The Environmental Design Archives (EDA) at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), in collaboration with the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), is pleased to announce the completion of a joint project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of digitizing more than 800 items from collections that highlight the development of The Sea Ranch. Under the Access to Historical Records: Archival Projects grant program, the EDA and UPenn have digitized a breakthrough example of an environmentally sensitive design that continues to grow in influence and relevance to designers and the public at large public and accessible.
Titled “Living Lightly on the Land: A Virtual Sea Ranch Design Collection,” the 12-month project produced an interactive virtual collection documenting the unique and prescient design development of The Sea Ranch through digitized materials including: drawings, photographs, essential documents, and ephemera, from the holdings of the EDA collections of Joseph Esherick (EHDD), Turnbull / Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker (MLTW), Marquis & Stoller, Dmitri Vedensky, and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon; and drawings, notebooks, moving images, photographs, and project files from the Lawrence Halprin Collection at UPenn.
Using Omeka S as a platform, this virtual collection portal encourages users to interact with the development of The Sea Ranch through the rich and diverse holdings of the EDA and UPenn. Agile Humanities designed the look of the website and modified two open source tools to aid user experience when navigating collection materials in Omeka S: Timeline JS, which allows users to browse items in a timeline, and Storymap JS, which allows items to be geolocated. Both of these tools are free to download and will greatly aid researchers who are interested in learning more about the development of this important project.
Considered as one of the earliest ecological designs, the vision of The Sea Ranch coincided with and reflected the emerging environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Halprin’s masterplan included both individual residences and group housing in the form of condominiums. Although each firm worked independently, they arrived at complementary designs that reflected Bay Area traditions of local materials and a sensitivity to climate.
Ideas emphasized in all designs included the use of topography to minimize human intrusion on the landscape, cooperative living, and sustainable development. This forward‐thinking design is considered by many architectural historians as the birthplace of the third phase of the Bay Area Tradition of architecture. The buildings designed by MLTW and Joseph Esherick for The Sea Ranch marked a turning point in Bay Area architecture by borrowing from the California rural tradition, especially wood shingled barns, and coupling it with a new appreciation of regional builder’s vernacular. By the late 1960s the “vertical shed‐roofed box” created at The Sea Ranch inspired a new design idiom, and by the 1970s variations on the shed‐roofed vertical box could be found throughout the United States.
Virtually uniting the records that document the creation of The Sea Ranch through a digital interactive portal provides a unique and valuable resource for scholars, students, and all researchers who would otherwise have to visit collections on opposite sides of the United States. It is the EDA's hope that seeing these plans and projects united will foster new realizations, scholarship, and appreciation for this outstanding project and the people involved.