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Create the structures of tomorrow, and you’ll gain notice. Such is the case for Newport Beach-based architect Jay Bauer, founder of Bauer Architects. He’s won awards for his environmentally sensitive buildings—his Rimac Annex at UC San Diego landed a prestigious accolade from the American Institute of Architects. Now, he’s redesigning the Festival of Arts in Laguna and creating the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum on the Balboa Peninsula. Here, he lays it all on the line.

Architect Jay Bauer at his namesake firm in Newport Beach

Tell us about your Festival of Arts work. We’re doing a lot of reimagining. We’re working on changing the facade and the whole grounds. But it will take a few years. We want to make it a strong gateway to the festival, and to the city.

Why the interest in sustainability? You want to build something that is sympathetic to its environment, not take away from it. The first thing you think is: How can we design something that fits in its place and takes advantage of what nature gives us? At UC San Diego, which sits near the ocean, we wanted to take advantage of its natural ventilation from the sea breezes. Also, you try to do things to help reduce your demand, like using recyclable materials and finding ways to reduce water needs. You want to go beyond just building space and color and form.

Did you always want to be an architect? My family probably thought I’d be an oceanographer or an astronomer, maybe something in archeology-I was interested in those things. But when I was young, I built forts and did things with my hands. I loved to draw. Architecture gives you a chance to be creative.

You’re a New Englander who studied at Washington University in St. Louis. How’d you wind up in California? A college friend encouraged me to come for a visit. I’d never been west of Nebraska. I came out here and loved it.

Your first job here? I was an Imagineer at the Walt Disney Co. But that didn’t last long. I found it too limiting for what I wanted to do. I wound up with a large architecture firm in San Francisco for the next 20 years before branching out on my own for another 20.

So what’s next? There’s a very exciting project at Fort Bragg, in coastal Mendocino County. That part of California rivals Big Sur in beauty. We’re developing a research and education center, and a facility for the public. Fort Bragg was famous as an old mill town, but that’s gone now. What the city has of interest are the intact bones of a whale, almost 100 feet long, that washed ashore a few years back. We’re also designing a place for that whale exhibit. We think it’s going to be spectacular.

Overall, you sound pleased about your career choice... All I know is that I am happy in what I do, and you can’t ask for more than that.