Carlos Delgado is an architect of note in the region, with a reputation for bringing a crisp, contemporary style to many of the finer homes in Ashland and the surrounding area. He was recently commissioned to design a home for Lithia Motors scion Bryan DeBoer and his wife, Stephanie. The home, while aesthetically exquisite, has been controversial due to its placement on a key piece of property on Winburn Way, just at the entrance to Lithia Park. I caught up with Delgado to talk about his vision, ideas and challenges.
JG: How would you describe your signature style?
CD: I used to cringe at style, because in my education, style was referred to as a classification in history and vocabulary to generalize buildings. I know now that our office has a reputation for our particular style due to many projects having what I refer to as a “Northwest contemporary” feel. To me it is regional to Oregon, Washington, and the very northern part of California. I am inspired by both historic utilitarian buildings and contemporary modern urban buildings. We are fortunate to have ample sustainable local resources of wood for construction and I think the Northwest celebrates its use by implementing contemporary design ideas and still embrace tradition with respect and adaptation to current patterns of lifestyle in the Northwest. One of the reasons I enjoy the “shed roof” form is that it gestures movement from the ground to the sky and provides a horizontality with a focus outward to our beautiful vistas, foothills, and forests.
JG: How important to you is the place, the context for one of your buildings?
CD: It is always the most important starting point for every project. There are always subtle clues from the land, trees, water, prevailing winds, views, and surrounding structures that shape and inform the design. There are obvious amenities that clients bring to us such as the view and addressing the surrounding hillside or perhaps creeks. What I find interesting are other aspects in the context, such as, what are the elements that I would like shielding from, such as vehicle traffic, noise, and electrical lines producing electrical fields? Recently, rather than ignoring the unknown effects of all of the above on a project, it became one of the principle drivers for the design by making the walls thicker and concrete to provide soundproofing, shielding and a solid sense of protection.
JG: What are some of the opportunities and challenges your office faces now?
CD: It seems that the more complex the issues are on a project, even with impractical ideas — the more exciting the process is with the clients. I am fortunate to work with Tom Sager in my office, who is exceptionally skilled in form and function, which enables me to push the edges of intangible aspects of design. I love the connection made with clients to understand the deeper yearnings in their lives and their relationships to family, friends and community as it relates to their project. I am honored to be trusted in the sharing of personal details that inform our design solutions. We tend to have fortunate clients and projects that enable us to participate in other projects that require some pro-bono work as well as have time to implement “extraordinary” ideas into our projects for clients who cannot afford architects otherwise. For every high profile project out there, we have a few average projects on very limited budgets that receive the benefit of ideas that are tried and true on our “upper end” projects. I would like to believe that every project we design leaves a qualitative improvement in health, beauty, and livelihood in the lives of the clients as well all those involved in the construction of the project.
The biggest challenge at the moment has to do with the level of sustainability on our projects. A personal conflict I struggle with most is with our materials and methods in construction that is paradoxically slow in transformation to higher standards of sustainability compared to other industries. In working with sustainability metrics and rating systems over the last two decades (i.e., LEED, etc.) the focus has been mainly on energy conservation. This has been a great improvement, but there still is a persistent use of unsustainable materials and, in many cases, toxic materials — both in the manufacturing and in the whole lifecycle of the material in homes. I share my concerns and look into the latest authoritative information, but the time and increase in cost of eliminating all possible toxic sources keep a lot of our projects in the “better” category of sustainability not in the “best” — there is a wide gap of where we need to be in order to make a significant impact. Often, high sustainability goals require a tough adjustment of lifestyle and deeper inquiry into the ethics of building for today and tomorrow’s world.
JG: I'd like to ask specifically about the design for the DeBoer house on Winburn Way. Can you talk a little about the aesthetics of that project?
CD: It was exciting to wrap our design sensibilities around what I call an anomaly for this residential site in such a public area. The design solution clicked in when Bryan referred to “downtown” living on essentially ground level — not just in Ashland but in any town or city. His strong design preference for a mid-century modern home was the driver for the design of the project. I found this to be very compatible with the site’s relationship and interface with the public street and Lithia Park. The aesthetic is not solely visual — it had to address public perception of its presence as well as privacy for the residents. I believe its presence had to be strong in terms of form and material and be appropriate within a public area. The majority of the material exposed to the public is natural stone that weights and grounds the building into its context. The horizontal planes of the floors and roofs express its horizontality along Winburn Way, expressing a gesture of movement through the park. Movement around this site is of children, families, cars, skateboards, deer and water. Privacy translated into deep recesses in the long horizontal planes for retreating into family living while at the same time remaining open to the surrounding trees and park. We imagine that the stepped retaining walls allow a friendly view to the structure with the mature plants masking direct views into the home.
Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.