A Conversation with a 2012 Honor Award Winner

When I accepted the position as the Commissioner of Awards and Honors for 2012, I did not fully appreciate how inspiring it would be to represent AIA Austin as it recognizes the achievements of its members.  As it turns out, the inspiration has been the most rewarding aspect of my position, especially considering the economy and how discouraging that has been to the profession over the last several years.  For me, it has been revitalizing to see all the positive contributions our members have been making to the community in a very real and direct way over the last several years.

On the evening of April 13, AIA Austin celebrated these contributions with the annual Design and Honor Awards Celebration at the Blanton Museum of Art.  The Design Awards Committee, the Honors Awards Committee, and the exceptional staff of AIA Austin carefully and thoughtfully planned the event. It was a wonderful evening with a lot of peak moments.  Among them was the Firm Achievement Award, the highest award that our chapter bestows to its members.  This year, we were pleased to present the award to Taniguchi Architects, an outstanding firm with a long history of creating positive change in the Austin Community.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Evan Taniguchi, AIA over coffee and enjoyed discussing the life of the firm.

I gladly share with you some of the highlights and hope you find his words as inspiring as I did.

Chris Cobb, AIA - 2012 Commissioner
Design and Honor Awards Commission

A conversation with Evan Taniguchi, AIA
Taniguchi Architects

The Firm Achievement is the highest honor within the AIA chapter and it builds upon the whole life of the firm which began with your father, Alan Taniguchi, FAIA, and in some sense, your grandfather, Isamu Taniguchi who was a retired farmer and a gardener and known for the Taniguchi Gardens at Zilker.  Building on that legacy and the whole body of work of your family, what does this award mean to you?

“Several people came up to me afterwards, and especially Kevin Alter because he knew my father well, and he was glad to see win the award because it wrapped up the whole family thing in a sense. He said that had never happened before and that it is usually based more on the professional aspects of the firm, but he thought this was totally different than any of the other firm achievement awards because it spanned generations.  And I thought it was really cool that they talked a lot about, not just our family in what we did architecturally or in a design sense, but more of what we did for the community.  It moved me because it went beyond architecture, it goes to civic responsibility or the things that architecture enabled you to do. Also, the legacy of my family, because of that, when one hears the name, it means something, and I can get a lot of things done because of that.  I owe a lot to my family, especially my dad - he was the Dean the UT School of Architecture and he won the AIA Whitney Young Award, the highest achievement for social consciousness.  I have huge footsteps to follow in, but I try to maintain social consciousness. It was very special that recognized that and that’s what we need to do as architects. We need to be aware of the social consciousness, and not just design buildings.”

We are in a community where the quality of life is taken very seriously. How does being in Austin impact that vision of civic duty, what has it meant to you as you work to achieve that?

“A lot of that has to do with my dad.  He kind of set the pace for me.  Austin has become a little bit more socially conscious but Austin grows and changes I think it is still more necessary than ever. I’m on the Task Force for the Comprehensive Plan the City of Austin, and aside from land use and transportation, I stress the fact that we need to look at equity, we need to look at society in general, but mainly equity - that everybody should be treated the same.  This is not just a land use and transportation exercise.  I really want that too, the compact and connected , but I think it is really important to talk about social services, education, and everything else because that is what makes the complete community and I think that is what Austin has strived for - that sense of complete community.”

Having such big footsteps to follow in, have you found it more daunting at times or is it more inspiring to you?

“It becomes more inspiring the older I get.  Because as you get older, you get wiser.  When I was a young guy, I just wanted to be an architect, and I wanted to design stuff and all of this.  And as you get older and more mature, you start understanding there is a lot more to life than that.”  

Are there other sources of inspiration? Other artists, architects, or other civic-minded professionals?

“That’s a tough one. I admire some architects but I’m not a big hero worshipper. I like designers that everybody else likes.  I love Calatrava and all this, but if I had some real heroes, it would probably be those architects who are actually actually spending time reaching out to the public, in some sense, and getting them more involved.”

Looking back, what are some of the projects you’ve enjoyed working on?

“The Palmer Events Center was fun because it got me a lot of exposure in the city of Austin. My father was involved in the first Town Lake Master Plan in 1960. It meant a whole lot to be tied into that.  It helped us to get the job, but it was very cool. And then to be involved in Butler Park with TGB, the whole thing was great.

And the Norman Hackerman Building and the story behind it.  And this is why it’s one of my favorites, I did the project with a firm that used to be Anshen and Allen Los Angeles, now it’s CO Architects.  Anshen and Allen is a real old California firm.  One of the associate principals had worked in our office, so when this project came on the radar, he called and said we should team up for this.  Well it turns out my dad’s first job ever in 1949 was with Anshen and Allen in San Francisco.  He never lived to see this, but we went full circle.  And you have to be pretty old to see that happen, and I think, “Man, I have been around a long time.”  It comes around in a 40-50 year cycle. But I love architecture and I am glad I’m a second generation architect.  My resume says I was born in an architect’s office, literally I was.  I was building models when I was 4 or 5 years old.  And helping the guys sketch and running blue prints.  So it is my life and for it to come full circle like that is very special.”

Your firm has achieved so much, but looking forward, what do you see in the future that you would like to achieve or take on?

“I’m involved in the Comprehensive Plan because it is looking at Austin in the next 30 years and I seriously think there are going to have to be a lot of changes.  Not changes that we WANT to do, but that we HAVE to do, because of the way the environment is going, global warming...last year, we had the worst drought ever, and shortage of water...I think it is really going to affect the built environment and I’m a big proponent of compact and connected .  I want a lot more density.  I love cities like San Francisco, and that’s where my family is from. But I love that feel where there’s public transportation that everybody can use and everything is fairly close and walkable.  I would like to get more involved in planning and laying out how a city can work more efficiently and more sustainably.  And work toward how people can afford to live in a city.  We talk about the Comprehensive Plan for Austin, we don’t think about how everybody is going to fit into this picture. So it goes back to this social  consciousness but more based on real things, more based on where our environment is going to be at that time.”