Sea Ranch, California’s Modernist Utopia, Gets an Update
By Diana Ketcham
The New York Times
June 11, 2019
Photo Credit: Morley Baer Photography Trust, Santa Fe; via Special Collections, University Library, University of California Santa Cruz
An overview of Sea Ranch was recently published in the New York TImes. In the piece, Diana Ketcham visits the community, and considers the site’s shifting importance in the face of climate change and a changing demographic. In 1964, Sea Ranch represented the intersection of the emerging environmental movement and Modernist architecture. Built on a 5,200 acre sheep ranch, today the Sea Ranch is recognized as “the California architectural monument of the 1960s,” not only in tune with nature, but driven by nature. Ideas emphasized in all designs included the use of topography to minimize human intrusion on the landscape, cooperative living, and sustainable development.
The Sea Ranch was the brainchild of an exceptionally diverse team, including landscape architecture firm Lawrence Halprin & Associates and architecture firms Joseph Esherick & Associates and then-emerging Berkeley architecture firm MLTW [Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull & Whitaker]; ecologists, including Dick Reynolds; Oceanic Properties, led by Al Boeke; graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher-Solomon; a marketing team led by Marion Conrad, and contractor Matt Sylvia.
The two architecture firms were led by UC Berkeley faculty and graduates. At the time, Joseph Esherick was a professor in the Department of Architecture. Donlyn Lyndon, then a professor of architecture and urban design at CED, co-founded MLTW with two other CED alums, Charles Moore (B.A. Arch ‘55) and Richard Whitaker (B.A. Arch ‘63).
A recent exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, “The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism,” looked at the early days of the Sea Ranch through the design materials of its founders. One evening this spring, a sold-out program at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art brought together Donlyn Lyndon, 83, considered the de facto conscience of the community, with Mary Griffin, the collaborator and widow of William Turnbull, who has carried on their firm’s work here. They discussed what lies ahead.
“Sea Ranch is changing, like our society,” Ms. Griffin said. “We simply can’t build the way we did even 20 years ago.” She ticked off from the checklist of societal change: “The internet, demographic shifts, climate change.”
The earliest homes were influenced by their environment. Clad in unpainted wood, the structures were inventive and charming, and hidden by the trees. Today, in a California which is increasingly marked by wildfires, recent additions to The Sea Ranch have elected to use fireproof materials, including concrete and cement fiberboard. Their structures call back to the original designs, without replicating them.
Read the story in full here.