Robert G. Zinkhan, Architect AIA
Amazing Place article

Does Sonoma County have a defining architectural style? (continued)

Zinkhan goes on to explain more of his design philosophy, "I come from a view of architecture that is 'purist.' That is, each building is an opportunity to make a discovery about building. Good architecture is by definition 'innovative.' Otherwise it is decoration or eye-candy. Good architecture is not egocentric. I may utterly dissolve the house into its setting, creating a triumph of subtlety. If I were to work from a stylistic premise it would immediately imply eliminating functionality by conforming to that style. Even symmetry is a statement of control and power and self-centered by definition. Strict symmetry is appropriate for seats of power, not places in which to live. In a house symmetry implies a cry for prestige, power and status. Not approachability."

Zinkhan's homes do tend to dissolve into the landscape yet take full advantage of it. From the inside out, a window might frame a stunning view, creating a living painting. From the outside a subtle texture, color and angle of a wall creates a sculpture to live within. A huge window slides open onto a pool courtyard, a gleaming grand piano suddenly an indoor/ outdoor instrument of sound and sight.

It's refreshing to talk to someone like Robert Zinkhan. We live in a world where opinions are often held in. We're politically correct. We don't want to hurt someone's feelings. Yet some things Zinkhan has to say about what is going on in our area as it grows really need to be said. "There is a pejorative thing going on in our community with what are called 'trophy homes.' These homes are not 'modern' in the sense we've talked about. They are not even about creating a personal space for someone." We have all seen these looming homes on small lots. The design is dictated by some twisted theme that is not relevant to Sonoma County, to scale of the site, to materials that reflect the landscape the house sits within, or to the true needs of people who might live in them. These homes are not honest, not relative and not attractive. There are streets and hillsides full of them.

Zinkhan's vision of how a neighborhood might look is reflected in the home and on the street where he lives in southeast Santa Rosa's Deer Run. This unique small subdivision, built in the late '70's and early '80's was probably well ahead of its time. As Zinkhan calls it, "Neither fish nor fowl," Deer Run was designed as non-standard family units. They are single, unattached homes on land that is owned by the homeowners, yet with a common clubhouse and pool in the middle of a circular street. Instead of a cookie cutter approach to townhouses dropped onto a site, each home at Deer Run was designed for its particular lot with an eye to privacy and in relationship to the units on either side of it. "I modeled it on the Pueblo design: a shared habitat consisting of individual, private, custom dwellings within a unifying architectural vocabulary. It's still an under-appreciated building form. It really expresses true democracy where the rights and tastes of the individual are respected within the whole," says Zinkhan with a trace of pride.

"In our profession it's a real struggle to do anything non-conforming (read: 'creative') because the legal and design review processes make it not worth the trouble. That's a shame," laments Zinkhan. This quiet visionary was a charter member and founding father of Sonoma Land Trust, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. He is just seeing the completion of a home in West Dry Creek, one nearing completion off St. Francis Road and beginning one off Chalk Hill Road.

Robert Zinkhan, architect, is continually inspired and even overwhelmed by the beauty of our region. This reverence for the land and the scope of it inform his designs. In closing, he explains, "I'm not avant garde. I like romanticism, spirit, and connection to the site. I appreciate my clients, who are often excited by and open to the concept of overall change and exploration in their lives."

Written by Rhoann Ponseti
Santa Rosa Press Democrat

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