Seventeen years ago, Burt Pinnock drove 212 miles and parked his pickup truck in a friend's driveway. But he had a lot more miles behind him than that.
With just $300 in his pocket, "Richmond was as far as I got," Pinnock says, remembering the early years after architecture school at Virginia Tech.
Although he simply drove across the state, larger experiences led the way. In addition to living in Southwest Virginia, during his graduate years Pinnock logged time at architecture firms in Switzerland, Rome and Paris, where he'd worked in the office of architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava.
People and places left their mark. Now it was Pinnock's turn to make his mark on Richmond's built environment.
And he has, through his work on White Oak Semiconductor's administration and commons building and the Virginia BioTechnology Research Center (completed as a project architect with Baskervill & Son), and more importantly through the co-founding, in 1997, of BAM Architects, with friends and fellow Tech architecture-school graduates Anne Durkin and Mary Lorino — the "A" and "M" of BAM.
The firm's focus on adaptive reuse design and green technologies has earned them accolades, including the 2004 American Architecture Award for their designs for 2C Hotel, a low-rise boutique hotel project once planned for Jackson Ward, but sadly never built.
Today, Pinnock and his partner, Mark, live in one of the city's most memorable homes, a bold, yellow contemporary that stretches 95 feet across, straddling a leafy, steeply-sloped lot on the corner of New Kent Road and Westover Hills Boulevard.
The house was designed in the postmodern style in 1988-89 by Washington, D.C.'s Rixey-Rixey, the husband and wife team of Douglas and Victoria Rixey, for Douglas' parents.
Sitting almost entirely on a series of parallel masonry walls, "Villa Riccia," as the Rixey family referred to it, "was designed to take full advantage of a topographically difficult site," recalls Douglas. Drawing inspiration from piers on the Boulevard and railway bridges spanning the James River nearby, the home bridges its challenging site.
Pinnock knew a great house when he saw it. "We've spent more time selecting paint colors for the walls than I did deciding to buy this house," he admits. Sometimes, you just know good design when you see it.
Even as a young boy growing up in Alabama in the late 1960s, Pinnock was cognizant of great architecture. His mother and father worked at the famous Tuskegee Institute (now University), whose first president was Booker T. Washington and whose campus was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965. At times, Pinnock would run about the school's new chapel, completed in 1969.
Designed by the highly influential Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph, the ceilings of the chapel soared, in what Rudolph called a "hyperbolic paraboloid"-shaped form. Windows snaking the perimeter of the chapel's roofline produced dramatic diagonals of natural light, influencing Pinnock's developing architectural sensibilities.
Pinnock cites the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando with admiration, as well as projects by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose buildings he's visited in Switzerland. (Zumthor, incidentally, is also known for his historic restoration projects.)
"Zumthor's work is refined, tied to cultural traditions and its time, but all the while relevant to its site and context," Pinnock explains.
Pinnock's sunny home takes full advantage of its site, too.
Nestled near snug 1920s Colonials and a few 1950s ranchers in Westover Hills, the 2,100-square-foot house fronts an intersection on a slight diagonal, soliciting glances from behind a buffer of trees.
Southern Living magazine bestowed the house with its coveted Home Award in 1992, for new homes 1,800-3,200 square feet. Pinnock and his partner bought the two-bedroom, two-bath house in 2005.
Not unlike the Vanni Venturi house the architect Robert Venturi designed for his mother in 1964, the long triangle shape of the home's façade is punctuated by a rhythmic procession of punchy windows. A seemingly simple yet ultimately complex distillation of exterior and interior shapes evokes a sense of fun.
Approached via a descending, pipe-railed ramp, entering the house is like getting on a ship. (A really refined, intellectual and amusing ship.) This entry bridge links the house and its recessed front door — which hovers beguilingly above ground — to the street.
Home is where the art is
Inside, the house provides what Pinnock calls "intelligent" spaces for living. "Unlike most traditional houses, the layout eliminates superfluous spaces like hallways," Pinnock says, explaining the efficiency of the 19-foot-wide, one-room-deep design. "The house feels big, but it's not. Each room also serves as circulation."
Wide banks of windows offer moving views of maples, oaks, greenery and the city street. Douglas Rixey remembers the house's wonderful exposures. "Almost every room has windows on both sides," he says. "Sitting in the two-story living room, from the circular window above, you can track the rising and setting of the sun."
Interior openings provide framed views of rooms, enfilade-style, beyond. Standing in the den on the home's north end, you can see clear through the sleek kitchen, apple-green dining room and tall white entry hall, into the warm beige living room with its gray, granite-fronted fireplace. "When we entertain," says Pinnock, "it feels like one big room with different pockets of experiences." Warm color on the walls enhances each room's volumes and depth.
Being in these spaces just feels right. While there's always a view, there are also always carefully-selected contemporary furnishings (purchased almost entirely at La Différence and Design Within Reach) and a whole lot of eye-catching art.
"The house is very precise with its opening placements," Pinnock says. These placements provide spots for assertive works of art, many of which were created by colleagues and friends.
Most striking are pieces by artist Chris Chase, the husband of Pinnock's BAM partner Mary Lorino, who lives on Church Hill. Chase's oversized sculpture, The Seed, sits in the living room; The Drip flows forth from a wall overlooking the foyer; and Tub with Udders figures prominently, dropping from a niche in the den.
Four graphic black-and-white paintings by Ana Edwards indicate stairs to the master suite and Pinnock's home office above. Small, framed watercolors by Camden Whitehead recall trips to Venice and other locales, taken with the homeowner, the artist and his wife.
Two Gerrit Rietveld "Red and Blue" chairs sit in the dining room, signifying in a way the presence of the seminal Dutch architect.
Grounded in Richmond
Though a world traveler, Pinnock's proud of his work in the capital city, such as The Village, a warm, soaring cafeteria on Capital One's West Creek campus, and the garage for the Lucky Strike building on Tobacco Row.
He's now focusing on phase one of an addition to the Landmark Theater and signage packages for Wytheville Community College. Pinnock also enjoys the process of planning renovations to Chimborazo Park, where the community has actively participated in charettes.
An array of projects keeps Pinnock engaged and energized. He's also excited by the growing green economy and the new challenges and opportunities sustainable design brings.
Just down the street from his home he's working on plans for a 2,000-square-foot house, one he and his clients like to call the "two-story metal machine." With plans for nontraditional site-sensitive design, solar energy using photovoltaic cells, radiant flooring and more, this is another house Southern Living and admirers of forward-thinking design might include on their radar.