Top 7 California National Historic Landmarks You Need to See

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Architecture, Landmarks | Comments Off on Top 7 California National Historic Landmarks You Need to See

California offers a myriad of landscapes, including 1,100 miles of beachfront properties, sprawling deserts, towering mountain ranges, national parks, and major metropolises. Apparently, it is super easy to get historical landmark status in California, seeing as though we have more than a thousand of them. Because they’re so many, knowing which ones are actually worth seeing is sort of impossible.

California historical landmarks are sites, buildings, and structures, or places that have been said to have National Historical significance by fulfilling any of the criteria listed below:

  • Associated with a group or individual having great influence on the history of California.
  • The only, last, first, or most important of its type within a large geographical region (central, southern, or northern California).
  • A prototype of, or an outstanding example of an architectural movement, a period, style or the best existing work in a region of a pioneer designer, master builder or architect.

Although some Historical Landmarks are located more than 700 miles apart, with careful planning, you can explore some of the State’s most iconic Landmarks.

Alcatraz Island

Aside from being one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco, California, Alcatraz Island Prison has a lot of enjoyment and history to offer. Okay okay, I admit. We’ve all seen the documentaries and movies on Alcatraz, but until you experience it in person, you won’t really get it. Alcatraz Island, also known as ‘The Rock’ boasts a long history that ended with some of the most infamous prisoners and daring escapes. If you love history, photography, a scenic boat ride and much more, you will enjoy touring one of the most Historic Landmarks in the United States.

Baldwin Hills Village

Baldwin Hills Village, currently dubbed Village Green, is a condominium complex located in the Crenshaw District, and a locality at the foot of the Baldwin Hills, within the city of Los Angeles, California.

The Baldwin Village is well-known globally as a progressive and pivotal experiment in the multiple-family housing. Interesting enough, the village is among a few projects that stand out as a fundamental improvement in both architecture and planning. Believe it or not, it is the only garden apartment complex in California nominated as a National Historical Landmark.

California Powder Works Bridge

The Powder Works Bridge is an engineering marvel and an outstanding example of the 19th century covered bridge construction. Constructed in 1872, its unique design features a distinct curved entrance overhang and diagonal trusses that are strong and light. The bridge is the longest among the twenty-three well-known historic examples of a Smith truss remaining in the United States.

Hotel Del Coronado

Built and opened in 1888, Hotel Del Coronado debuted as an architectural masterpiece, was selected a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Located on America’s most beloved beach, the Del is much-admired for its world famous weather and breath taking seaside setting. Pimped with every modern amenity, it attracts a wealthy clientele from Europe, East Coast, and the Midwest.

Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel

Located at the NASA Ames Research Center, the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel is a research facility used widely to test, design and redesign postmodern air crafts, both military and commercial. The nine by seven-foot supersonic wind tunnel was completed in 1955. The Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel continues to provide aerodynamic data for NASA’s manned spaceflight efforts whose goal is to create spacecraft and rockets necessary to take explorers to the moon, earth orbit, and finally, to Mars.

Golden Gate Bridge

Dubbed “the bridge that couldn’t be built” it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This marvel of modern engineering, maybe San Francisco’s most famous landmark, connects Marin County with San Francisco. With its sensational 746-foot tall towers, art deco styling, distinct orange color, and sweeping main cables it’s a sensory experience featuring sound, light, and color.

Redwood National and State Parks

Located just below the Oregon border, Redwood National Park was established in 1968 and is home to old-growth coastal redwoods. Crazily enough, these magnificent trees can live to be two thousand years old and can grow to over three hundred feet tall. When you stand underneath a redwood tree, even if you can astonishingly see the tree’s top, you won’t be able to comprehend its true scale and size. Moreover, the intense forest’s ecosystem they help create is far more visually appealing than their shocking height. The marine and land life are equally remarkable, particularly the bald eagle, California brown pelican and sea lions.


