At a cost of $55 million, the new Santa Barbara Municipal Airport terminal is one of the more expensive public buildings to open in the 21st century.
And true to the Pearl Chase heritage of South Coast building, it is a Spanish Colonial Revival structure. But lead architect Fred Sweeney has done something few would have thought possible about working with stucco and red-tile roofs.
He’s actually created a post-modern version of Spanish Colonial style that’s added a welcome twist to the limits of color, shape and line imposed by the decades-long tradition on the South Coast.
As Real Estate Editor Marlize van Romburgh writes in our front-page feature story this week, Sweeney traveled to Spain to look at how traditional building styles have evolved to function in a post-modern era.
What he came up with is a series of sharply drawn lines, more acute angles and an edgy feeling that puts more emotion and more drama into the soft edges and subtle curves of buildings such as the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Santa Barbara News-Press building.
His tower, another Spanish Colonial tradition, is more massive, rounder and, dare we say, classier than some of the buildings in downtown Santa Barbara where towers are tossed in as afterthoughts rather than integral to the building.
Working traditional styles into the 21st Century isn’t easy. Sir Norman Foster, the esteemed British architect, went for a steel structure and dark tones to complement the Santa Barbara-style quadrangles when he designed theJohn Spoor Broome Library at CSU Channel Islands.
Beany Baby mogul Ty Warner struggled with expensive and extensive modifications when he rebuilt the Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito, and ran into a buzz saw of controversy over the Coral Casino.
But Sweeney has found a way to make a massive new terminal work in tandem with the existing, quaint-but-outdated structure that’s been welcoming tourists with cool breezes and waxed Spanish tile floors since 1942.
It’s probably too early to say that our new generation of architects has put the classic lines of the George Washington Smith era behind them. And it’s not fair to other great architects to put Sweeney on too much of a pedestal.
But Sweeney and the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport terminal do offer the South Coast a real opportunity.
They have created a path for the region to reinvent a dominant style of the built environment for the 21st century. And that’s what we would call an effective use of public money.