"What a treat to be an architect!" says Peter Bohlin, FAIA. The charismatic founder of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has good reason to think so. Once a small practice in the former coal town of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., his firm now has five offices and works with some of the most coveted clients and sites in the country. In the nearly four decades since BCJ began in 1965, it has become renown for an unusually broad and well-received range of work, from a spectacular log house in the mountains of Maryland to a 2,000-square-foot residence in Seattle; from a Girl Scout camp in Pennsylvania to the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1994, Bohlin and partners received the American Institute of Architects' prestigious Architecture Firm Award. And after its coup in the early '90s—the plum commission, with architect James Cutler, to design Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' $60 million mansion—there was no turning back from the rush of public attention.
One recent week found Bohlin crisscrossing the country, jetting between clients in Seattle, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, and back to Seattle. But he isn't complaining about his nomadic lifestyle. "We've been lucky to get houses on terrific sites in different parts of the country," he says, ticking off some of his current residential projects. "We're doing a ranch in Montana, a family compound in Rhode Island on beautiful fields stretching between forest and ocean, a summer house on the Michigan peninsula, and a tiny house on the Florida panhandle. I'm involved in all the houses and most of the other buildings. It's a real treat for me."
At 63, Bohlin has reached an exhilarating pinnacle in his career. He can't wait to meet each new client, tape a piece of paper to the drawing board, and, with his trademark intuitive eye, bring a fresh, eclectic perspective to an architectural world he has yet to tire of.
romancing the land
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger has described Bohlin as "a romantic modernist, determined to use the forms of modernism to achieve the emotional impact of traditionalism." Rather than aspiring to a preconceived aesthetic theory, however, Bohlin believes a building's highest calling is to evoke human emotion and possess a strong sense of place.
"He is probably the finest intuitive architect I know," says James Cutler, FAIA, Bainbridge Island, Wash. "When we joint-ventured on Gates, I'd take the rational approach and constantly hammer him to stay on concept, whereas he had a drive to make things visually delightful. He has one of the best eyes of anyone I've ever met."