There are more than a thousand sites designated by the state of California as historic landmarks. This post is an effort to highlight the Top 7 California National Historic Landmarks.

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Architect Santiago Calatrava – 3 Buildings

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Architecture | Comments Off on Architect Santiago Calatrava – 3 Buildings

The architect Santiago Calatrava has been gracing city sky lines around the globe with sweeping, clean, angelic expressions of art and design since the 1980’s. Born and raised in Valencia, Spain, he quickly spread his education and practice throughout Europe.

Three of his many buildings stand out with their iconic ‘wing like’ spires. Two of the buildings featured here today are art museums, one is a transportation hub.

1) In 1994 the city of Milwaukee approached Calatrava to propose a design to renovate and expand the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Calatrava was inspired by the location of the site, which is situated at the end of Wisconsin Avenue, a major vein in the city’s grid, and the fact that Wisconsin was Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthplace. His proposal wowed the original committee. Funding accumulated and the plans expanded which allowed Calatrava to fully flesh out his vision.

His architecture took inspiration from the many sailboats that dot nearby Lake Michigan, the feeling of motion and energy of the area of land, and the culture and change of the local weather. Employing a sort of modern Gothic vibe, the museum displays arches, flying buttresses, naves and ribbed vaults. Construction was completed in 2001 to great reviews and adoration from the city and architectural world. The spanning ‘wings’ open at 10 am, close and re-open at noon, and settle in for the night at 5 pm during regular museum days.

2) 2009 saw the completion of a similarly crafted wing-like building in Calatrava’s hometown of Valencia. El Ágora, or “The Agora” in English, is located in the City of Arts and Sciences complex. This entire complex is full of architectural beauty.

Similarly to Milwaukee, the immense hall is studded with white steel arches and a glass roof which have moveable ‘wings’. Not only functioning to filter in more natural light, these wings add a sense of upward breadth. This multi-use hall can hold up to 6,000 people at a time. This stunning building bridges the realms of geometric form and abstract design in a quintessential ‘Calatravian’ way.

3) Santiago Calatrava designed the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in Manhattan, which is a new train station with a spacious and open mezzanine located beneath the National September 11 Memorial Plaza. The ‘Oculus’ has soaring wings like the two building mentioned above, and symbolizes a bird being released from a child’s hand.

The original design included longer spires and an opening and closing mechanism, but budget and space constraints necessitated a shorter, fixed structure. Between the arches, a skylight is able to open on pleasant days and annually on September 11th. Even though this station was equally celebrated and scorned upon it’s unveiling in 2016, the architecture speaks to an angelic and spiritual side that the site deserves.


Check out this video about Santiago Calatrava.

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A Few More Iconic Buildings in San Jose

Posted by on Dec 13, 2016 in Architecture | Comments Off on A Few More Iconic Buildings in San Jose

This post is a follow-up to a previous post about well-known buildings in San Jose, California. In that article, the following buildings were discussed: The Winchester Mystery House, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.

The history and architecture in San Jose is varied and complex. Some of the area’s buildings date back hundreds of years, while many iconic buildings have been designed and built in the last 30 years. Here’s three more buildings in San Jose to contemplate.

San Jose City Hall

The San Jose City Hall was designed by architect Richard Meier who also designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art in Spain. The postmodern style building was completed in 2005. The building is a complex which includes an 18 story tower and a separate rotunda.

Environmental issues were taken into consideration in the design, with lots of natural lighting for the interior, and shading provided by a brise soleil or sun-shading structure. The office of the city mayor is on the top floor of the tower. The city council has chambers in the rotunda.

Bank of Italy Building

The Bank of Italy Building was started in 1925 and completed in 1926. The building is a high-rise of 14 stories, and it was the tallest building in San Jose for 61 years. It was designed by architect H.A. Minton and is the city’s most obvious landmark. With the antenna spire, the building stands 255 feet tall. It has 3 elevators and it built in the Renaissance Revival style.

