Q&A: Design and Historic Preservation Firm Page & Turnbull Welcomes Peter Birkholz as New President 

Page & Turnbull, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, Disney Family Museum, The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, The Tioga, 706 Mission, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford University, The Webb Schools, Oakland Monster, Oakland Public Library, San Jose Water Company, Google, Capitol Park Hotel, Washington View Apartments

By Catherine Sweeney 

After serving as Principal Architect for Page & Turnbull for the past 15 years, Peter Birkholz has been elected the architecture firm’s new president. Birkholz follows Ruth Todd, which had served as the firm’s president since 2020. Founded in 1973, Page & Turnbull is a full-service architecture and design firm with experience in planning and preservation. The Registry recently had the chance to chat with Birkholz about the firm’s current commitments to historic preservation, future projects and ongoing social equity initiatives that will help further the firm’s goals. 

Q: Can you tell me more about Page & Turnbull? In what areas does the firm specialize?

A: Page & Turnbull is a majority-women-owned full-service architecture and preservation firm that provides a range of design, preservation, planning, and cultural resources services, including expertise in historic materials and preservation technology. Our team of architects, planners, architectural historians, and conservators are located across our San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Jose offices.

We’re proud of our proficiency in transforming historic and existing buildings for relevance and engagement because it ensures the structures’ ongoing legacy and contributions to how we live today, whether we fill the role of the project’s lead architect, preservation architect or consultant.

Our variety of projects is exciting, from cultural buildings, like the Disney Family Museum and The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture, to residential properties, such as The Tioga apartment and retail complex, and 706 Mission mixed-use residential complex in San Francisco, along with single family properties. Our civic portfolio includes the California State Capitol Annex renovation, the Glenn County Courthouse renovation, and work at the Los Angeles Civic Center. In the education sector, our work has benefitted restorations at UC

Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford University and The Webb Schools.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about your previous experience in architecture? How do you plan to utilize past experiences in your new role?

A: For me, architecture, design, and preservation have always worked together, and that hasn’t changed during my four decades in the field. Much of my work has and continues to focus on the retention and improvement of the best of the old and contrasting that with new design. Prior to joining Page & Turnbull in 2007, an area of concentration revolved around repurposing and repositioning commercial and waterfront properties like Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 located within San Francisco’s Central Embarcadero Historic District.

As president of Page & Turnbull, I’m working on deepening our relationships with clients, businesses, and other stakeholders through the insights and skills I’ve gained from my past experiences. But as important as what I’ve already acquired, is participating with local efforts to bring voice to underrepresented communities and to preserve local resources. I am proud of the work the firm did on the rehabilitation of the Oakland Monster and look forward to participating in the community engagement efforts for the Oakland Public Library feasibility project. Regarding resiliency, since participating in the Resilient by Design Challenge, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded program that focused on adapting the San Francisco Bay for sea-level-rise, it is great to now be working for private developers in adapting Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 and Piers 38-40 to adapt for sea-level-rise and seismic threats. Our work is all about helping clients solve problems at the intersection of design, preservation, and resiliency.

Q: Page & Turnbull does a lot of work in historic preservation. In your opinion, why is this an important area of architecture?

A: We believe cities are always richer and more effective when there is a mix of new and old buildings and places. Our practice focuses on this ideal because we are aware that cities’ culture and economic viability benefit when stories of their past mingle with a vision for their future. Sustainability and resiliency aren’t just buzz words. Reusing buildings and resources from our past – repurposing them for the way people live in modern society with an eye toward the future – is fundamental to our practice.

Q: Can you tell me more about the firm’s planned diversity initiatives?

A: Like many architecture and preservation firms, we’ve come to realize there is more we can do to bolster diversity in our workplace and on our projects. Encouraging a diversity of voices in our client and project work results in widened perspectives that add an amplified dimension to our work and collaborations, benefitting outcomes.

We’ve recently become certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) in California and include broad-based staff participation in strategic planning groups that explore issues of recruitment, retention, and mentoring. Our recruitment efforts tap resources like the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) that improve our ability to hire in BIPOC communities — those of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color — and we actively seek local, small and minority partners when forming project teams.

Q: What other initiatives are you hoping to implement and how do these intersect with the firm’s historic preservation goals?

A: Mentoring is critically important to me. It is the primary way the firm goes beyond sustaining itself to thriving. We’ve started a program called “Outside/In” that encourages ideas from the world around us to inform the way we practice design and preservation.

Too often preservation is ‘siloed.’ It needs to incorporate cutting-edge ideas, practices, and points-of-view. We are also talking with an Oakland-based Charter School whose mission is educating economically disadvantaged youth about introducing young students to the architectural profession.

Q: Are there any current or upcoming projects the firm is working on that you would like to highlight?

A: In San Jose, where our newest office is located, we are working on preservation and renovation efforts at the San Jose Water Company, a historic building that will be the centerpiece of Google’s new development complex. In San Francisco, our work on Piers 1 1/2, 3 and 5 located within San Francisco’s Central Embarcadero Historic District rehabilitation, focuses on water access and environmental soundness for long-lasting resiliency and use. Our Los Angeles office is nearing completion of The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Culture in Riverside. We are the Architect of Record on this adaptive reuse of the mid-century building from a library to a community museum, teamed with WHY. We are excited to have the Sacramento office begin preservation work on the Fresno Train Station as it prepares to welcome hi-speed rail. This is the first building project for California High-Speed Rail.

Q: Page & Turnbull does a lot of work in the Bay Area as well as throughout Southern California. Why is historic preservation and rehabilitation important in these markets?

A: Preservation provides a sense of place, a sense of history, and a sense of belonging that can only be developed over time. Through the considered preservation of cultural buildings, structures and places, California can help to solve housing problems, for instance. Recently, our firm led the adaptive reuse of Sacramento’s Capitol Park Hotel, which was built in 1912 into more than 100 studio apartments for people transitioning from homelessness. Another example is the adaptive reuse of the Washington View Apartments in Los Angeles. Our work as the project’s historic architect helped transform what was a fire-damaged historic mortuary — the Pierce Brothers Mortuary — into 92 residential units built through a combination of new construction and the reuse of existing buildings, including 95-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival-style chapels.

It’s exciting to know that preservation and adaptive reuse are helping people move from homelessness into security while ensuring our cultural landmarks continue to contribute to communities in meaningful ways and that we’re a significant part of making that happen is all the better.

Q: Looking ahead, what goals do you have for Page & Turnbull as the firm’s new president?

A: So many. Mostly, it’s about building on and expanding our work and relationships. My aim is to heighten the ways that traditional and perseverance architecture elevates people, businesses and communities. I’m also focused on collaborating with others to develop creative and innovative solutions that address environmental concerns and consumption, like coastal erosion and carbon emissions.

Another goal is to bring more attention to the value of diversity and inclusion in our communities and our practice.

We’re all excited about the opening of our new San Jose office, so developing our presence and influence there is another area of growth. There is so much opportunity. Internally, we’re continually honing our project management style as the needs of our clients, society and team evolve.

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