Photo: O’Donnell Agency

FOUR IRRITATING QUESTIONS FOR

Rick Gonzalez, AIA
REG Architects

Known around the state for his leadership in historic preservation, Rick is a larger-than-life, convivial West Palm Beach personality who leads his own architecture firm on the top floor of one of the city’s most historic buildings on the SW corner of Clematis and Olive. His fascinating Downtown history tours begin in November and run monthly through season, but book early as they sell out fast.

Q: Why does historic preservation even matter?

A: Give me a minute to retrieve my eyebrows because they seem to have shot up into my hairline. History is inescapable! Roman emperors were invested in preserving old buildings, okay? It’s not just me. If architectural history didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be taught in every university on Earth. We love great old buildings for their art and craftmanship, for the way they allow us to peek back into time, and for the way they make us feel. From the Pyramids to the Pantheon to Palm Beach County’s 1916 Courthouse that I was involved with 10 years ago, old structures are a wonder, an experience, a source of amazement and delight. They provide us with human context of who we are and how we lived. To cherish and preserve them is logical.

Q:  Will the work of today’s “starchitects” be viewed in the same historical context?

A: Some will, most probably won’t. I.M. Pei’s dramatic glass and steel pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre that caused architectural outrage in 1989 is now iconic to Paris. But too many of the global names – while highly imaginative – seem committed to breaking all the rules of symmetry, balance and function with no inspiration from the surrounding context. That can result in sore thumb-ness, no matter how dramatic and wonder-filled the design. I’ve seen additions larger than the original –  a no-no. In my opinion, architects should show a little more personal restraint and develop designs from the baseline context, then layer in their own genius, style and building function. That’s what I did at Mar-A-Lago’s tennis pavilion. It’s an architectural ‘cousin’ to the club itself, but with a modern, plate glass window and a contemporary layout that answers the function.

Let’s Make American Architecture Great Again, ha-ha!

I.M. Pei’s entrance to the Louvre evokes, at a super-scale, the atrium of a villa in Pompei and at the same time atria of corporate office buildings with steel, glass, cables and busy movement of people from all directions.

Q: What are we doing right and wrong in West Palm Beach?

A: We’re still talking architecture, right?    We’ve got great architectural scale. No 40-story buildings towering in the middle of a low-rise block. We tend to group our high-rises together in the same general area, creating a definable downtown district of big buildings while our historic central core remains human-scale. The city’s recent investment in versatile “complete streets” with bike lanes and shade trees will make us even more walkable. Consider that we are a downtown that’s just 10X20 in terms of blocks. The idea of driving a car from your downtown office to a lunch event at the convention center or the Kravis is an old mindset that needs to shift. We have trolleys, the fantastic Freeride service, Uber, bike lanes, and… sidewalks! Please don’t get into your car. There’s no need anymore. And the green space dividends from recent projects are generating beautiful new public spaces that are starting to define the Downtown 3.0 experience.

Q: You realize you forgot to tell us what we’re doing wrong?

A: Here’s a major problem. Havana and their superb Cuban coffees and treats are way too far south of us on Dixie Hwy. Not just because I handled the renovations, but strategically, and for the good of all mankind, I think it should be relocated to Clematis and Olive.

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