It is a historical landmark, and it was the first branch of the Bank of Italy, which eventually became Bank of America. The majority of the building is commercial office space.

The structure is a rigid steel frame with brick and terra-cotta applied masonry on the exterior facades. The construction costs in 1926 came to about $1 million.

Peralta Adobe

The Peralta Adobe was built in 1797, probably by Manuel Gonzalez. It is the oldest building in San Jose. It is named after Luis Maria Peralta who was a famous sergeant in the Spanish Army and also a major landowner in the area. He also held the highest office in the community as commissioner.

The building was restored after it was purchased by the city of San Jose in 1966. The building footprint covers 820 square feet, and the consists of just 2 rooms which serve as a museum to the furnishings of the time period. There is a working outdoor fireplace oven next to the building. The buildings walls are made of adobe blocks and are about 2 feet thick.

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Well-Known San Jose Buildings

Posted by on Dec 7, 2016 in Architecture | Comments Off on Well-Known San Jose Buildings

San Jose, often referred to as the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” is a wealthy city having a high cost of living. It’s population soars above a million, and its reputation as a high tech mecca is legendary. The city itself was founded back in 1777 and it became the capital when California became a state in 1850. It’s the largest city in northern California and as you’d expect from any major city, there are a large number of interesting buildings. Here we choose just 3 to investigate further.

Winchester Mystery House

The privately owned tourist attraction known as the Winchester Mystery House is an unusual mansion with an unusual story. After the death of gun tycoon William Winchester, the mystery house was built starting in 1884 by his wife Sarah over a period of 38 years until her death. Some stories suggest she built the house to appease the ghosts of those killed by Winchester firearms.

As any visitor can see, the building was constructed in a haphazard way, without much thought for central design or function. Many doors don’t lead anywhere and the same is true for many staircases. Some stairs have strange-sized risers, and many windows simply look into other rooms. The mansion is huge, with approximately 160 rooms (40 bedrooms!) and 47 fireplaces.

From a technological perspective, the home was very advanced for its time. It used steam and forced air for heating, had modern indoor plumbing and toilets, gas lighting, and a hot shower. It also sported 3 elevators. The number “13” is used repeatedly throughout the house, another curiosity without explanation.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

In 1803, the original St. Joseph’s Church was built on the site of the existing Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph. The church was finished in 1885 after a series of earthquakes and a fire destroyed the previous buildings there. The architect for the church was Bryan Clinch.

In 1987, the church was thoroughly renovated, with improvements continuing until 1990. Modern technology helped restore and strengthen aspects of the roof and dome. The building has cupolas, finials, towers, and a central dome. Even today, these remain its most striking features. The church became a “cathedral” in 1985 and it serves today as an active Roman Catholic church.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose was finished in 1990. The contemporary building was designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta from Mexico City. The striking purple building has 52,000 square feet for the museum’s interactive exhibits.

The architect likens the building’s shape and color to a gemstone. The building was designed from the beginning as a learning space for children, and the design encourages them to “investigate and have fun.” Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak was the single largest private donor during the building’s original funding campaign.

The original building was added on to in 1997 and again in 2015. The purpose is to “serve the needs of children, families, and schools as a center for learning and discovery.”

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Three More Famous Buildings in San Francisco

Posted by on Nov 30, 2016 in Architecture | Comments Off on Three More Famous Buildings in San Francisco

A couple months ago we did an article on 3 of the most iconic buildings in San Francisco. We got such positive feedback about it that we’re doing it again. Enjoy.

In the first edition of this series, we reviewed the Transamerica Pyramid, the San Francisco City Hall, and Coit Tower. But those are just a few of the iconic buildings of interest. Let’s take a look at 3 more.

San Francisco Ferry Building

One of the most iconic buildings in San Francisco is the San Francisco Ferry Building. The building was designed in 1892 by New York architect Page Brown and it was completed in 1898. It is nearly 700 feet long and has a an iconic clock tower in the center which is 245 feet tall. Today the building is still a terminal for ferries, but it also contains a food court and market as well as office space.

The Ferry Building was designed in the Classical Revival style with the main building based on the arched arcade. In this sense, the building appears almost European in style. The clock tower was based on designs in Spain, and the tower has 4 clock dials, each 22 feet in diameter. The 16 foot pendulum is still there, although is not used in the modern clock mechanism. The building also has a nave or central aisle which is known as the Great Nave, and today it houses retail shops and market stalls.

In it’s heyday prior to the opening of nearby bridges, the Ferry Building was world’s second busiest transit terminal. The use of the building has had ups and downs over the years, but modern renovations have created a useful modern space.

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

Renown throughout the San Francisco area as a popular location for wedding photographs, the Palace of Fine Arts was originally built to display artwork at the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition. It was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck in what has been referred to as a “fictional ruin from another time.” The building encircles one end of a small man-made lagoon and consists of a 1100 foot pergola around a rotunda in the center.

Since it was only intended to be part of the 1915 Exposition, it was not constructed to last. But the building was so beloved that it remained long after the Expo. Finally in 1964 the entire building was demolished and in 1965 a replica made of modern building materials was constructed on the same spot. The building still serves as a popular destination for tourists and locals.

Millennium Tower

The Millennium Tower in downtown San Francisco is a modern condominium skyscraper. It has 58 stories and is 645 feet tall. Construction was started in 2005 and the building was finished in 2009. The building has 12 elevators, 419 residential units, and 1.15 million square feet of floor space. It was designed by Handel Architects in the late-modernist style, with blue-gray glass cladding.

Total development cost exceeded US$600 million, and is the 4th tallest building in San Francisco. Unfortunately, in 2016 it was discovered that the building is sinking and tilting, albeit slowly and minimally. The slab foundation and concrete friction piles used in the building were much less expensive than end-bearing piles, which would have mounted the structure directly to bedrock. Perhaps the building will eventually get the nickname, the Leaning Tower of San Francisco.


Check out this tour of the Ferry Building.

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Notable Historical Architecture in Monterey

Posted by on Nov 25, 2016 in Architecture | Comments Off on Notable Historical Architecture in Monterey

Monterey, the original state capital of California, is appreciated as a beautiful coastal city with a top-notch acquarium and famous literary places like Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Monterey is also the birthplace of Monterey Jack Cheese and is revered for it’s desirable climate. Current population is rough 27K and the city continues to be popular tourist destination.

Based on it’s long history, there are dozens of notable structures in Monetery. Here are just a few worth studying.

San Carlos Cathedral

The Cathedral of San Carlos Borremeo is the first and oldest stone (sandstone) building in California. Also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel, it’s also the oldest operating parish in the state. It was built in 1794 and is typical of the Spanish Colonial style of the late 1700s. Some of the defining features of the building are the ornamental arches and carved portals.

The structure also includes a functional bell tower and a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Behind the cathedral is the Junipero Oak which is a well-known landmark in California. The grounds also include gardens and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Monterey Custom House

In 1827 the Mexican government build the Custom House for the purpose of collecting taxes at the Monterey Bay Port. It is an adobe structure built in the

Spanish Colonial style, and it’s the oldest remaining government building in the state. The building has been well-preserved and is visited throughout the year by scores of tourists.

In 1846, US Commadore John Drake Sloat raised the US flag at the Custom House and declared that California was part of the United States. The building was declared a California Historical Landmark in 1932, the first site designated as such in the state.

Carmel Mission

The Carmel Mission is not technically in Monterey, but is located 5 miles south near the Carmel River. The formal name for the mission is the Mission San Carlos Borremeo del Rio Carmelo. The building was originally completed and dedicated in 1797, and rebuilt and beautifully restored in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In fact, the Carmel Mission boasts itself as being the “most authentically restored” of all mission churches in the state.

Today the mission is still and active parish and school. It also houses a museum that preserves the history of the area. The building itself has walls that are 5 feet thick, as well as a catenary ceiling. The inner courtyard area was renovated in 2015, and the site includes a fountain and peaceful gardens surrounding the building.


Here’s a video about Monterey.

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Integrated Design – All You Need To Know

Posted by on Nov 18, 2016 in Architecture | Comments Off on Integrated Design – All You Need To Know

“What is integrated design?” This question has been asked several times by our readers. Below we cover the basics of integrated design. Read on.

What is Integrated Design?

Integrated design is basically an approach to design that takes into account all aspects of design that are usually considered separately. It involves the creation of spaces, places, and objects in response to current and emerging social, economic and technical needs and desires.

In the design of a building, it takes into account planning, architecture, structural engineering, heating and cooling utilities. This approach may also take into account the integration of the building’s life-cycle management and the specific needs and wants of the end users of the building. Its aim is to lessen problems and produce sustainable architecture.

Integrated Design Process (IDP)

In the past, the conventional design and construction process in the construction industry involved a series of instructions from project owners to architects, and then from architects to builders. This new integrated approach allows improvement to be made on the project from the initial design phase to completion.

construction-teamThe Integrated Design Process takes a different approach known as the holistic design approach. This approach breaks down these traditional roles while at the same time improving collaboration and improving innovation.

In practice, Integrated Design Process includes the active, consistent, timely and organized collaboration among project owners, planners, architects, surveyors, engineers, builders, plumbers, consultants, specialists and other key participants. The aim of this approach is to encourage honest discussion and collect insight in order to optimize efficiency, value, and results. The process is also aimed at reducing waste throughout all stages of the project life cycle.

By relying on the initial contributions of all participants, the outcome depends on the efforts of the team as a whole. The key participants are guided by collaboration, principles of trust, transparent processes and the open sharing of information.

Benefits of Integrated Design Process

• The approach uncovers potential design improvements early in the process. Enhancements done at this stage are easier and less expensive to execute and implement compared to ones that are uncovered later in the design process.
• When all key project participants collaborate and share knowledge at the onset of the project, it improves the ability to control timeliness, quality, and cost. It also strengthens each of the participants’ understanding of the desired results.
• The approach also results in greater efficiency which leads to the reduction of waste generation during construction. Greater efficiency also leads to increased productivity. For instance, when construction team is included at the onset of the project it can help address any construction challenges early in the process.
• Integrated Design Process also provides the best opportunity to achieve environmental sustainability goals. Various governing bodies and rating systems such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) encourage this approach.

4 Elements in Integrated Home Design

1. Framing
When building homes, integrated design begins with framing. Engineers and architects share ideas in the planning stage. They come up with framing techniques and ideas that create a tight building envelope while leaving adequate space for insulation. They make sure that utility spaces are compact but large enough to install the necessary equipment. During this stage, electricians and plumbers are also involved. Once the framing is complete, the structure already includes all aspects a contractor needs to jump-start the implementation process.


2. HVAC Installation
Architects work with HVAC engineers to solve any conflict that systems like HVAC and ductwork may create with aesthetics. While working together, they consider options like energy efficient ductless mini-split air conditioners that eliminate the need for ductwork.

3. Integrated Plumbing

Another element in integrated home design is plumbing. Just like power, conserving water is also important. Here, architects work with plumbers, engineers and other participants from the onset of the design process to come up with high-efficiency green systems such as drain water heat recovery systems, on-demand water heaters, and gray water systems.

4. Integrating Electrical Systems
Electricity is the important foundation of other home systems. It powers the heaters, air conditioners, and the plumbing system. At the outset of the project design process, electrical engineers collaborate with architects, plumbers, and HVAC engineers to ensure that adequate wiring will be available at the right locations to power other house systems.


Here’s an interesting video about the Integrated Design Process.

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