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Edward Tucker Architects bring a fine eye to local buildings

Oct. 28, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Ed Tucker enjoys the reaction of out-of-state architects who visit Huntington for the first time. They're often surprised and impressed by the architecture they see around them, he said.

Huntington "has good bones," he said. It's one of the reasons he was inspired to return home from Tennessee several years ago to establish a firm here, and it's something that he and his team at Edward Tucker Architects strive to build on as they play a key role in driving the local economy.

Anyone who lives in Huntington and keeps an eye on the news has an idea of the many buildings in the area that Edward Tucker Architects has designed, said Mark Bugher, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. For that reason, the Chamber invited Tucker to be the keynote speaker Friday in its Coffee & Conversation series, which highlights men and women who are pillars in Huntington's business community.

The list of projects designed by Edward Tucker Architects is lengthy and diverse. Among the projects receiving recognition from the West Virginia chapter of the American Institute of Architects are the Marshall University Forensic Science Center and the university's men's and women's basketball locker rooms, Huntington Federal Bank's East Hills Branch, the Salt Rock Public Library and a porch addition to the Huntington home of Verna and Jim Gibson.

Other projects include the design of Darco International's office building, which opened in 2006, as well as the Isabelle Gwynn and Robert Daine Gallery at the Huntington Museum of Art, St. Joseph Catholic Grade School and Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church's new sanctuary and its outdoor memorial garden. It also designed Marshall's new pharmacy school, Capital Centre, which formerly was the Dickinson Furniture Building, and Campbell Woods, which was formerly Love Hardware, as well as projects for Cabell Huntington Hospital and many others.

Projects currently in the works include the renovation of the Stone & Thomas building on 3rd Avenue, improvements to the terminal of Tri-State Airport, the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health and Valley Health's new office building along U.S. 60.

Countless details are considered in the design of buildings, such as fire safety, aspects of heating and cooling systems, lighting, egress, accessibility and far more. In the case of the PATH project -- a pedestrian and bicycling trail planned to weave through several parts of Huntington -- it involves coordination with different entities that own trail properties, trail heads or entry points, parking and incorporating signage with helpful information to the PATH's users.

Ironically, when all their work is done, "A good design is invisible," Tucker said. "It works, and you don't know why."

Something occasionally might stand out, he added. "It won't hit you in the face, but it will work well."

For him, a career in architecture was inspired by his grandfather Albert Tucker and his uncle James Tucker, both architects. While a student at Huntington East High School, he started doing odd jobs for downtown architect Robert Brown before heading to the University of Tennessee for his own architectural degree. He worked for two firms and then Vanderbilt University before he and his wife decided to come back to Huntington.

In 1996, Keith Dean was readying for retirement from the firm he had with his brother, Brooks. He transferred ownership of Dean & Dean Inc. to Tucker, who renamed the firm Edward Tucker Architects.

The firm celebrated its 100th anniversary recently, having been originally founded in 1910 by the Deans' father, Levi Dean.

Changes in the profession over the decades have been many, Tucker said, admitting he eventually put his old drawing table in storage, though it pained him to do it.

Today, design work is done with computers, either two dimensional representations or, increasingly, as three-dimensional ones.

Also, there's more "teaming" going on, in which his firm might work jointly with a firm in another part of the country. Such is the case with the PATH project, in which Edward Tucker Architects is working with Alta Planning & Design out of Oregon, which is an experienced trail design firm.

Technology, which makes drawing and teaming easier in many respects, is both a good and a concerning development for Tucker.

"My concern is the more electronic devices we have attached to the hip, we're not taking the time to think deeply about things," Tucker said. "We don't get more than 10 minutes of time before an email pops up or the phone rings."

The challenge faced by all in this time period is to "harness technology rather than be harnessed by it," he said.

And in today's fast-paced world, clients want designs and changes to designs extremely quickly, which is a challenging position to be in when quality is of the utmost importance, Tucker said.

He said he's extremely fortunate to have the staff he does, which includes architects Walter Wilkes, Nathan Randolph, Phoebe Patton Randolph, J.D. Maynard and Josh Dygert, and the recently hired Emilie Maynard, who broadens the firm's services by bringing interior design skills to the team.

"I've been very blessed with the talent that we have in the firm," Tucker said.

He said he's made an effort to give them the health and other benefits of a larger firm, also with the experiences unique to being in a smaller firm, such as design freedom and a high level of responsibility and involvement with clients.

Each staff member is an "army of one," he said, describing them as critical thinkers who are professional, with good communication, design and technical skills.

Tucker -- who has been involved with the AIA at state and national levels -- said he's happy they have the opportunity to work on local projects in which they can actually see the construction work proceed and have face-to-face meetings with clients.

Today's architectural projects are somewhat different from the past because there is more community involvement in how a project is designed, he said. Architects of decades past were more likely to just do their own thing.

Today, "there is more empowerment and groups of people affecting a design," Tucker said. "Architects today have to be willing to work with groups and be involved to be successful.

"We really want to be a resource for the Tri-State," Tucker said.

And they are, according to C.R. Neighborgall, whose longstanding Huntington contracting business has worked with Tucker's firm often over the years.

"We could work with firms all over the country ... and we are so fortunate to have Ed's firm and Ed here in our hometown," Neighborgall said. "It's really a great asset for us in getting design solutions."