Did you just feel something? Well something very powerful just happened in San Diego. With the merger of AVRP Studios and Skyport Studio something exciting is definitely shaking up the world of design. AVRP Studios brings its long tradition of innovation, design excellence and creativity together with the highly regarded urban design icon: Frank Wolden and his firm, Skyport Studio.
This coming October, AVRP Studios will be celebrating its 40th year in business. AVRP Studios chairman Doug Austin says, “I believe bringing the addition of Skyport Studio into AVRP Studios is a great way to create new energy and renew our focus on design excellence. I like to think that we just created a new ‘launching pad for great design ideas.’”
Doug Austin, FAIA, started the practice out of his home in Solana Beach in 1976 with Randy Robbins joining in 1983, Christopher Veum in 1991, and most recently Frank Wolden in 2015. Today, AVRP Skyport Studios is located in San Diego’s Emerging Idea District in downtown’s East Village.
Always based in sunny San Diego, AVRP also has a northern office in Vancouver, British Columbia, and works mainly in the western U.S. and occasionally on an international basis. “The reason for ‘studios’ in the name is to represent that we focus on more than one area,” says Austin. “Each principal focuses on a particular niche because we want to be experts in the areas we serve.”
These areas include: urban infill, development, mixed-use, housing, education, corporate office, multigenerational space, health care and more. This approach and ability to think beyond the traditional confines of architectural design has led AVRP to win more than 135 design awards.
Austin says his “outside-the-box” thinking started with his art instructor at Punahou School in Hawaii and was further enhanced by his mentors at Cal Poly, Don Koberg and James Bagnall who authored the book “The Universal Traveler,” which focuses on the creative process.
“Don taught me how to not lock my mind into a box that doesn’t exist and how to come up with truly innovative ideas,” says Austin. “This philosophy has been part of our firm since Day One and it’s why we enjoy the collaborative process — with each other and with clients. If everyone is cut out of the same mold, you tend to get the same answers. We incorporate clients in our design team because they have the answers in terms of their vision, their dream and aspirations for a space.”
Specialized senior management
Today, AVRP’s team consists of a wide-ranging skill set and many professionals with extensive industry experience. Each principal brings individual accomplishments and leading understanding to the project puzzle, allowing AVRP to tackle design and planning with true expertise. “We had to scale back through the recession and do more with less,” says Austin. “Each person in the firm had to be able to have a broader job description, so this is where this experience really came into play and kept us going.” Each principal helps to steer individual projects from concept to completion; utilizing a vast infusion of collective intellectual capital.
Randy Robbins, AIA, LEEDAP heads the Campus and Community Studio. Robbins has a keen eye for design and aesthetics with more than 40 years of experience in architecture and interior design. His projects have won numerous design awards and the studio specializes in the design and management of educational and religious facility projects. Some of the Studio’s most notable work includes the University of California at San Diego’s Price Student Center, the UCSD College of International Relations and Pacific Studies, the Revelle Science Center and the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue.
Christopher T. Veum, AAIA, IIDA, president of AVRP, leads the Corporate and Health Care Studios. Veum has focused on the needs of a divergent multigenerational workforce and how those different generations have changed their built environment. For example, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials have differences in values, communication styles and work habits. It is his passion to make that multigenerational workplace more productive, efficient and harmonious. Some of his current clients include major corporations such as Microsoft, Nokia, Intel, Sharp Healthcare, Scripps Health, Red Door International and more. “Chris’ projects have topped many publications’ lists such as the Top 10 Coolest Offices in America, among others,” adds Austin.
Frank Wolden shepherds the Skyport Studio within AVRP and also acts as a design catalyst for the other studios as well through the firm’s new Ideation Lab. Here, they employ a number of creative tools such as storytelling, collaboration and precedent research to gain a broader grasp of possible solutions and a better understanding of people and places for whom they are creating space. Wolden has a reputation and talent for thoughtfully connecting buildings with the public realm.
