As a non-native resident of Phoenix for the past 20 years, for me it was very enlightening to read through the pages of Douglas Sydnor’s self-published book, Plugger: The Architecture of Reginald Sydnor, and see the vast collection of works that Reginald designed or had a significant hand in creating. “His personality was such that he put in a full hard day and took a great deal of pride in his work, and yet at the same time he really didn’t pursue the accolades in the design and construction industry,” Douglas says. The book was a way Douglas could accurately and comprehensively tell the story of his father’s architectural work and civic involvement.
The two Sydnors were contemporaries during the early part of Douglas’s career, and the two shared a basic philosophy that their buildings must function in every respect, and that they should be well-constructed and made up of durable, long-lasting materials and details. “He took all the pragmatic utilitarian aspects of what we do very seriously,” Douglas says.
The book features 42 of Reginald Sydnor’s work, one to signify each year of his career out of the 250 or so total designs that he worked on. Signature works include the Hiram Bradford Farmer Education Building on the Arizona State University Tempe campus, which recently received an award from the AIA Arizona for its longevity; the Municipal Building and City Council Chambers, which expressed Sydnor’s fondness for pre-cast concrete; and 40 projects for St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, including the iconic three-level pedestrian bridge spanning Thomas Ave.
St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center Major Expansion, Phoenix, 1981
He avoided unnecessary complexities and gravitated toward the simple and straight-forward plan. There was a belief that it was much more difficult to create a simple and dignified work of architecture, whereas it was much easier by the less skilled architect to make it complicated.
Yet Sydnor also came from a school of thought where the site, function and budget were unique for each project. Also from the introduction:
There was an acceptance of a wide range of architectural expressions, which to [Sydnor] was probably best exemplified in the work of the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. Saarinen was criticized by academia during his career for not developing a consistent architectural philosophy and aesthetic vocabulary. Sydnor defended Saarinen’s philosophy that each project, with its special set of conditions, may warrant an approach tailored to those specifics and may not arbitrarily adopt some predetermined set of aesthetic rules from project to project.”
Hiram Bradford Farmer Education Building at Arizona State University, Tempe, 1960
It is important for us as Phoenicians to preserve and understand our city’s roots, and books like Plugger are essential to help counterbalance the disposable nature of our modern society. Some of Reginald Sydnor’s works are already destroyed, such as the striking circular First Federal Savings and Loan Building, which was located at 2000 E. Camelback Road in the Biltmore area of Phoenix.
You can learn much more about the work of Reginald Sydnor in the book, published in a limited edition run of 300 copies. It can be purchased directly from the author by contacting Douglas at his offices at 480-423-1800 or via email at Doug@dsydnorarchitect.com.
Also, be sure to attend Douglas Sydnor’s talk and book signing this Thursday, Nov. 3rd between 6pm and 8pm at the AIA-Arizona offices located at 30 N. 3rd Ave., Suite #200 in downtown Phoenix (3rd Ave. and Washington St.) A reception beginning at 5pm precedes the talk.
Please RSVP to Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-252-4200. Attendance is free and open to the public. For more info about the event, visit http://aia-arizona.org
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