Pasadena's Architects Lead the Public by Design

Published : Thursday, September 5, 2019 | 4:51 AM

Members of the American Institute of Architects Pasadena-Foothill chapter shown on their annual double-decker bus tour of Pasadena's architectural sights, taking a fresh look at Pasadena's new and historic architecture. AIAPF via Facebook

Whether we realize it or not, architects play a major role in our lives.

In all homes, offices or public or government buildings, the views you see, the amount of daylight that comes in and what you see before going to bed are all controlled by someone you likely will never meet: The architect.

The American Institute of Architects Pasadena-Foothill chapter wants architects to get the recognition they deserve. The organization will open its 2019 AIAPFl Design Awards in the second week of September and President of the chapter Jay Zapata, AIA, LEED AP, encourages architects to submit designs.

The American Institute of Architects Pasadena-Foothill chapter President Jay Zapata. AIAPF via Facebook

“Every year our chapter likes to open a design award ceremony, and what we do is we invite our members to submit their distinguished work to be evaluated by jurors at state and national level,” he said. “We do not select jurors within in our own chapter. We have different categories that evaluate ability and different aspects of design: Apartments, commercial and high school are among the categories. It’s an annual event our members look forward to.

The AIAPF is committed to advancing the industry and promotes the profession at the college level in an effort to attract young people.

When it comes to challenges, Zapata also has had his share. He has risen the ranks from aspiring student of the craft in his native Panama, to a senior architect who owns and operates his own architecture firm, Zprout.

“In 2010 I was given the opportunity to work as a consultant architect for Getty in Brentwood,” he said. “At the time, I really was actually already dating my fiancee who is now my wife. After my contract was up with Getty Center, I was already married and living here but I couldn’t find a job.

“I was lucky to connect with Alexander Varga, who offered me a position with his company. I was with Alex for a year and in 2012 I was able to land a dream job with AC Martin, which had just completed the 73-story skyscraper, considered the tallest building on the West Coast. After I was there for four years, I became a citizen. I love this country and the opportunity I was able to have here.

Two years later, Zapata made the decision to start his own company and provide architectural services. His company is Zprout, and has grown to three offices.

“I am so thankful. We started two years ago and now we have three offices,” he said. “We have an office in Pasadena, in North County San Diego and one in Sacramento.

While some architecture projects may take years to complete, with deliberate design built in, most homeowners and people who enter public buildings give little if any thought to what goes into construction.

“As architects we determine the way somebody’s going to live and go about their everyday life,” Zapata said. “So we are responsible to give the end user the amount of daylight they’re going to have every day, the views they see when they’re awake, the last view they see before they go to bed. We make decisions and it’s interesting because we don’t get to know all of them but we help people every day.

High on the priorities of subjects to tackle for architects as a group and the issues that accompany construction in light of climate change, Zapata said.

American Institute of Architects Pasadena-Foothill chapter members recently gathered at one of Pasadena's most significant architectural landmarks, the Gamble House. AIAPF via Facebook

“Climate change, as architects we do know it’s real,” he said. “Title 24 affects the energy performance of a building. So we take advantage of the best natural ventilation, the prevailing winds. to take advantage of natural daylight so we can reduce the amount of energy that every building consumes on a daily basis

“There are many considerations when designing a building,” he said. “Depending on the time of the year, we locate the windows we can have, how many windows can be operable. How many stone walls can we have so we can take advantage of the sun that can make it warmer in winter but not too hot in summer. How many trees can we locate around the property? These are all things we can use to play around our climate and environment.

“What’s going on with how we’re affecting the planet in terms of material, that is a different conversation,” he said. “Another opportunity we have as architects and reduce footprint. We can specify natural resources, like bamboo. Also, there are renewables and they’re going to grow within a certain amount of time. Wood or bamboo or woods that regenerate more quickly than others and use materials that are locally sourced. Made within 500 miles of the site because you have to think of the shipment of the material.

As for the future, fortunately, architecture is one field where the threat of automation and technology taking over jobs is not a big concern, Zapata said.

“We see technology and innovation as a tool to improve our services, we don’t see it as a replacement for ourselves,” he said. “We offer multiple seminars on how to use software and what we call ‘augmentors.’ We have a seminar coming up next month to train members to offer more technology and innovation in their practices. We don’t see it as competition, our services are so personalized. With architecture, it’s blending reality with the digital world.”

“Our services are so customized and personalized in order to design a project it requires several meetings and we offer a service that most of the time we have to meet in person.

The group wants to make sure that members and young, up-and-coming professionals take licensing seriously.

“Part of our mission is we encourage every design professional to be licensed,” Zapata said. “We think it’s important and we visit schools to transmit the message that early in every student’s career it is important to be licensed. Our primary business is to advance the profession, but licensing is an important mission.”

As in every profession, there are obstacles, but in the City of Roses there are challenges that are region-specific.

“In Pasadena, the challenges have to do with density,” Zapata said. “We’re in a housing shortage and we are in demand to provide more and more housing but we have to deliver something that fits in the urban canvas of Pasadena. We have a clash of ideas. The City of Pasadena is such a beautiful place, we do have challenges with clients and the community trying to keep the city the way it is, but we also have a high demand from people who want to live in Pasadena.”

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