Monday, December 1, 2008

The Architect of Big Sur

(Photo: Nathaniel Owings on the cover of Time Magazine, August 2, 1968, considered fair use).

The late Nathaniel Owings was a world-renowned architect who helped build the first skyscrapers before he helped preserve Big Sur. Owings and his wife Margaret built a modest home on the coast in the 1950s. They joined with agitated neighbors in the 1960s when Caltrans planned to accommodate tourism by widening Highway 1 and filling in the many canyons for continuous pavement. "Beauty is almost a bad word with some highway engineers," Owings said. "They're very competent. But you would not ask your butcher to perform plastic surgery on your best girl." So he had experts in his giant firm – Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – design concrete bridges that would be cheaper and more beautiful than clogged canyons. Then Owings helped write an overall land use plan to limit development in Big Sur in order to protect the scenic views, watershed and wildlife - a plan that essentially still governs man's intrusion into that natural wonderland.

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