Architect Peter Mackenzie, a partner in David Baker + Partners died in March while being treated for brain cancer. He specialized in affordable housing and was responsible for much of the work that led to the firm receiving the 2012 Distinguished Practice Award from the AIACC. Firm founder David Baker recalls his 30 year relationship with the architect.
David Baker + Partners is a family operation. Most of us are motivated by the nature of the work. To design housing, especially affordable housing, can be a daunting and lengthy process. It’s crucial to have someone solid and sure on the journey; Peter Mackenzie, was that person.
Pete became the third employee of the firm, which now employs 18 people. In the beginning, we were doing kitchen remodels, cafes, bookstore additions. It was all important work to Pete. One of the founders of BRIDGE Housing, Rick Holliday, was asking around for an architect who could design “economically but beautiful,” and suddenly we were in the affordable housing business. Ever since, that has been the heart of what we do.
Pete worked with BRIDGE, MidPen Housing, Mercy Housing, the Tenderloin Development Company, and many others. Clients became Pete’s friends because they knew he would bring dignity to the projects and joy to the residents. In all, over a career spanning nearly thirty years, Pete guided more than three-dozen developments through the design and construction process, creating more than 2,500 new homes in the Bay Area. The projects he led garnered more than 60 local and national design awards and were widely published.
His most recent project was the Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson Apartments, completed last September. Pete led the team, and we were able to provide 120 green homes for formerly homeless individuals in San Francisco. The Richardson Apartments just received a National AIA Housing Award, a reminder that the work mattered.
Pete believed in the basics, and he didn’t dither. Whenever I became captivated by some new idea, he could get us back on track with grace and humor. A level-headed team leader, he would be the one to teach new employees how to hand-letter correctly with a square and a parallel bar. If they couldn’t be bothered, they probably weren’t going to last. He could also be intimidating. He expected commitment, rationality, and independent thought, and wasn’t too forgiving of those who broke the “Rules of Pete.”
Even though we worked together for nearly 30 years, he could still surprise me. I recently discovered that he had once worked in a bike repair shop. He always wanted to know how to put things together.
Unlike many architects, Peter didn’t collect a series of European cars or expensive watches. The one aesthetic object he treasured was his golf clubs. He would play golf with all kinds of folks, but I don’t think it occurred to him to play golf with clients just because it was good for business. He played with them if they were his friends—and he made real friends with a lot of clients.