Porter Jensen and Partners, founded in 1958, and Allan M. Walter and Associates, founded in 1954, were among the first major architectural practices serving public and private clients in a booming area that would come to be Silicon Valley. These two firms would later come together to form Aedis Architects
Rapid post-war economic expansion and the birth of the electronic industry transformed Santa Clara Valley from isolated small and average towns, with orchards in between, to a major Bay Area metropolis.
Firm – Porter Jensen and Partners incorporated in 1966 under the name Porter Jensen Hansen Manzagol AIA. It became the premier educational design firm in Santa Clara Valley, serving the needs of students in a rapidly growing community. Design creativity at the firm flourished during this period, producing innovative projects such as the Mountain View Academy and Edenvale Elementary School. Its work in school design, which broke free of the traditional “finger plan” and boxy classroom approach, was featured in numerous trade and general magazines and newspapers.
Project – Mountain View Academy: This college prep school which opened in 1968 won several design awards, including the Mayor’s Award for its contribution to the City’s architectural landscape. The two-story design on a tight urban block is an example of Bay Area regionalism which was prevalent during this period (Foothill College by Ernest Kump in nearby Los Altos is perhaps the best example of this genre in the area). Responding to the surrounding residential neighborhood, the school was sunk half a story below ground level; wide eaves and exterior balcony, all of heavy timber redwood, surround the large structures creating an informal and low-scale appearance that fits the context perfectly.
School construction continued to be robust to support rapid population growth. The oil embargo in the late 1970’s raised awareness of energy conservation and passive solar design gained traction in architecture. In the late 1970’s, California voters approved Proposition 13, which severely slashed funding for public construction. School building in the state came to a halt.
Firm – Porter Jensen Hansen Manzagol AIA opened a branch office in San Clemente to serve Southern California clients. Timpany Center in San Jose, one of the first major facilities in the nation designed for the physically disabled, was completed in 1979 and earned the firm multiple national and local design awards. The list of clients expanded to include a number of higher education institutions. However, Proposition 13, which was passed in 1979, largely eliminated funding for school construction and forced a severe contraction in the firm’s size along with the entire educational design sector in California
Project – Timpany Center: A very unique project, one of the first of its kind in the US. The program calls for a variety of sports and fitness activities for the disabled. The design team spent countless of hours to conduct research on the limitations of each type of impairment that is prevalent among the center’s clientele, ranging from hearing, visual to mobility. Virtually each detail of the center was designed to accommodate people with disabilities, such as a ramped-entry pool, water temperature, tactile surface, lighting, signage, circulation, etc. The building features many passive solar design elements, including north-facing windows and solar hot water heating. The project won the national AASA-CEFPI Shirley Cooper Award, a Santa Clara Valley Chapter AIA Honor Award, among others.
As Silicon Valley continued its rapid transformation, school districts and other public agencies searched for new ways to fund necessary facility improvements. Computer-aided design made its appearance in architectural practice, while Post-modernism was the style-du-jour.
Firm – The resurgence of the firm took place in the early 1980’s, paralleling the gradual recovery of school construction in California. The San Jose and San Clemente offices separated into independent companies in 1989, when a new generation of leaders emerged to replace the retiring partners. The San Jose office retains the name PJHM Architects, under the leadership of Thang Do.
Due to tight budget and square footage restrictions imposed by the State School Building program, schools of this era look and feel different from before. Chaboya Middle School, Cerra Vista, Starlight and Ohlone Elementary Schools typify a new prototype called the “courtyard school”. Circulation is handled by exterior covered walkways that surround a central courtyard, while buildings form a secured perimeter.
PJHM was among the first practices to take advantage of the personal computer in all facets of its work, from design to project management. Unlike most firms however, it did not employ a team of CAD drafters just to translate hand drawings into pixels. Instead, it used the computer as a real design tool to create both conceptual design as well as technical documents.
Project – San Benito High School: in existence since 1909, this campus is the pride of the town of Hollister and became much larger than originally intended. Rapid enrollment growth, disciplinary issues, proximity to public streets, impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood, parking and traffic were all significant planning challenges. As the campus architect, PJHM guided the modernization and expansion of the school over several decades to create a coherent and effective educational environment. We renovated the original historical structure and designed new buildings to stay faithful to the Spanish style of the original structure. When the campus expanded across the street to provide the needed acreage for growth, we designed a new sports center as well as a complete satellite freshman campus.
Communities throughout the Bay Area approved local bond measures, which supplement state bond programs in fixing their long-neglected schools. Technology became a key feature in school design, while e-mail and the internet transformed how business was done.
