09 December 2013

Henrik Bull, FAIA (1929–2013)

Henrik Bull (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2009)

With the death of Henrik Bull on Tuesday, 3 December 2013, BAHA lost a dear friend. A modern architect who received his training under William Wurster when the latter was Dean of the School of Architecture at MIT, Henrik Bull was one of BAHA’s first presidents, serving in 1977–78. He had been a Berkeley resident for over 40 years and frequently attended BAHA events with his wife, Barbara.

Henrik’s connection with BAHA began in the mid-1970s, when four public school buildings (John Muir, Willard, Cragmont, and Jefferson) were threatened with demolition. Along with Carroll Brentano, Loren Partridge, and Anthony Bruce, Henrik visited the schools in order to identify historic features to be preserved. The campaign to preserve the four buildings was only partially successful. The Willard and Cragmont schools would be demolished and replaced with modern buildings. John Muir is still a public school, and Jefferson was sold and is now the private Crowden School.

Henrik Bull (2nd l) at a press conference during the campaign to save Willard Junior High School, 1976 (photo: Anthony Bruce)

During Henrik’s presidency, BAHA began focusing its attention on Downtown Berkeley. Installed in a new downtown office provided by the City of Berkeley, BAHA obtained and administered several grants for historic surveys.

In 2009, in conjunction with BAHA’s Spring House Tour, Maybeck Country: Hillside Houses of the Early- and Mid-20th Century, Henrik delivered the lecture Bay Area Architecture of the 1950s and 1960s, through which the public became acquainted with his early ski cabin designs and major resort projects.

In recent years, Henrik devoted a great deal of time and work in the cause of saving the Berkeley High School Old Gymnasium. He drew up a proposal for reuse of the Old Gym that unfortunately was not adopted by the Berkeley School Board. In August 2010, Henrik co-led the Berkeley High School portion of a BAHA walking tour in Berkeley’s Civic Center.

On 14 October 2013, Henrik participated in a panel following the screening of the documentary Coast Modern, in which he is featured.

Most Bay Area residents are acquainted with Henrik’s 1981 design for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s Bear Valley Visitor Center. The barn-like structure was designed to blend in with the historically significant ranching culture in the area.

The Bear Valley Visitor Center (courtesy of Bull Stockwell Allen)

The following biographical notes were published by the U.C. Berkeley Environmental Design Archives, where the Henrik Bull Collection, 1950–2009 is archived.

Henrik Helkand Bull (1929, New York City) is the only child of Johan Bull (1893–1945) and Sonja Geelmuyden Bull (1898–1992). Johan Bull, a native of Norway, was an illustrator who had regularly contributed to New Yorker magazine. A cousin of Bull’s grandfather, also named Henrik Bull, designed several of Oslo’s landmark civic buildings at the end of the 19th century.

Bull began his studies at MIT in aeronautical engineering, and switched to architecture after the first year. While at MIT he studied with Ralph Rapson, Buckminster Fuller, and Alvar Aalto. Prior to his graduation from MIT in 1952, Bull worked the summer of 1951 in San Francisco with architect Mario Corbett. As a first lieutenant in the USAF, Bull was stationed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and worked with Buckminster Fuller on developing the geodesic radar domes for the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) system at the north slope of Alaska. He built an early A-frame ski cabin in the United States with his friend John Flender in Stowe, Vermont in 1953. In 1954, Bull returned to San Francisco to work again with Mario Corbett.

Henrik Bull’s first Sierra Nevada ski cabin, 1955 (courtesy of Bull Stockwell Allen)

On the basis of being commissioned to design several ski cabins, Bull opened his own architectural office in 1956. His early practice included homes, condominiums and later hotels and institutional buildings. In the 1950s and the 1960s, Bull designed several prefabricated or kit cabins. In 1962, he was chosen to design the Sunset Magazine Discovery House: a “dream house” limited to 2,000 square feet. Bull designed the home as a series of four sky-lit pavilions built around an enclosed courtyard. It was the first home built in the newly established town of El Dorado Hills.

In 1967, Henrik Bull, John Field, Sherwood Stockwell and Daniel Volkmann formed Bull Field Volkmann Stockwell. Their first large project together was the planning and architecture for Northstar at Tahoe, a new four-season resort. The firm has continued under the following names: Bull Field Volkmann Stockwell; Bull Volkmann Stockwell; Bull Stockwell Allen; Bull Stockwell Allen & Ripley; and is now called Bull Stockwell Allen/BSA Architects.

Classified in both the Northern California Modern and the Bay Regional Styles, the question of an appropriate architecture for its location has always been Henrik Bull’s main concern. He feels that a building of quality does not unnecessarily disturb the site and should be comprehensible to everyone and that creating lasting architecture can be achieved by placing priority on client needs and relationship to the site.

Bull has been elected Vice President (1967) and President (1968) of the American Institute of Architects/San Francisco Chapter (AIA SF), and elected to Fellowship in National AIA in 1969.

BAHA Art Deco party, 30 September 1976. L to r: Bianca Bruce, Henrik Bull, Anthony Bruce, Lesley Emmington, Shirley Dean, Lee Davenport, Todd Withy, Brad Paul (photo: Robin Freeman)

Henrik Bull’s obituary by his BSA colleagues:

It is with a heavy heart we said goodbye to a firm founder and dear friend, Henrik Bull last week. Henrik H. Bull died on December 3, 2013 at his home in Berkeley after battling illness. He was a formidable and talented architect, a mentor and inspiration to many. Although officially retired from the firm for the last 10 years, Henrik was a regular in the office, offering his consultation and expertise, reminding us that sometimes the simplest solution is often the best. His snow-country design expertise and prescribed solutions to ice and snow continue to mark important firm hallmarks.

