After Measure B – 
make design quality top priority

Letter to the Editor


Editor, Index-Tribune:

I am writing to follow up on the recent Measure B ballot debate.

A hotel proposed for the Index-Tribune site would be a plum commission for any architect. But a building is just a building unless we, as a community, unite to make it architecture.

I look forward to the future developments that will ultimately be on our plates, but it is important to revisit and reinforce the vision for positive growth within our town.

As an architect and resident of Sonoma, I am interested in keeping design quality a top priority. I found Sonoma as an urban design student at UCLA in 1981. The original town plan, which is based on a military grid, is widely praised throughout North America as one of the best colonial grid plans still in existence. Along with similar town plans in Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C., it remains mostly intact. What makes it exceptional is the placement of the Plaza at the intersection of five main streets, and the fact that City Hall is centered on the main north/south axis, which is  Broadway.

When buildings are subservient to the grid, the space and views between buildings are essential to the overall vision of Sonoma’s identity. The town plan provides the foundation for real architecture, but a building is not architecture without exceptional design.

How can we elevate the buildings currently being proposed to that of architecture? I fear the focus has been lost, watered down by concern for traffic, congestion, building height, nostalgia and sentimentality. Not that these concerns are not real, but as design professionals we must be the gate keepers of what makes a building a piece of architecture.

For success, design professionals and citizens must come to terms with what is at stake. In order for a building to become architecture it must tell a story, and design professionals are responsible to write the narrative. What else matters?

We all agree that the Plaza deserves recognition because of its simple placement as a “living room for the town.” We can see it the same way even though we all have different points of view. More importantly, visitors understand the narrative immediately, as the center of commerce and comfort. I suggest critics and architects should try to listen and see more right in front of them. We can gather public will.

Bob Benz, AIA

Boyes Hot Springs