BY Staff Writer
When Doug Austin started out on his own as an architect in 1976, his first design project was a 2,850-square-foot, all-redwood house in Del Mar.
“I figured out by the time I was done I had made about $1.25 an hour,” Austin said. “I was even helping construction by stringing wire for the stereo.”
Austin said the house was full of light, had an atrium and a lot of drama. The design won an award from the American Institute of Architects and was also featured in San Diego Home & Garden Magazine that year.
Today, the architectural design firm he founded, now called Austin Veum Robbins Parshalle, is the third largest in San Diego, according to the San Diego Business Journal’s 2000 Book of Lists. It has 70 employees (35 of them architects), 1999 gross revenues of $6 million and a host of prominent design projects to its credit.
Along the way he developed a culture within his company that advocates mentoring and advanced education opportunities to encourage expertise and excellence among employees.
There are monthly guest speakers to keep the staff attuned to what’s happening in the industry as well. Austin said these programs have resulted in low staff turnover and a “can-do” team ethic.
Among the firm’s many design efforts is the Price Center at UCSD. It’s a 170,000-square-foot mixed-use project that includes a bookstore, 600-seat theater, student lounge and food court.
The Woodfin Suites hotel at 10044 Pacific Mesa Blvd., which was completed in February, Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe, and the Pediatric Specialty Medical Office Building at Children’s Hospital are three more of the firm’s local design projects, he said.
Several other major AVRP projects are in the design phase or under construction.
Among them are the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center on University Avenue between Aragon Drive and 68th Street. When completed, it will have more than 200,000 square feet of buildings on a 12.5-acre site.
Included in the overall design are a theater, computer research library and sports fields. Gymnastics and aquatics facilities are included in the project as well.
Construction is now under way at Congregation Beth Israel, a 61,000-square-foot synagogue on Towne Centre Drive between Nobel Drive and La Jolla Village Drive. Its AVRP design includes a 500-seat sanctuary, adjacent social hall, chapel, multipurpose room and schoolrooms.
AVRP designs more than buildings. It produced the master plan, architectural guidelines and preliminary architectural design for the 1,400-acre Aviara community in Carlsbad and the Batiquitos Lagoon Educational Park master plan as well.
“We’re deeply committed to the philosophy that design excellence carries with it a sense of meaning and is a very important facet of each generation’s legacy to its heirs,” Austin said.
Randy Robbins joined Austin in 1982. Robbins said he searches out design projects that have a strong connection between interior and exterior architecture.
He likes the opportunities a project like Congregation Beth Israel presents. That’s because, unlike commercial projects where one architect may design the building shell and another the interior, the same building designer does both on that type of project.
There’s also the challenge of designing something unique that shouldn’t cater to the whims of current style, he added.
“The architecture needs to be timeless because it will be there a long time,” Robbins said.
Jeff Parshalle, a partner in the firm since 1995, has worked with Austin since the early 1980s. Among other responsibilities, he’s in charge of document standards and quality assurance for the firm.
“In addition to the visual aesthetics of design, I’m also fascinated by the technical aspects of building,” Parshalle said. “There’s a lot of emerging technology and new materials out there, and I try to include those into the design so the building has technical excellence as well.”
Chris Veum joined the company in 1991 and has more than 15 years’ experience in architectural and interior design.
He led the team that designed a tenant improvement project involving a new 62,000-square-foot, four-story office building and 60,000 square feet of tenant improvements of San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. at 10210 Campus Point Drive.
“The thing about this architectural firm is that we will do more than just design buildings,” Veum said. “There can be graphics and landscaping involved in the design as well.”
Meshing Creativity And Sensibility
While he talks with enthusiasm about the aesthetics, Robbins cautioned that architectural design is not just unfettered creativity.
“The designs we provide are a direct response to the desires and needs of our clients and a reflection of the costs they will incur when building,” Robbins said.
“We also do a lot of work in-house, because it is more economical and much easier to walk across the office and sit down with a structural engineer than it is trying to set up a meeting or make contact to ask a question with somebody at an outside firm.”
Austin said AVRP is oriented to high-technology problem solving. The firm’s second-floor office in One America Plaza at 600 W. Broadway is equipped with networked management and drafting systems.
AVRP also creates Web pages for clients that illustrate the progress on a particular project. In addition to computer design programs, the architects also use software to enable computer-animated walk-throughs and drive-bys of proposed projects. Digital cameras also are used extensively because they allow quick communication through E-mail.
Austin said his company’s responsiveness to the other professionals involved in building projects has won it praise.
Terry Arnett, senior vice president of Roel Construction Co. Inc. of San Diego, has worked with AVRP on several local projects.
“It’s great to work with them. They really take a team approach and don’t let egos get in the way of the bottom line, which is successfully completing a project for a client on time and then working with the contractor and soliciting different opinions on how to make things better,” Arnett said.
“They are really a good team in getting requests for information from the contractor turned around real quickly.”
Peter Lasensky, CEO of San Diego-based Peterbuilt Corp., who for more than 10 years has built many ground-up and tenant improvement projects designed by AVRP, echoed his comments.
“They are a great firm and in particular the principals are just fabulous people,” Lasensky said. “They are very responsive to our suggested solutions to design problems. There are no egos. Many other architectural firms have a pride of authorship and let that interfere with the customer’s best interest. AVRP doesn’t have that problem.”
Lasensky said his confidence in AVRP has led him to hire the architects to do the design for his company on its design-build projects.
Kathy Breed, assistant vice president for corporate real estate at Union Bank of California in Downtown, was equally enthusiastic about AVRP. The architectural firm designed several tenant improvement projects for the bank at its offices at 530 B St.
“Chris Veum is very creative and came up with several different design concepts that worked very well for the users,” Breed said. “The firm was very responsive to the bank’s needs.”