In the past quarter century, Mark Robson, president of Robson Homes in San Jose, has built 1,500 homes in the South Bay, one of which won an important design award last week.
Robson says he has "many philosophies" regarding building design. One of them focuses on the communal aspect of architecture to create attractive environments that are bikeable and walkable, with paths and plazas where people can interact easily.
He spoke with this newspaper about his design philosophy and the housing market in general, especially how to meet the voracious demand for housing in an area exploding with growth and new jobs.
Q What trends do you see in housing in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley?
A Buyer sophistication is growing and the demand for higher quality is increasing. That's the single biggest trend. I think we're going to see an emphasis on good design and greater densities. We need to know how we are going to meet the housing demand that we're creating with these jobs. That's a challenge. We need to support a continuation of mass transit development, and I think builders are on board with it.
Q Aren't rising home prices shutting out more and more would-be buyers?
A We're trying to build homes at a price people can afford. We think there are good solutions to provide great homes that are smaller. An example is one of ours in Campbell with 65 townhouses under $1 million. It has a modernist design plan, inspired by Irving Gill, a turn-of-the-century 20th-century modernist. Next to it is a mixed use development, where we've got 43 apartments and 11,000 square feet of retail centered on a community plaza. It's going to be a great meeting place where people can gather. Again, it's about place-making.
Q Will builders be able to satisfy the demand for homes? Buildable land is in short supply in many parts of the Bay Area.
A I think we will. The entitlement process takes time, but I think the demand will be met. There's going to have to be a willingness on the part of community leadership to convert land to residential use and also a willingness to be open-minded to new housing solutions. I think there will be with time. As construction activity increases, it's easy to get a "nimby" mentality and want it to stop. But we need to move forward and do the kinds of things our parents did when they provided infrastructure for schools and roads. We live in an area of really smart people and I think you're going to see some great solutions come out of this area.
Q Your company won a prize recently for a project in Los Gatos. What was it for?
A We won a couple of Gold Nugget awards, which is an award in the design contest held by the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, probably the most competitive design award contest in the country. We won for one of the plans we built at Laurel Mews in Los Gatos, which was ultimately selected as the Home of the Year. It was for smart design, smart density and building homes that relate well to the community but are also consistent with the needs and demands and desires of modern living. It's on the former South Bay Honda site.
Q How do you turn a car dealership into a neighborhood?
A It was a really challenging assignment. Los Gatos Boulevard used to be the main highway, and it's a big wide street. We handled that by the use of good architectural elements like traditional porches, good landscape treatment with street trees, and the layering of landscape on Los Gatos Boulevard. As the landscaping matures, it's going to really complement the boulevard. A street also bisected the property. To give the street character and make it special, we used old cobbles for it, former ship ballast that originally came out of a Pennsylvania street. Hence the word "mews." Google "mews," and you get some images of cute little streets in England where the door drops right out on the street.
Q Mews in Silicon Valley?
A Silicon Valley is not unlike mid-19th-century London. You're seeing the organization of a community that is figuring out how to address an urbanizing community. The mews were London's answer. We borrowed that idea. It's not just creating a street, but turning a street into a place where people can move and meet and greet.
Q Do you have a philosophy that guides your design and building work?
A We have lots of philosophies. Relative to construction design, we think design is important to our customers and is also important to the larger community. We take a long-term view, that we're not just building houses but building neighborhoods.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey.
Education: Bachelor's degree, Santa Clara University; MBA, University of Southern California
Job: President of Robson Homes 1989-present
Community: Member, Fremont Chamber of Commerce board; member, Board of Regents at Bellarmine College Preparatory; member, Board of Fellows at Santa Clara University
Family: Married, two daughters and two sons
five things about mark Robson
1. He summited Mount Whitney (14,505 feet) three summers in a row, with three of his four kids. The fourth is next.
2. If he weren't so busy, he'd be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. He plans one day to make the trek.
3. He just returned from making the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, and is a big believer in the health and spiritual benefits of long walks.
4 He plays bocce ball.
5. He loves bicycling