Firm – PJHM Architects added several new principals and grew to a size of 45, responding to an expanding client base. In addition to its traditional educational work, PJHM completed a number of joint-use facilities, such as the Henry Mello Center for the Performing Arts and the AMD Sports Center. Increasingly, the firm’s work focused on transforming outdated suburban school campuses built in the post-war years, as well as more compact, urban schools. It was in at this time that Aedis became an early-adopter of 3D architectural modeling tools.
PJHM oversaw many Bay Area district-wide modernization programs, financed by general obligations bond, including New Haven Unified, Evergreen, Moreland, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, Cabrillo, etc.
Project – Henry Mello Center for the Performing Arts: The original Watsonville High School, designed by famed architect W. H. Weeks, suffered major damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Large cracks in the exterior walls revealed concrete of a very low quality, perhaps not a surprise given that the school was built in 1917, at the height of the First World War. PJHM designed a much larger replacement structure to house a full performing arts center, administrative offices, and an expanded number of classrooms. Fitting all these program needs within the same footprint while retaining the historic architectural character was challenging but nevertheless resolved successfully. Steven Solomon, City Manager of Watsonville, wrote in an unsolicited letter “at a time when most public architecture has been ground to total monotony by lack of funds and the destruction of creativity by State regulations, you have designed a building which has integrity, is reminiscent of the former structure, and creates unique public and private spaces”.
Thankfully, the world did not end on the eve of the millenium. Under the sweep of globalization, many architectural firms practiced overseas as well as at home. School improvement in the Bay Area was robust, going beyond just fixing the emergencies. Schools enjoyed new theaters, stadia, sports centers, libraries, and the like.
Firm – PJHM Architects acquired the established school design firm that Allan Walter founded in 1954, AWG Architects, bringing 2 of the most established architectural practices in San Jose under a single leadership. The firm borrows the Latin word for structure – aedis – as its new name, to signal a new chapter: creating design that is sustainable and transformative. Sustainability became an important goal in many of the firm’s projects, with several LEED and CHPS certified projects completed. About half of the firm’s design professionals became LEED-accredited.
Wedging a bulky program onto a long and narrow site, the Logan Educational Center for the Performing Arts won a number of state and local design awards. Hillview Branch Library In San Jose, the firm’s first foray into civic projects, also won an AIASCV Honor Award by paying homage to the valley’s farming heritage while providing a modern and sophisticated community center to the neighborhood.
Project – Logan Educational Center for the Performing Arts: At nearly 4,000 students, Logan High School is a very large campus spanning 2 sides of a public street. The school lacked a strong visual presence, which this building fulfills while bringing all the performing arts needs together under one roof.
The site was challenging: a narrow wedge of land bordered by 2 busy public streets and the school’s sports stadium. The solution: string the facilities following site configuration and stack them vertically. Instructional spaces are located on the school side, while the theater is positioned for convenient access by both students and the public. Bold and angular massing creates a strong visual presence at this main entryway into the campus.
The entire global economy suffered during the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, but the design and constructio n industry in the US was hit particularly hard. Green design became almost standard, as many jurisdictions adopt formal green policies.
Firm – Aedis won a design competition to design the Math and Arts Complex at San Jose City College, using a non-bridging, design-build delivery process. This LEED Silver Certified building provides state-of-the-art instructional spaces and brings all visual arts programs under one roof. Further diversification resulted in commercial interior projects such as the Muji Stores in San Francisco and San Jose. We became deeply involved in the 21st-Century Education and Project Based Learning movement, by implementing this concept in our designs such as at Schafer Park Elementary School, as well as actual participation in PBL labs and workshops.
Aedis moved our office to the SoFA district in downtown San Jose, further cementing our commitment to urban revitalization. Walking the walk, the new office was renovated to achieve LEED Platinum Certification, featuring completely natural lighting, a displacement HVAC system and reclaimed and recycled materials, among others.
Project – Aedis Office/SoFA Market: Many architects promote sustainable practices, community building and good urban design. We are not mere advocates; we actually practice what we preach.
In 2011, we invested in a long-vacant historic landmark in downtown San Jose. After an arduous two-year process of design and construction, this beautiful 1925 neoclassical structure became our new home. Targeting LEED Platinum, it is among the greenest commercial buildings in San Jose. All of our employees enjoy the benefits of natural lighting and view, while a displacement HVAC system uses very little energy to keep the space perfectly comfortable. Reclaimed lumber, materials with recycled or renewable resource content, and low-VOC products keep the indoor air quality fresh and healthy.
This project plays a key role in revitalizing the cultural and arts district known as SoFA, by also providing a dynamic urban market environment that emphasizes local, authentic and organic vendors.
The Aedis team gave itself the opportunity to experience a challenging and complex project through the lens of an owner, developer, and architect. We gained the understanding of the complex decision making process any owner must face in balancing vision, budget, schedule, and user requirements. This process has been an invaluable experience for us.