Modesto International Architecture Festival builds in popularity

The festival features walking tours where people can learn about the history of buildings like this converted house on 14th Street.

MODESTO – It started life in 2008 as a one-time, one-night event to show architecture movies at the State Theatre. But the Modesto International Architecture Festival was such a success right out of the starting gate that it now stretches over nine days with more than 80 featured events.

“Two years ago we counted 800 people who came to the festival,” said Bob Barzan, executive director of the Modesto Art Museum, sponsor of the festival. “Last year, it was approximately 2,000, and this year we’re expecting at least 3,000 people.”

“It’s very exciting to see it grow,” said area architect Barrett Lipomi of Pires, Lipomi and Navarro Architects. “It’s great to see that interest.”

This year, the festival runs from Sept. 14 through Sept. 22 with an opening night reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Chartreuse Muse Gallery at 918 10th St.

Like last year, everything is free except one event at the State Theatre when they showcase the movie “Coming Attractions.”  The film is a history of the drive-in movie phenomenon and the filmmaker will be there to present it on Sunday, Sept. 22.

Another film that will be getting a lot of attention is a movie called “Modesto Modernism.”  It was the main project of the Modesto Art Museum.

“We got a grant, and we hired two moviemakers,” Barzan said. “It will premiere at the festival on Friday night.”

Eleven other movies from a total of seven countries will premiere this year.  Announcements will be made in English, Spanish and Dutch.


“There’s a fairly large Dutch population here,” Barzan explained. “And we had somebody who was willing to do it, so we’ll just add that as a way to give it a little more of that international type atmosphere.”

Also on tap is a movie about major 20th century designers Ray and Charles Eames.

“They’re getting a lot of attention now because of the interest in that mid-century, mid-20th century modern design and they were as big as anybody,” Barzan said. “They were the biggest designers of the 20th century in furniture and household things.”

There will be several architecture tours, both guided walking tours and guided bicycle tours.   There will also be self-guided tours incorporating the use of mobile devices.

“We’re using the website Historypin so when you’re taking the tour, you can stand there in front of the building and read about it. And then on Historypin, you slide this bar back and you go back in time and you can see photographs of what was there 150 years ago.”

Other highlights this year include the Architecture Poetry event, the Architecture Quilt event and an exhibit at the McHenry Museum on Architecture Photography and Art.

“We have several speakers,” said Barzan, “Lori Garcia, an award winning architecture historian, is going to give a workshop on how to research your house history.”

Keynote speaker for the festival is architectural photographer Russell Abraham.

This year will also feature the first big event outside of Modesto.  It will take place on Sunday, Sept. 22 at the Carnegie Center in Turlock.  This is also the year the American Institute of Architects Design Award will be given out.

“Every other year we do the AIA American Institute of Architects Design Award,” Barzan said, “And that’s happening this year.  The local chapter of the AIA is Sierra Valley, and it goes all the way to Nevada.  Architects from that area have submitted designs, and there’s a jury that will be selecting the awards.”

They will be given out on the event’s second Saturday night.

Modesto, as it turns out, is a perfect place to hold an architecture festival.  While its national reputation may have started in earnest with the Heckendorf house in 1939, Barzan said, residents of Modesto were interested in fine architecture long before that.

“In the research we’ve done in the last year we’ve come to find out that people in Modesto were hiring the best architects and landscape architects in the western United States going back at least to the 1890s,” said Barzan.

Barzan also said that people are still surprised to discover that in the 1940s three books by the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured Modesto architecture.

“The museum had a big exhibit and featured Modesto architecture,” he said. “And you know, people are just blown away by that.”

Although it didn’t come in time to be used for this year’s festival, the Modesto Art Museum was recently the recipient of a $100,000 grant.  And that means only one thing to Museum Executive Director Barzan.

“Next year we’re going to pull out all the stops!”


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