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Built to Last

Napa architect leads new conversation on construction

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Mindful Designs  Napa Valley homes, like this one on Mount Veeder, are being rebuilt to be more resilient. - PHOTO COURTESY ATELIER JØRGENSEN
  • Photo courtesy Atelier Jørgensen
  • Mindful Designs Napa Valley homes, like this one on Mount Veeder, are being rebuilt to be more resilient.

Even before the devastating wildfires of October 2017 destroyed thousands of homes and buildings in Napa and Sonoma County, architect Brandon Jørgensen had notions of what he now calls “Architecture of Resilience.”

“The idea was kicking around in my head for a few years,” says Jørgensen. “The fires concretized the idea and I immediately took action.”

Growing up in Napa Valley, the architect saw wildfires come and go, and observed the destruction they left in their wake.

“Every fire, it gets worse and worse,” he says. “I thought to myself that policy makers aren’t necessarily going to take action that’s the best for the environment, and who better to take action than people who are trained to design the environment—architects and engineers.”

Two years ago, Jørgensen created "Architecture of Resilience," a group of architects working on thoughtful design as Napa rebuilds burned structures. On Sept. 7, Jørgensen and a panel of colleagues will discuss the topic in a public conversation at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa.

“It’s been an adventure to keep it going and keep it in the forefront of thoughts,” Jørgensen says, of the group. “But, it’s something that’s active every day in terms of conversations with clients, contractors and my peers. Every time I feel it drifting, I try to bring it back into the fore.”

From choosing fire-resistant building materials to developing fire-resistant landscaping, Jørgensen’s concept is, at its core, a call to sustainable and environmentally conscientious building. “It’s a re-framing or a repurposing of thoughts on the building process, which is exciting because a lot of people are coming around to it and understanding the importance of it,” he says.

Through his design firm, Atelier Jørgensen, the architect works on several North Bay projects that utilize fire-resilient ways of thinking. For example, one rebuild uses a wood frame, though that wood is the newly-developed magnesium oxide board—developed and manufactured by ExtremeGreen—that is half the thickness of traditional fireboard, with double the resistance to combustion.

“This is something we’ll get into in the conversation (on Sept. 7),” he says. “What details I’m using, what details my peers are using.”

For the upcoming conversation, Jørgensen is assembling a panel featuring his old professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, Stanley Saitowitz, and nationally recognized designer Anne Fougeron. “When you get those two in a room together, they have opinions that both complement and contradict each other, which always leads to new ideas,” says Jørgensen.

Also joining the conversation is California and Hawaii-based architect Craig Steely, who’s partnered with Jørgensen on past projects.

Ultimately, Jørgensen wants to see architecture of resilience become common sense. “It would be nice when people come to wine country, they are constantly aware of their environment,” he says. “And they are aware of how to fit into it, and not just plop something down onto it.”

‘In Conversation: The Architecture of Resilience’ happens on Saturday, Sept 7, at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, 5200 Sonoma Hwy, Napa. 3pm. $10. dirosaart.org.

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