Barry Berkus was a major figure in architecture for decades. In 1991, Residential Architect magazine named him one of the 10 top residential architects of the twentieth century noting that he "has forever altered the paradigm of architects and planners working to create more livable urban and suburban environments." He was the founder and president of B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara where his design teams have won more than 300 regional, national, and international design competitions.
After starting college at UCSB in 1954 as an economics major and not doing very well, his lifelong interest in drawing drew him to architecture and he transferred to USC. By the time he was 22, he had formed an architecture office which grew in eight years to include 200 architects and was the largest residential practice in the world.
One area the firm specializes in is modular housing. Mobile homes had three basic attractions for Berkus: like other architectural visionaries, he wanted to find a way to move home building away from on-site construction to factory production; he wanted to promote the idea of reusable real estate to provide options other than urban sprawl to accommodate growth; and he was committed to the notion of affordable housing.
He found that the mobile home was the most successful of the genre, so he set about to make them into houses. The results have transformed the notion of what a modular home can be.
To prevent the decay of cities, he promoted the notion of interim suburbs--areas of modular housing that can be converted to higher density or other uses as a city grows. And he is proud of his work in providing what he calls attainable housing--not cheap housing, but housing that provides dignified shelter and an entryway into the real estate market. He saw Santa Barbara as an example of what can happen when such housing is not available. "Now our people are driving to Lompoc and Ventura. We can't keep service people in the city, and that is irresponsible. An affordable component, a place to start to climb on the ladder, is an awfully important part of any viable living environment. When you get to the point where you can't do that any longer, you begin to see stratification, which is not great for a community. You begin to lose those that really are the heart of the community, in my mind, the people that work, that grow and have families, and end up being the next generation that keep the keys. They're gone, and that's not good."
Through all this work he had been inspired by art. With his late wife, Gail, he collected art for over 40 years. To house it, he built a gallery, the Art Box, on his Hope Ranch property. For Berkus, art and architecture were a synergy: "The connections I make in life between art and the other things I am interested in are great. I will look at a painting and it will take me through history of why that form is in that paining, and where that form appeared before, and how that form may have had significant meaning both in historical community development or landscape. So I may be looking at a tree in a meadow and all of a sudden make a paining out of it, or be looking at a building and it becomes a painting, or a painting becomes a building. I keep on making a transformation between forms and that's the thing that's kept me alive."
Over the last 35 years Berkus had been putting those ideas together and are available in a beautiful, very reader-friendly book, Architecture, Art, Parallels, Connections, published by The Images Publishing Group. Much more than a compendium of Berkus design projects, it is a fascinating look at the mind of this architect and how other artists and other media have influenced him.
Also an artist, in watercolors, an exhibition of Berkus's works was held at the Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara. <!-- Residents of Boulder, Colorado; Northfield, Minnesota; Pittsburgh; Atlanta; and Santa Barbara between now and the Spring of 2001 will get to view Berkus's contribution to the art show "Out of Order: Mapping Social Space" in which he and other artists address major social challenges. Berkus's contribution is a look at abandoned areas of New York City in the Bronx and Queens--burned out vacant buildings--along with images of what might have been built instead. -->
Increasingly, Berkus became an educator, sharing his visions of communities, housing, art and other topics in talks as he traveled widely.
Berkus had a long series of connections with UCSB beyond his time here as a student. He lectured each year to classes in Environmental Studies. For the 1984 Olympics, he was commissioner of rowing. Those events were held at Lake Casitas near Ventura, and the Olympic village for those athletes was at UCSB. Following those games, he helped to upgrade UCSB's rowing program. He was one of the longest serving trustees of The UCSB Foundation. <!-- And his current office is in Ebbets Hall on the old UC Santa Barbara College campus, now called the Riviera Research Park. While the college may have moved, he said of the eclectic mix of tenants on the old site "it is still a campus of ongoing research and creativity." -->- Jon Bartel