Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker

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Biographical Note

William Turnbull, Jr. was born in New York on April 1, 1935 and raised on a farm in Far Hills, New Jersey. Both his father and grandfather were architects: the latter, George B. Post, was the architect of the New York Stock Exchange and planner of Forest Hills Gardens, and in 1911 won the gold medal from the American Institute of Architects. As was his "birthright," Turnbull studied architecture at Princeton and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He returned to Princeton to receive his Master's degree in 1959, studying under Louis I. Kahn and producing a thesis on the redevelopment of Ellis Island. For this thesis, he received the AIA Student Medal. He befriended Charles Moore, a fellow graduate student at Princeton, and in 1960 moved to San Francisco, where he began working at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. One of his achievements at SOM was as a designer of the Big Sur Coast Master Plan, which has been written into law and protects nearly 100 miles of pristine California coastline from development.

In 1963, at the age of 27, Turnbull co-founded the firm of MLTW with fellow principals Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, and Richard Whitaker. In a 1968 letter to architectural historian David Gebhardt, Turnbull writes of the MLTW collaboration, "Essentially Chuck, Don, Dick and I are or were all designers. We worked together with the man having the strongest opinion about a subject usually prevailing. This built-in system of checks and balances was one of the reasons why the quality of design was so high. On each project, identification with the solution varied, but all were involved?. We have thought of ourselves as a group of designers and talk about ourselves that way: the work being the product of a dialogue." The four designers in MLTW, along with the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, together designed the master plan for the Sea Ranch, located on the Sonoma coast in northern California, as well as the first structure on the site, Condominium #1. The condominium drew high praise from critics and the general public alike, and the firm instantly made a name for itself. Sea Ranch continued to grow and evolve throughout Turnbull's life, and he remained constantly involved with it: serving on the design committee; designing two athletic centers, a corporation yard, and employee housing; creating house after house (including 17 versions of his "Spec House II" or "Binker Barn") for clients almost to the time of his death.

In addition to Sea Ranch, MLTW completed several other significant projects, including Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Faculty Club at UC-Santa Barbara. During this time, Turnbull also taught several architecture and landscape architecture studios at UC-Berkeley. He co-authored (with Charles Moore) and produced drawings for the 1971 publication The Place of Houses . In 1967, he married Wendy Woods, from whom he was later divorced.

By 1970, all three of the other principals of MLTW had left the firm to pursue academic careers and begin new firms. Turnbull remained in San Francisco and renamed his practice William Turnbull Associates, located at Pier 1 1/2 on San Francisco's Embarcadero. He continued to collaborate with Charles Moore on many projects, but also began to make a name for himself as a designer, accepting important commissions from Golden West Savings & Loan, Warren and Teeny Zimmerman, Sandy and Barbara Tatum (whose house won the coveted "Record House of the Year" award in 1972 from Architectural Record ) and a low-income housing development in Tacoma, Washington called Conifer.

In the early 1970s, Turnbull and his friend (and lawyer, and client) Reverdy Johnson went into business together growing grapes in an esteemed region of the Napa Valley. When, one year, the winery to which they usually supplied their grapes declined to purchase them, Turnbull and Johnson invested in winemaking equipment and began (with the expert assistance of oenologist Kristin Belair) to produce their own award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay throughout the 1970s and 1980s under the name Johnson Turnbull Vineyards. Turnbull designed all of the facilities for the winery, as well as for their neighbors, fellow winemakers Jack and Dolores Cakebread. Johnson and Turnbull remained active in the Napa Valley winemaking community until the vineyards were sold in the mid-1980s.

Turnbull was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1976, and attended the American Academy in Rome in 1980. He was a sought-after speaker due to his quiet rejection of architectural fads such as Postmodernism and Deconstructionism, and lectured at architecture schools all over the country. At ease with projects of any scale, he continued to design modest, regionally-inspired houses while at the same time taking on enormous international projects such as the American Club in Hong Kong.

In 1985, Turnbull married architect Mary Griffin, who became a partner in his firm. Through the 1980s and ?90s, William Turnbull Associates thrived as their work became notable for its consistency of vision in an environment of wildly divergent architectural styles. William Turnbull Associates won the California Council of the American Institute of Architects "Firm of the Year" award in 1986, and the same award from the AIA in 1995. Near the end of his life, Turnbull observed, "The older I get, the more I think that architecture should be like mashed potatoes and not like ice-cream sundaes." Turnbull died on June 26, 1997 at the age of 62. His wife and his partner Eric Haesloop continued the practice, under the name Turnbull Griffin Haesloop, in Berkeley, California.

Firm History: 1962-1965 MLTW 1966-1970 MLTW Moore Turnbull 1970-1997 William Turnbull Associates (with a brief interlude of simply "Turnbull Associates") 1997-present Turnbull Griffin Haesloop

Sources: Filler, Martin. "Vernacular virtuoso" [Turnbull obituary]. House Beautiful, v. 139 no. 10 (October 1997), 114-116. Ketchum, Diana. "Master builder" [Turnbull obituary]. San Francisco Examiner, July 6, 1997. Temko, Allan. "William Turnbull Jr." [Turnbull obituary]. San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 1997. Stout, William and Dung Ngo, eds. William Turnbull, Jr.: Buildings in the Landscape. San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2000. Typed letter from William Turnbull to David Gebhardt, 1968.

From the guide to the William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW collection, 1959-1997, (Environmental Design Archives. College of Environmental Design.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf William Turnbull, Jr./MLTW collection, 1959-1997 Environmental Design Archives. College of Environmental Design.
creatorOf Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker. Donlyn Lyndon : vertical file. Centre canadien d'architecture, | Canadian Centre for Architecture | CCA
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Lyndon, Donlyn person
associatedWith Moore, Charles Willard, 1925-1993 person
associatedWith Sea Ranch Condominium corporateBody
associatedWith Turnbull, William person
associatedWith Whitaker, Richard, 1933- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Sea Ranch (Calif.)
Architecture--California--San Francisco Bay Area--20th century
Architectural firms--California
Architecture, Domestic--California--San Francisco Bay Area
Louisiana World Exposition (1984: New Orleans, La.)
Architecture, Postmodern
Vernacular architecture

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Ark ID: w6bw4czh

SNAC ID: 23167698