Meanwhile, Austin, who is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, leads the firm’s Urban Studio and is constantly looking for ways to take his firm to the next level. Austin leads his office and his team toward expanding the limits of possibility. He looks to work with the talents of each individual at AVRP and to create a culture at the office, which is collaborative and synergetic. Austin was appointed by the Mayor of San Diego tochair the city’s Design and Construction Task Force for the new Ballpark and Ballpark District. He then served as a vice chair for the City’s Redevelopment Agency that helped plan, facilitate and manage redevelopment of downtown San Diego. Austin currently serves as a Planning Commissioner for the City.
A passion for people
Whether it is integrating Millennials and Baby Boomers into one effective workplace or designing an efficient highrise building for a range of occupants, understanding people is integral to AVRP’s view of project success. Austin, who studied psychology and sociology in college, says understanding how people work has shaped the way he approaches architecture. “Understanding your client’s objectives is the first step,” he says. “We don’t just do design; we do human-responsive design.”
“We have a young associate whose thesis was on the brain and architecture, there’s a lot of research being done on that,” adds Austin. “We’re very interested in human factors and always have been; that is very important, especially health care. We look at evidence-based design and how it impacts occupants. Thoughtfully designed spaces are shown to improve the morale of both the patients and the workers.”
Adding community-centered assets to downtown San Diego
Incorporating the client’s perspective is a huge facet of AVRP’s design approach. “We believe that the client should be an active part of the design team and we also strive to provide a good service to the community through sustainable architecture and projects that make the community a better place to live, especially in the case of urban areas,” says Austin.
A prime example is in the school sector, where AVRP completed an award-winning project in September 2015: the Urban Discovery Academy in the heart of San Diego. “The Urban Discovery Academy is a K-8 charter school located in the urban environment of downtown San Diego’s East Village,” describes Austin. “The downtown area has yearned for a K-8 school for decades and with this school’s new location, families with children can start to thrive downtown. The school creates a friendly environment within the surrounding blocks of East Village, significantly changing the dynamics of the currently evolving neighborhood.”
The Pre-FORM approach to high-rise design and delivery
In addition to adding valuable assets to downtown, AVRP has been working to design a new way to build high-rise structures; anything from seven stories to over 75 stories. Attune with its outside-the-box nature, the firm has recently been awarded a patent for a new a new methodology they call Pre-Form.
“There’s a lot of inefficiency when one is building a highrise building,” explains Austin. “On the average highrise job there are only about four and a half productive working hours in an eight-hour day when you factor in all of the waiting and coordinating various trades, getting workers up to higher levels and materials, equipment and coordinating it all in a tight space.”
AVRP is looking to change this model by prefabricating modules in a controlled environment and then shipping them to the project site. “Now, if it’s done in the shop, you increase productivity from four hours to seven and a half hours out of an eight-hour day, with less waste and safer conditions,” says Austin.
AVRP’s model combines the traditional building systems with modular components. “The modular components do not bear the structural loads,” explains Austin. “They serve only temporarily until the concrete forms are in place. The result is a building that meets all of California’s structural codes, but with a lot less waste and greater efficiency in the construction process.”
We hope to start the first prototype in the next 90 days and to break ground on the first high-rise project within 18 months, completing it over a 16-month timeline; this type of project would normally take 24 months.”
For the coming year, AVRP also has plans to build the $239 million Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center’s Ocean View Tower, adding 138 new patient rooms, six operating rooms and advanced health care technology. “We’re passionate about what we do and it shows,” says Austin. “We want our buildings to not only make occupants feel good, but also deliver high functionality and a deep sense of beauty and purpose.”
From efficient high-rise construction to schools, multigenerational space to health care facilities, AVRP Skyport Studios continues a tradition of forward thinking, elevating human-responsive design and planning to the next level. The word Studios may suggest more than one focus in terms of expertise, but their common focus is creating places that touch the soul, embody art and make living a richer experience.
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