full spectrum of his endeavors. As a professional and intellectual partner, as an Institute member and officer, as a dedicated supporter of education, and as a colleague, mentor, and father, Peter has led with a gentle, encouraging hand, enabling others to do their very best work.

A Responsive Designer and a Trusted Advisor: the Baccis and Mills College
Asked recently to choose his favorite from among the buildings he has designed, Peter selected a residence in the Napa Valley, choosing it because, as he puts it, “It is an extraordinarily pleasant environment. You like to go there. That would be my goal: to help someone to live a pleasant, elegant, satisfying life.” This goal, rather than professional recognition, is what motivates Peter, and it allows him to design buildings that are precisely attuned to their role in the world, undistracted by ego or fashion.

The Napa Valley house is one of many buildings Peter has designed for the Bacci family in a decades-long relationship that demonstrates both his agility in addressing vastly different situations and the trust that his responsiveness to clients’ needs and aspirations evokes. His first building for the family, RAB Motors in San Rafael, could not be more different from the family’s residence. As Allen Temko has written, this Mercedes-Benz dealership “has a chaste strength, almost like a temple or a church… It’s a model of what Marin’s central transportation corridor, from Sausalito to Novato, could be if decent architectural standards were enforced.” Peter has gone on to design homes for two of the Bacci daughters, and he is currently designing a new dealership for the family.

Peter has won the lasting trust not only of individuals, but also of institutions. Since the 1979 remodeling of the Mills College Life Sciences Building, Peter as partner-in-charge for EHDD has performed a dozen-and-a-half studies and designed close to a dozen projects for the college. The relationship with Mills has been regulated by the highest professional standards, with projects commissioned again and again through competitive interviews. In addition to the Life Sciences Building — a major updating of a WWII-era, temporary building into a modern laboratory facility — EHDD’s work at Mills includes its art facilities, the Olin Library, and the restoration of Mills Hall.

The relationship with Mills serves equally as an example of Peter’s mentorship of younger colleagues. Karen Fiene came to work as a young architect for EHDD in 1991, moving up through the ranks until she was selected as president of the firm in 1998. While Peter was principal-in-charge for EHDD at Mills, Karen served as project architect. Today, she is the college’s campus architect, and the relationship with Peter continues.

A Dedicated Colleague: AIA San Francisco and AIA California Council
Through the 1970s, the AIACC (or CCAIA, as it was then known) was headquartered in San Francisco, insufficiently connected to the state government. Believing that the Council could be more effective in addressing issues of vital interest to the profession (such as the state’s practice of awarding contracts on a lowest-bidder basis, an issue of continuing concern today) Peter and several colleagues mounted a successful campaign to persuade the AIACC to move the headquarters to Sacramento in 1981.

Peter had also been involved in AIASF’s campaign to remove San Francisco’s waterfront expressway, serving as chair of the Waterfront Task Force in 1972. (Telesis had laid the groundwork for this effort in the 1960s, and it continued for thirty years, until finally resolved by the Loma Prieta earthquake.)
These initiatives were among several that Peter and a few close colleagues undertook, in the belief that the AIA — at both the local and state level — should operate less as a club and more as a service organization. His vigorous participation led to his becoming a director of AIACC from 1978 to 1980 and serving as vice-president and president of AIASF in 1980–81, the year the AIA national convention came to town. Immediately following his chapter presidency, he served for two years on AIASF’s Centennial Steering Committee.

A Strategic Professional: EHDD
Peter had also become president of EHDD in 1979, and he brought his expertise as a firm leader to AIA initiatives on firm management. Under his leadership, EHDD instituted computer-based financial and manpower accounting systems, and Peter helped the Council to promote the use of such systems throughout the profession in California. As he puts it, with characteristic balance, “EHDD was good at it. We were not pioneers, but we set an example — doing both good work and good management — and we got a reputation for it.”

Peter’s focus on process and management led to the growth of EHDD from a small firm noted for sophisticated single-family homes to a broad-based firm of over thirty individuals, doing work that ranges from aquariums and museums to libraries and collegiate residences. During his tenure as firm president, EHDD received both the AIACC Firm Award and the national AIA Firm Award, the first firm ever to do so.

A Champion of Education: U.C. Berkeley
Among the less likely of Peter’s distinctions is having co-founded and been the first president of U.C. Berkeley’s architecture alumni association . . . twice. In the late 1970s, Peter and fellow Berkeley alumnus Wally Costa were struck by the fact that Cal’s architecture school had existed since the early years of the century, and yet it had no alumni association. They met with the dean, who thought it a great idea but was unable to offer tangible support, so, as Peter puts it, “We started the damned thing anyway.” CAL ARKS incorporated in 1981 and began accepting dues and organizing several events a year, with Peter as president. Despite operating from “a not very convincing address in Covina,” it attracted several hundred members. Peter served as president until 1984; two presidents later, the association disbanded.

Shortly thereafter, Peter and Myra Brocchini convinced a new dean to support a college-sponsored alumni association for the entire College of Environmental Design. Peter served in 1990-91 as its first president. The association became very successful — organizing well-attended events involving architecture, landscape architecture, and planning — and Peter was elected president a second time in 1997. By this time, the College of Environmental Design Alumni Association (CEDAA), which had dispensed with dues as being troublesome to collect and a discouragement to participation — had grown to 11,000 members.
In another instance of Peter’s generous advancement of others, the CEDAA helped establish a mentorship program, recruiting over 200 practitioners as professional mentors to students in the College of Environmental Design.

Most satisfying to Peter has been his service from 1998 through 2005 to help found and chair the CEDAA’s Distinguished Alumni Awards Committee. During this time, the Committee has named more than thirty-five Distinguished Alumni, who have participated in graduation ceremonies, presenting panels of their work for exhibition and inclusion in the Environmental Design Archives.

Design, Leadership, Guidance, Encouragement
Peter wants architecture to serve people, and he feels compelled to encourage other architects to accomplish the same. He has worked consistently over decades to ensure a high standard of communication among architects through vehicles such as arcCA, the CED Alumni Association, and the AIA. His desire is not for self-aggrandizement or recognition, but to do good in the world. This desire is fundamental and selfless; it leads him to contribute to the community at every level. His fifty years of work — built, organizational, and interpersonal — is a living testament to the desire to create something good and satisfying for people to experience in their daily lives.

Some may suggest that it is premature to recognize Peter — who, at the youthful age of 78 is designing northern California’s first smart Car dealership (when he’s not serving waters of the world at the family’s AquaZone Water Bar at Burning Man) — for Lifetime Achievement, but there is every likelihood that he will do his best to live up to the honor in the decades to come.

by Tim Culvahouse


arcCA issue 08.3 Peter Dodge rocks