William Turnbull, Jr. (1935-1997)


Turnbull, William

Variant Names

Turnbull, William, Jr.

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    AIA notified of decease August 1997
Occupation:    American architect
Location (state):    CA

This record has not been verified for accuracy.

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1965-decease
Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) 1976

Biographical Sources

American Architects Directories:
Biographical listing in 1970 American Architects Directory
Biographical information:
Contributed by the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley:
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 great-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 of prostate cancer on June 26, 1997 at the age of 62. His wife and his partner Eric Haesloop continue 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
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.

Related Records

MLTW (firm)

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file may contain membership application, Fellowship nomination, related correspondence. Contact the AIA Archives at archives@aia.org for further information.

Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Collection Number: 2000-9. The records of the William Turnbull Jr./MLTW collection span the years 1952-1997. The collection is organized into eight series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Faculty Records, Office Records, Project Records, Major Projects, Artifacts, and Additional Donations. Within these series, original order has been maintained wherever evident. Where an original order was not evident, records have been arranged either chronologically or alphabetically as noted in the Series Description.
The majority of the collection documents William Turnbull Jr./MLTW projects between 1958-1997. A small amount of Personal Papers exists, which consists of documentation related to Turnbull's Army service, student work including his Master's thesis at Princeton, personal financial records, and correspondence. The Professional Papers series contains extensive coverage of Turnbull's involvement in various local and professional associations, including the Community Appearances Advisory Board in Sausalito (where he lived for most of his adult life), the American Institute of Architects, his fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, and his involvement in the Sea Ranch Design Committee. This series also documents the numerous awards that the firm received, as well as the lectures given by Turnbull across the globe and the juries on which he served in order to honor other members of his profession.
The Faculty Papers are a record of the time Turnbull spent teaching at various institutions around the country, including significant appointments at the architecture schools of UC Berkeley and Yale (both during Charles Moore's tenure as dean). Most of the papers in this series are course materials: syllabi, reading lists, and lecture notes. Office Records primarily document the public relations efforts of the firm through brochures, photographs, correspondence, and (when the efforts were successful) tearsheets from publications in which the projects were featured. This series also contains the partnership and dissolution documents from each of the firms in which both Charles Moore and Turnbull were partners. The correspondence in this series is evidence of the close relationships that evolved between Turnbull's firm and the vendors it worked with closely to achieve its vision, including photographer Morley Baer and the principals of the Finnish textile design firm Marimekko Oy. This series also includes documentation of the various exhibitions at museums and galleries in which the work of the firm was displayed.
While the office records document the firm's official correspondence, most of the correspondence that brings the work of Turnbull's firm to life is located in the Project Records series. Along with construction photographs, meeting and telephone notes, "napkin sketches" and other quick drawings, and financial records, the project records are a rich source of correspondence between the architects and their clients, contractors, vendors, and (in some instances) lawyers. Occasional clippings may also be found among the records. Through this series one comes to know the other major partners and associates in the firm, including Robert Simpson, Gerd Althofer, Richard Garlinghouse, Karl G. Smith II, Hildegard (Heidi) Richardson, and Turnbull's sister, Margaret Turnbull Simon (who, with Wendy Libby, ran the firm's interior design division). Later principals, including Mary Griffin and Eric Haesloop, appear in the series after 1980. The correspondence documents Turnbull's relationships with other architects and design professionals as well, including the landscape architects Lawrence Halprin and Mae and David Arbegast; Turnbull's former partners and their successor firms including Charles Moore's Urban Innovations Group and Moore Ruble Yudell; and Donlyn Lyndon's later firm of Lyndon/Buchanan. It is also not an overstatement to call "collaborators" Turnbull's main Northern California contractor Matt Sylvia (who constructed most of the buildings at Sea Ranch and in Napa and Sonoma Counties), renderer Bill Hersey, photographers Morley Baer and Roger Sturtevant, and structural engineers Peter Culley, Steven Tipping, Fook Z. Lee, and the firm of Rutherford & Chekene. Much correspondence with them is represented in these records.
The projects themselves are all the richer for their clients, who were, almost to a person, warm, intelligent, opinionated people who came to Turnbull not because he was a "name architect," but because his vision of lightly but intentionally inhabiting a space and the surrounding landscape rang true to their own. Most of Turnbull's residential architecture is worthy of mention here, but of particular note – those projects where, in the process, the clients became close friends – are the houses commissioned by the Hoopers, the Swifts, the Phelans (in association with Richard Whitaker, Turnbull's former partner), the Zimmermans, Gerald Hines, the DiGiorgios, the Allewelts, the Davidows, the Fishers, the Witherspoons, the Cakebreads, the Sandlers, the Budges, the Tatums, the Spencers, and above all, Reverdy and Marta Johnson, who later became Turnbull's partners in the Johnson/Turnbull Winery.
Turnbull's larger projects for corporate or governmental entities display much of the same reverence for both space and surroundings that his residential architecture does, but on a larger scale. The Sea Ranch development, commissioned by Oceanic Properties, is the development that put Turnbull on the architectural map, as well as influenced the look of developments on the Pacific coastline for decades to come. After Sea Ranch, one of Turnbull's earliest corporate clients was Golden West Savings and Loan (later World Savings), owned and operated by Herbert and Marion Sandler. Turnbull's firm created a signature design for each of the branches in northern California, and later served as a design advisor to the savings and loan when it began to build in other states across the country. Some other commissions of note – there are many more than those on this list – include Conifer Housing in Tacoma, Washington, several prototype houses for Weyerhauser, Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Design/Research Store at Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, Beaver Creek condominiums in Vail, Colorado and Woodrun Place in Snowmass, Colorado, the Biloxi Library and Cultural Center in Mississippi, the Embarcadero Promenade in San Francisco, Cakebread Cellars in the Napa Valley (among many wineries in the area), the American Club in Hong Kong, Mountain View Civic Center in California, and residence halls at Arizona State University. Turnbull's larger projects also include a number of unbuilt projects wherein he served as an advisor for large nonprofits or governmental entities seeking expert land-use planning advice. Among his clients were the Oregon State Coastal Commission, the California Coastal Conservancy, the State of California Attorney General's Office, and the Nature Conservancy.
Also of note in the Project Records are those projects that were either entirely the work of Charles Moore or were instigated by Moore. Many Moore projects in this series do not have job numbers, but are listed with Moore as a "contributor." Other Turnbull projects in which Moore played a major design role were the Hines residence, the Louisiana World Exposition, the Faculty Club at the University of California, Santa Barbara, several early residences, and the Sea Ranch Condominium #1.
The Major Projects series consists of only one project: the Foothills Housing at the University of California, Berkeley. Due to time constraints, the size of the project, and litigation surrounding the project, this series is entirely unprocessed.
The two other series in the collection are the Artifacts, which are eleven models of various Turnbull projects, and the Additional Donations, which consist of Turnbull's student work and some early personal papers. Because these papers were donated at the end of the grant period in 2004, they are currently unprocessed.
The bulk of this collection was donated in 2000 by Mary Griffin. Additional material was donated by Griffin after the death of Turnbull's mother, Elizabeth, in 2004. All series in this collection have been appraised and processed, except the Major Projects and Additional Donations. The Project Records have been processed and appraised through the year 1986; from 1987 on, the records were processed and inventoried, but not appraised. Certain project records absent from the collection may have been retained by the successor firm, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop, in order to complete projects begun while Turnbull was alive.
Link to online finding aid: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt5s20213j