Sunday, August 25, 2013

August AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Saul Zaik, FAIA
The August meeting of the American Institute of Architects-Southwestern Oregon Chapter was a real treat for fans of the pioneers responsible for shaping the unique brand of architecture we now recognize as the Pacific Northwest Style. One of these pioneering architects—Saul Zaik, FAIA—graced us with his presence. Engaging in a “fireside chat” with AIA-SWO president-elect Scott Clarke, AIA, Saul presented a wide-ranging collection of his projects, providing ample evidence why he is held in such high regard by the generations of architects who have followed the trail he helped blaze. 
I first came to know the work of Saul Zaik when I purchased a book entitled Contemporary Homes of the Pacific Northwest while I was a student at the University of Oregon. The book—authored by Harry Martin with superb black & white photography by Dick Busher—features 32 homes by 22 architects that best exemplified the essential characteristics of a unique modernism shaped by the magnificent landscapes and soft light of the Pacific Northwest. Saul’s mastery of that distinctive and distinguished architectural genre was evident to me in the two projects Harry Martin selected for inclusion in his book. Both the weekend retreat for Bill Naito near the Salishan Resort and the Babler House on Lake Oswego clearly demonstrated a keen appreciation of site, climate, and culture, executed with a refreshing modesty and economy of means (even as his clients would lavish generous budgets on their projects). 
Cabin sketch by Saul Zaik
I won’t go into great detail to describe Saul’s career. Instead, check out the excellent feature story about Saul on the Portland Modern website penned by Portland Architecture blogger Brian Libby and Portland Modern LLC real estate broker Bob Zaikoski. The two deem Saul the “Dean of Portland Architects,” and chronicle the highlights of his illustrious career. 
What’s most striking about Saul’s entire oeuvre is how timeless it appears today. His architecture is the real thing, fundamentally grounded in sound design principles. In this regard, his residential work is eminently attractive, much more so than the efforts of some young practitioners today who fashionably retreat to a hollow aping of mid-20th century styling. Saul's modernist credentials are genuine, not affected. He was in the right place at the right time, a member of the generation of designers and artists that came of age during the dynamically creative and fruitful postwar period.
Babler House, Lake Oswego

Today, Saul holds his convictions steadfastly, even as he enters his seventh decade of professional practice. I imagine he would disclaim any notion that he is overly concerned with style or that he ever was, although he does regard northwest regionalism as a valid aesthetic. Instead, I’m certain he has always approached design from a completely integrative perspective, taking into account everything all good architects do when undertaking any challenging project. In the Pacific Northwest, with its often spectacular sites and prospects, it behooves architects to do nothing less. 
Saul may be best known for the many houses he designed but he also worked on other project types: numerous multifamily projects, resort developments (Salishan, Sun River, The Inn at the Seventh Mountain), assorted commercial and institutional projects, and restorations & additions to historic structures (including Timberline Lodge and the Vista House at Crown Point). Curiously, he never was chosen to design a project at the University of Oregon, his alma mater. Oregon State University did hire him for several jobs, so the Beavers win head-to-head against the Ducks in the Saul Zaik architecture sweepstakes.  
Naito House, Salishan
Bottom line, I find Saul and his work fascinating because he’s a living piece of Oregon’s architectural heritage. He’s Oregon-born, bred & educated, and a direct link to such seminal masters of northwest modernism as Pietro Belluschi and John Yeon. He’s designed projects on the Oregon coast, in Portland, throughout the Willamette Valley, in the Cascades, and on the High Desert. If anyone can be described as the quintessential Oregon architect, Saul Zaik is that person. 
One of the delightful aspects of Saul’s visit with us was to learn about his friendship with AIA-SWO’s own Paul Edlund, AIA, FCSI. The two grew up as youngsters together, from their time as Cub Scouts on. It was great to see the two men interact, two peas in a pod formed a lifetime ago. 
Now 86 years old, Saul still relishes every opportunity to exercise his craft. Saul’s newest clients sought his services after admiring the six Zaik homes featured on the Mid-Century Modern Home Tour hosted by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon this past May. This latest project, sure to be an instant classic, will be built in Philomath.

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