Henrik grew up on the East Coast and graduated from MIT in 1952. Moving to San Francisco, he opened an office in 1956 and began his architectural career designing award-wining homes in the Bay Area and around Lake Tahoe, including designing one of the first Sunset Discovery homes. In 1968 he and Daniel Volkmann, Wood Stockwell and John Field founded, Bull Field Volkmann Stockwell Architects, which soon won a competition for planning a new Capitol for the State of Alaska.

A passion for skiing naturally led Henrik to be a pioneer in planning and designing the mountain resorts that grew along with the expanding sport of skiing. A principal, he was in charge of major projects ranging from Stowe, Vermont, to Beaver Creek, Colorado, Squaw Valley and Northstar in California. Honored as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, his 43 major architectural awards include those in California for the Tahoe Tavern Condominiums, the Visitor’s Center at Point Reyes National Seashore, the Northstar Resort in Truckee and the Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach.

Numerous magazines published Henrik’s work, ranging from Sunset to Architectural Record. Recently, his history as a mountain resort expert was featured in a new book by Margaret Supplee Smith entitled American Ski Resort: Architecture, Style, Experience. The book explains how the experience of skiing for most Americans is inextricably linked to architecture, for our journey down the mountainside is shaped by the ski resort. She describes Henrik and our firm as designing more than 80 mountain projects, including Spruce Saddle Lodge and Poste Montane Lodge at Beaver Creek and the Outpost Day Lodge at Keystone.

Above all, Henrik was a wonderful man. His warmth and passion for his craft were contagious. He was generous with his time and his wealth of experience. Henrik’s stories were as infamous as his expert status on the slopes. We miss him. His work will continue to inspire the firm, other architects and building users for generations to come.


Further reading:

Henrik Bull: Buildings that Belong (Dave Weinstein in the San Francisco Chronicle, 16 September 2006).

Henrik Bull, architect who restored buildings, dies (John King in the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 December 2006).

Henrik Bull in Pacific Coast Architecture Database.

Henrik Bull in archINFORM.


Blogger preservationist said...

Henrik was one of those rare architects who got involved in preservation in a very practical way. The time he put into evaluating the feasibility of restoring the Berkeley High gym and pool was just one example. His further comments on what has since replaced it exemplifies how short sighted the project is. It is too bad the school district didn't listen to him. Henrik also designed the Fairfax library that fits so nicely into its setting. And he was always so positive and energetic. He will be greatly missed, Susan Cerny

10 December, 2013 17:12  
Blogger jerri holan said...

Not only was Henrik one of my favorite architects, he was one of my favorite Norwegians, one of my favorite people, and my favorite mentor. He is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed. And with all his good karma, I'm sure he'll find some lovely ski slopes in heaven.

Jerri Holan, FAIA

10 December, 2013 21:21  
Blogger chuck said...

"We ain't ashamed to be old fashioned round here"...Henrik Bull 1979 more or less...and that from a guy who did his share of modern stuff...

If one reads just the architectural blather, and architects are very good at slinging the BS...then one missed the essence of Henrik Bull...humane but also a trickster...

The Visitor's Center at Point Reyes was created despite fierce opposition from Henrik's partners and his own office...what the office wanted is beyond me...probably some modern deal or one of his partners wanted to bury the entire visitor's center contraption...

But Henrik did not mind bucking convention, popular opinion, architectural styles...


1. In the office, I mentioned to Henrik that my grandmother was from Norway, her name was "Emma EYEverson"...Henrik spoke Norwegian...so as he was walking away from me he said, "No it wasn't"...

So I was left to wonder how Henrik knew my Grandmother...

Then Henrik turned, in Johnny Carson Style, and said, "Her name was Emma EVErson"

2. I was drawing some rendering/sketch/perspective of one of our designs and needed a few horses which were damn hard to draw so mentioned it to Henrik...Henrik's old man, was an accomplished artist besides being an MD and also was a cartoonist for the New Yorker creating the New Yorker Man...

Henrik pulled out some horses from his Dad's collection and I studied them...

Next I need a few trees that were not generic...so again I asked Henrik...and he turned to me and said, deadpan, "Chuck, only God can make a tree"...

3. Henrik played word games and was very good at it...Shelly came in with a license plate, ML8...name the color and car...

4. Within the last 5 years I found one of Henrik's first houses for Peter Klaussen in Squaw Valley...a very simple heavy timber structure salvaged from the Yolo Causeway...the house somewhat canti levering over a stream...

I told him recently that it was a stroke of genius...he comment was, ok but it does not have a lot of lateral resistance in the horizontal dimension...typical Henrik...

Henrik and Peter Claussen were going to develop a ski resort in the Hope Valley region south of Tahoe on the Carson River...

A beautiful and unspoiled place still...Henrik stated that it would have been a travesty to put a ski resort there...and it would have been...

That's the guy I remember and will miss..

The answer is a White Rabbit


charles desler architect california

14 December, 2013 06:41  

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