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An Interview with Mike and Chris Patano
Mike Patano and his son Chris are practicing architects in Coeur d'Alene. This interview took place in Coeur d'Alene in the summer of 2003.

 

chris and mike patano

Is there a "style" that architects favor?

Chris Patano: There is no prevalent style. There are a lot of architects working who don't know which way to go. You're not sure what to do. There isn't one overriding line of thought. Architecture is struggling. Where do we go with it? It's a grab bag now. You can see that schizophrenia resulting in projects now. Overall, I think it's good there isn't one style.

Mike Patano: Architects are trying to make statements with bigger buildings. You can look at Boise or Seattle or Portland; they have a diversity of architecture. They are trying to get the public interested and involved and excited about what they do because they would like to do more of it. They are trying to capture the public interest and grow their firms.

Is Ego important in good architecture?

mike patano

Mike: Absolutely. You have to feel that you do it a little bit better. If you don't have that feeling, it's hard to sit down at the table with someone and sell them on what you are doing. You have to believe in what you do. The proof is in the pudding in the long run. Being able to sit down at the table and take them through the process results in a building that is accepted by the client first of all and by the building's users too.

Chris: It's definitely a stereotype. You have to be confident in what you are doing and know what you are doing but I don't think you necessarily need a huge ego. You need the ability to stand in front of people and convince them you are doing the best for them. If you don't have a clear idea of what the concept is, it can quickly disintegrate.

Is there an Idaho style that has evolved?

Mike: I don't think there is a north Idaho style. I think there is more a mountain architecture or a style that has been generated in other areas, Sun Valley, Vail, where heavy timber and logs and stones are used in the design and construction of homes. When people move into this area they want to have this feeling that they are getting back to nature. It's natural to adopt this style they see. Around Hayden Lake, Sandpoint, Pend Oreille -- it's heavy timber, logs, stone, high vaulted ceilings. It's not new, however. The lodges that the railroads used to build were built out of logs and stones in the early 1900's.

Chris: I don't disagree with the view, but people haven't lived here that long -- in Idaho relative to world history. A lot of things we would consider an Idaho style, but I don't think an Idaho style has evolved yet, which is exciting to me.

chris patano

Chris: I think there are a lot of people out there trying to figure out what that is going to be. I think you've got a great historical basis but I don't think it's there yet. Many cultures developed over thousands of years for very particular reasons. You see a bit now that people are applying styles too much.

Logs are fine but I would like to see a style evolve that is definitely of the place, definitely of the state, of the environment but maybe there are some other considerations with the landscape. There is a big movement with green architecture now.

What's the one thing that an architect can bring to the table?

Mike: Enthusiasm. Architects need to get excited about a project. I don't think they can get complacent because if you are, I don't think you are going to get the interaction with people you need to pull off a successful project. There's a lot of talented architects in any area, and people are going to be drawn to architects who have a reputation or are known for high design projects. Sometimes that might not be the kind of relationship you want.

You have to get excited. You are with the client for a long time. You need to stay focused and energized. There are a lot of positives on a project, but there are a lot of problems that can arise you need to work through. Make sure the client understands why you are doing what you are doing.

Architecture is word of mouth, and if you have a client who is unhappy with what you have done, people will hear about it. A successful project is the best advertising. On a day to day basis you have to be happy you are in the profession.

What's it been like working with your dad?

Chris: It has been a good experience. I was always sure I was going to be an architect. Maybe it was inevitable. We definitely look at things from a different perspective. But we have actually been able to educate each other. I've learned a lot from his experience, and I've been able to provide different ways of looking at things.

Mike: The reality of our relationship is that for a number of years I was the owner of a large firm. The day to day marketing activities I had to take care of kept me off the boards, and I was less and less involved in projects from start to finish. In this operation, Chris is younger, more focused on design and brings a fresh way of looking at architecture. That has an impact on our projects. Being able to provide a fresh way to provide architecture to our clients adds to it.

Chris: We've been able to do some exciting projects. Because of the desire to try to do something special, we've been able to do some good work.

Mike: One of our more recent challenges was doing this new school in Wallace. Their entire downtown area was an historic district, and the patrons wanted the school to be a reflection of some of the detailing of the early 1900 buildings. The building that has been designed, you can see some of the detailing even though we had a modest budget to work with.

What can architects do in a city like Coeur d'Alene, where you live?

Chris: I think architects are going to have to step forward and start to present some of the knowledge we have about how to plan communities, organize cities and growth so things don't get out of control because of all these resources we have and great settings we have. The worst thing is for architects in a community not to help guide how these communities are going to grow -- because they are going to grow. I think there is a real danger of losing the reasons people live here or why people are moving here. Beyond designing buildings I see that as almost a new role.

Mike: Architects need to be involved in the communities they are in. Being active in the Rotary Club, being on the design and planning committee or whatever it is, they need to be a resource a community can look to. I've been involved in the whole revitalization of downtown Coeur d'Alene. We are also instrumental in working on the Centennial trail. This office is involved with seven different building owners in downtown. It is going to have an impact. We are going to see some real excitement in downtown Coeur d'Alene. We are starting to see a real diverse group moving into downtown. Coeur d'Alene is in a transition.