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A few weeks ago, I wrote about my new friend, architect John Pflueger, head of the oldest architectural firm west of the Mississippi.

While currently based in Sonoma, the Pflueger firm has roots in San Francisco dating to 1907. John’s uncle and founder of the firm, Timothy Pflueger, played a pivotal role in the rebuilding of the city after the 1906 earthquake. His pioneering designs include the Castro Theater, the Stock Exchange and the Top of the Mark to name a few. And in 1933, had it not been for his good judgment and rejection of needless embellishments, the Bay Bridge would be a gaudy, black, neo-Gothic monstrosity.

Timothy was working on the Union Square Garage, Plaza and I Magnin’s at the time of his sudden death in 1946. His brother, John’s father, Milton, took over the reins of the firm and filled his own portfolio with impressive architectural accomplishments including the Richmond Civic Center, Holy Names in Oakland, and Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

John, an architectural maverick in his own right, joined the family firm in 1965. His forward-thinking, award-winning endeavors include Cowell Hall at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Early in his career, John entertained the idea of following in his uncle’s footsteps by integrating artists into his work. Timothy had called on Diego Rivera, Ralph Stackpole (San Francisco’s own Michelangelo) as well as other talents.

But Pflueger found himself most interested in water and energy conservation. In the 1970s, he concluded that all buildings should be designed to require the least amount of energy. He believed that alternative sources such as sunlight, shading, water storage, natural ventilation, evaporative cooling, and waste heat recapture should be implemented before employing conventional means.

At the core of Pflueger’s respected reputation is his commitment to this philosophy. Decades before peer pressure and government regulations, John had designed numerous energy efficient buildings, most notably, the California Farm Bureau in Sacramento. He later went on to create energy manuals for Bank of America and Pacific Gas and Electric.

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John has also combined this commitment with his interest in ancient cultures and sacred sites. He applied the concept of a “self-sufficient village” to his designs for medical clinics in the jungles of Guatemala and in Gambia and to health resorts around the world. Like sacred sites, self-sufficiency facilities are oriented to the cardinal points of the galaxy, which naturally use a minimum amount of energy and produce their own using water, wind and sun systems.

John also extends these concepts to residential projects. His latest work is the Gracianna Estate along the Russian River. He designed the central living space using the same proportions of width to length to height as the naves of Gothic cathedrals. As with these cathedrals, one enters from the west and faces the midsummer sunrise over the river. John’s strategic placement of windows in relation to the property’s deciduous trees follows energy defensive concepts and his signature approach to designing in environmental harmony.

Patti L. Cowger is the Napa-based owner of PLC Interiors.

For information about her interior design services, visit her website at; call 707-322-6522; or email Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday.