Still, the Marin County resident, who was the California
State Architect during the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown,
took the time to come to Humboldt County last weekend to visit
the future home of the Humboldt Environmental Technology Center,
a hotel/hostel and demonstration facility that will be built
on the Eureka waterfront and is intended to be a showcase of
appropriate technology and sustainable design. Van der Ryn will
lead a team of architects and designers, most of them local,
in designing the center.
1. Architecture is one of the things that Eureka
really prides itself on. What do you think of it?
Oh, I think what's happening downtown is fabulous.
We went there the other night for -- what was it called? Arts
Alive? -- that was really neat, just to see the level of activity.
It was very bustling.
2. For some reason, Eureka was able to preserve
a good number of its old houses. As someone pointed out the other
day, the site you'll be building on is just down the hill from
the Carson Mansion. Does it give you a sort of template to work
Well, I think it's a community to relate to. If
it was what is was 30 years ago, they'd probably be less interested
in building it down there. I just think the whole revitalization
of Eureka makes it that much more interesting. We just become
part of that, in creating a new generation of buildings that
are designed to do something different than what the old buildings
But no, it doesn't give me a template, architecturally,
because what we'll be doing is quite different.
3. You mean, as far as the façade?
No, it wouldn't give us a lot of clues. For one
thing, for visitors coming there, beside the aspect of trying
to teach people what they can do to live better with less, I
think we also want to communicate a story about the larger spirit,
of why Eureka is there in the first place. There's the ocean,
there's the bay and the estuaries and there's all those nutrients
flowing up there, and then there's the salmon, and the salmon
go upstream and die and the bears pick up the salmon and the
bears return the nutrients to the trees. It's a whole story of
nutrient flow. To me, that ocean-to-forest, with the salmon as
intermediaries -- to me, that's kind of the whole spirit of this
4. How is it going to be reflected in the building?
I don't know yet. It won't be that the building
will look like a salmon or an estuary.
Then there's being a Dutchman, and also having
lived on an old houseboat on the Sausalito waterfront, I'm also
intrigued about how we work in that waterfront and shipfaring
and nautical themes. Then again, I don't think we want to do
it in a corny way. But there were things we were talking about
yesterday -- for example, we were talking about having a green
The roof we're talking about there's sod roofs
that people know about, from back in the old days in Nebraska.
But in recent years, the Germans, they've said, "Oh, if
you cover zis roof not wis 18 inches of dirt" They've invented
something that basically looks like an egg crate, and they cover
it with just a few inches of substrate soil. And then they plant
these waxy, small-leafed alpine plants.
Anyway, that's one idea we want to pursue. So on
the waterfront, instead of seeing composition roof or shingle
or something, you'd see this green roof. Then we were saying
that we should also have a place where people can go and actually
see it. So we were talking about a third-level deck. And then
we were thinking that if we have that, we should have a crow's
nest, with a spotting scope so you can see the birds, and so
5. So what's the process like? Right now, you're
working with local people, you're probably working with people
you usually work with down in the city
No. Right now, there's a design working group --
Joyce Plath, Matthew Marshall, Sean Armstrong. They're all wonderful.
We're just trying to develop a program. And now that we're talking
about the Eureka site, it's shifting more from a hostel out on
a remote site to, really, a green hotel that also has a hostel
component. Because most of the market will be a tourist market,
who will hear about this really unusual hotel where we can also
learn how to live more green.
There's this vast middle class that sees these
issues. Whether we like it or not, oil is going to be an expensive
and scarce commodity. Anybody, unless they're in total denial,
can see these other issues we have. Climate change is here. And
I think there's a tremendous hunger. It's not like the back-to-the-land
thing, but the boomer generation, and I think younger people
too, are asking: How do we live better with less? And there's
very few places where you can learn this.
So you can experience that, and you can also experience
this whole region, which has been a leader in these ideas.
6. What's the timeline like?
Well, it's a whole process. There's the whole permitting
process that needs to take place. There's the program development
process. There's putting together a business plan and fundraising
plan. All those things, one can't get too far ahead of the other.
I don't have license to say, OK, you, go ahead and do detailed
drawings, because it's not the time and there's not the money
to do that.
So the first stage is to put out the vision, which
will probably consist of the footprint of the building and a
sketch that indicates the overall mass, and then some of these
features I'm talking about.
7. What other sorts of features did you kick
around this weekend?
I always start with the sun and the shape of the
building. Then, here, the views get to be really important. And
then the wind. All of those things have consequences in terms
of how you design.
One of the decisions we made this weekend is to
recommend we use local, sustainably harvested wood. Let's make
it a wood building. When they tore down that Mill A in Scotia
-- which I call the Auschwitz of the redwoods -- I bought a lot
of that wood. So we were kicking it around: Why not use reclaimed
redwood for the exteriors?
We haven't made decisions about any of these things.
It's more like getting at principles. And this little group --
it's been exciting, because we're pretty much on the same page.
8. I think people that have been hearing about
the hostel would have thought that you'd be using straw bales,
or cob or something. It's interesting to hear you say, "No,
Because I work with commercial builders and so
on, I'm more interested in greening the construction industry.
There's a vanguard of people doing all these other things, which
I totally support, but they don't fit too well into the cost
model of commercial building. We need to keep that in mind. This
is going to be a 15,000 square-foot building, in that range,
and it's not going to be built by people on weekends in their
spare time. The major systems need to be ones that the construction
industry can work with.
9. You've worked all around the state, all around
the world. Every place has its own sort of culture, its own physical
characteristics. What does this place say to you -- what does
it mean to you, I guess?
It's like the spirit of the '70s is alive and well
here, particularly at Humboldt State. It always has been. And
they really continue to be a leader in a lot of these areas,
whereas other schools have gone on to other things. It seems
like Humboldt State has really maintained that spirit of pioneering.
I think it's that kind of energy that a much bigger
segment of society had in the '70s -- a vision for relating to
nature in a different way. And then, there's a sense of community.