David Baker was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on December 20, 1949. David Baker has received many awards over the course of his career. In 1996 he was selected as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
He is the founder of David Baker + Partners, Architects, a San Francisco based firm known for “combining social concern with a signature design character.”
Mr. Baker was principal of Sol-Arc, a firm dedicated to energy efficient architecture from 1977 to 1982. He was a union carpenter before becoming an architect.
Editor: What was your childhood like?
DB: Great, I spent summers sailing on a lake in Michigan, winters trapping scorpions in Arizona.
Editor: Where did you go to school?
DB:PhillipsExeterAcademy, ThomasJeffersonCollege, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley
Editor: What kind of student were you?
DB:I was always a good student. Except for when I almost failed out of high school calculus. It was because all my energy went into my architecture and art classes. Also, when I went to college and dropped out in a messy and unplanned fashion.
Editor: What were you like as a young man?
DB:I was what the cool kids at Exeter called a “flyer”, which was really not a cool kid. And I was short!
Editor: What made you want to be an architect? What are some great influences in your life?
DB:My dad, Bernard Baker, was this really eclectic, incredible guy. He dropped out of high school because he had to ride 10 miles through the snow on a horse to get there, so he was completely self-educated. He designed and built a rammed-earth solar house in Arizona in 1949, which I grew up in. He figured out at some point to work smarter, not harder, and from then on he didn’t work more than a couple days per week. But, he was interested in more things than most people I’ve known. He liked astronomy and sculpture and founded a nature preserve for Sand Hill cranes. When I was about eight years old, he gave me a set of books about famous architects, which I still have, and from that point on I've never wanted to be anything but an architect.
Editor: Who did you work for after you graduated from college?
DB:I was an energy consultant with ELS, but it was a partnership with my own firm, Sol-Arc, which developed from collaboration on an award-winning solar office building in a competition in 1974.
Editor: What made you decide to go on your own?
DB:I didn’t intend to, but I had a really great opportunity that was too good to pass up.
Editor: What is your philosophy of practicing architecture?
DB:I think of it as a combination of working to solve specific issues within certain parameters with a chance to put things together in a way that they haven’t been put together before and push the
Editor: Who is your favorite architect?
Editor: Who is your favorite artist?
Editor: Who is your favorite musician?
Editor: What is your favorite book?
DB:Collapse, by Jared Diamond
Editor: Any teachers that influenced you?
DB:Joe Esherick at Cal.
Editor: Any books that helped/influenced you?
DB:Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
Editor: Do you have any heroes/any role models?
Editor: Was there anything in your life that you had to overcome?
DB:My life is more or less completely blessed.
Editor: What does it take to be an architect?
"I don’t think architectural designs are inspired, though there are moments of inspiration, of epiphany, within the process. Architecture is not a fine art form. You just figure it out and you strive for the practical and sublime."
Editor: What inspires an architectural design—what goes through your mind?
DB: I don’t think architectural designs are inspired, though there are moments of inspiration, of epiphany, within the process. Architecture is not a fine art form. You just figure it out and you strive for the practical and sublime.
Editor: Do you spend a lot of time at the studio (evenings, weekends)? Do you work alone?
DB:No, but I did when I was young and foolish. I rarely work alone: I think architecture is collaborative by nature.
Editor: How does it make you feel to see your designs become reality?
DB: The chief benefit of being an architect is that you get to realize these big things that are semi permanent—more permanent than dinner, less permanent than the sun. Editor: Have you had any disappointments? DB:None to speak of, though I’m constantly dissatisfied. Editor: Do you have a favorite among your designs? DB: I tend to always like the most recent work—I get very excited about the issues that are current for me. Editor: Do you take aesthetics into account? Function? What is more important to you in designing a building? DB:They’re all parameters that you take into consideration. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. You can consider function aesthetically, and you can consider aesthetics practically. Editor: How did you manage the recession of the late 80s/early90s? DB: We did affordable housing, and affordable housing did quite well during that recession. Editor: Is there anything you wish you never did? DB: No, I have no regrets. Editor: What are your thoughts about the role of the architect in society? DB:Architects have an incredible opportunity to think outside the property line and be proactive in urban design, social justice, and global warming issues. Editor: Would you recommend becoming an architect to a young person? DB: Yes. It’s sometimes exhausting, but never boring.
Editor: In the matters of the community and the environment - do you think architects are as involved as they should be?
DB: No. There are a lot of activist architects, but we are in a unique position in the center of urban life. This gives us incredible access to effect solutions and move things forward. I think this should be an absolute priority for architects.
Editor: What do you think our prevalent style of architecture is?
DB: Late-Modernism is ascendant right now. Style is interesting and necessary but not very important.
Editor: What’s the greatest challenge of our industry?
DB: Global warming. Editor: Thank you Mr. Baker, It's been a privilege.
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