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Decade in Review: Top 10 in Fresno Architecture

Inspired by an article that John King wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, we decided to do a Decade in Review article to identify the 10 best buildings representing Fresno architecture. Our parameters were that the buildings be in Fresno County with construction completed between 2000 and 2009. The reviewers were Joe Moore, president of the Downtown Association, Shaunt Yemenjian, principal of spacio|design, and Kiel Famellos-Schmidt, curator of archop.

What we found in making this list, is that Fresno has a collection of high quality, well designed buildings that have significantly improved the built environment of an important metropolitan area. We had no trouble pulling together a shortlist of 20 exceptional buildings. Below you will find our top 10 list organized chronologically.

Building: UCSF – Fresno UCSF - Fresno
Client: University of California Medical Center, San Francsico
Architect: Fong & Chan Architects
Year Built: 2002
Photo: UCSF

As Northern and Southern California continue to spread energies into the Central Valley, good design has come with the territory. The UCSF Medical Building anchors a prominent corner of the Community Medical Center Campus. The med‐student facility features a rotunda lobby with three‐story tall metal fins that are angled rhythmically as a nod to the notion of pages turning in a book. The rounded exterior walls along the street façade also set a rhythm in motion that gives the building an interesting street presence. The carefully designed sun shades which also embrace the curved streetwall provide shading from the summer sub for the space within. The exterior space created by the inward facing portion of the arc is designed as a pleasant semi‐public gathering space that can accommodate multiple social functions.

Building: Fresno Yosemite InternationalUntitled-1
Airport Terminal
Client: City of Fresno
Architect: AECOM
Year Built: 2002


While the decade before brought us the internationally recognized Fresno City Hall – this decade brought about its younger cousin: The Fresno Yosemite International Airport Terminal. Equally progressive in its form and structure, the curved glass facade floods the entire Terminal with natural light. The exposed steel framing transcends the human scale enough to draw your attention and inspire awe yet is detailed and finished in such a way that does not make it feel overbearing. The reverse angle of the curtain wall gives the Terminal’s rounded fascia a form that begins to mimic the profile of an object in flight.

Building: Woodward Park LibraryWoodward Park Library
Client: County of Fresno
Architect: DSJ Architects
Year Built: 2004
Photo: DSJ

Embraced by the sweeping concrete surfaces that seemingly nurture the space within, your imagination is stimulated by the forms and surfaces even before picking up a book. Exceptional natural lighting on the inside with very little direct light make the interiors highly conducive to reading, studying and focusing your attention. With the circulation cleanly arranged around an entry foyer, the flow of circulation is comfortable yet interesting. A ‘Friends of the Library suite that is open after‐hours allows for the building to remain active through the evening as community space.

Building: Sante Fe DepotSanta Fe Depot
Client: City of Fresno
Architect: Johnson Architecture
Year Built: 2005
Photo: Joe Moore

The historic Santa Fe Depot is a shining example of historic preservation in Fresno. Built in 1899 by the San Joaquin Valley Railroad (later to be acquired by Santa Fe) , the depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was originally designed by W.B. Story, and the 2004 / 2005 historic preservation project was led by Fresno based firm Johnson Architecture. Before its renovation, the building had suffered from years of neglect. It was last used as a passenger facility in 1966, was converted into a railroad communications center, and eventually sat vacant for decades. The building is typical of the Mission Revival style, with clay roof tiles and beige stucco walls. A small porte-cochere and clock tower, with a large wrought iron clock face, dominate the Santa Fe Avenue elevation of the building. The $7 million renovation removed decades of insensitive patchwork additions to the building, and restored the building’s historic appearance and functionality as a working passenger rail station. It now serves Fresno passengers on Amtrak’s popular San Joaquin line. The project received the prestigious Governor’s Historic Preservation Award, an Award of Excellence from the AIA San Joaquin, and a Preservation Design Award from the California Preservation Foundation.

Building: Coyle Federal CourthouseFresno Federal Courthouse
Client: US General Services Administration
Architect: Moore Ruble Yudell Architects with Gruen Associates
Year Built: 2005
Photo: Clark Pacific

The later part of the 1990’s into the beginning of the 2000’s we saw substantial investment from the GSA on well designed federal buildings throughout the country. Fresno received that investment in design with the new Federal Courthouse. The building’s massing and intricate concrete paneled façade draws inspiration from rock formations in Yosemite National Park. The lobby is awe inspiring. The floor combines smooth and rough stones punctuated with granite boulders cut in half to form seating. Beyond the lobby the way finding, courtrooms, law library, and roof terraces all are well thought out, detailed and accentuated by local art.

Building: Unitarian Universalist ChurchUnitarian Church
Client: Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno
Architect: McCamant & Durrett Architects
Year Built: 2007
Photo: McCamant & Durrett Architects

Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno is first and foremost distinguished by their commitment to sustainability and community. Those commitments are masterfully combined in a building that pays equal attention to interior and exterior spaces. The roof lines, material choices and color palate give the building a contemporary and earthy feel that sets it apart from other churches. This was Fresno County’s first LEED Certified building. The sustainable strategies range from drought tolerant landscaping, natural lighting and low water plumbing.

Building: Clovis Fire Station No. 5Clovis Fire Station
Client: City of Clovis
Architect: Don Dommer Associates
Year Built: 2007
Photo: Terry O’Rourke

Clovis Fire Station No 5 opened in 2007 at 790 N. Temperance Avenue, just north of Highway 168, in the Clovis Research and Technology Park. It was designed by the Oakland, CA based firm Don Dommer Associates, The building uses a mix of industrial materials such as corrugated steel and concrete block in a contemporary context. The three bay garage area is highlighted by an open truss roof system supporting a gently arching steel roof. Clerestory windows provide natural light to the garage bays during the day, and at night creative up lighting highlights the exposed roof structure and interior in dramatic fashion.

Building: H Street LoftsH Street
Client: Reza Assemi
Architect: Taylor Teter Partnership
Year Built: 2008
Photo: RSM Studio

H Street Lofts demonstrates an awareness of its context, and uses the adjacent railroad as inspiration for the façade. It also shows a curiosity and willingness to test new ideas and use materials in untraditional ways. The varying sizes, placement and treatment of the windows creates the feeling of moving boxcar. The building wraps around a courtyard to foster interaction of neighbors and includes a memorial mound landscaped with native plants to commemorate the property’s former life as an army induction center. In the past decade Reza Assemi has become synonymous urban living in Fresno. Of all the multifamily housing built in Fresno County during the decade, H Street Lofts stands out as the most authentic to the region.

Building: Clovis North High SchoolClovis North Performing Arts
Performing Arts Center
Client: Clovis Unified School District
Architect: Darden Architects
Year Built: 2008
Photo: Tomas Ovalle

Home of the Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall and the Dan Pasesano Theatre is one of the finest high school performing arts facilities in the nation, rivaling many collegiate and professional concert venues. The Shaghoian Concert Hall seats 750 on one level, in a traditional box configuration, featuring a stage that sits within the main body of the theatre, with no proscenium arch. The stunning interior of the Concert Hall is known for its superb acoustics, with wood paneled walls, and a 50 foot ceiling. Above the stage sits a a fully automated “acoustic cloud” structure that adapts to change the acoustic properties of the room. Additional adaptive acoustic treatments are designed in the upper levels of the hall, allowing the venue to be customized for performances ranging from choirs to orchestras to jazz ensembles. Adjacent to the Concert Hall sits the Paesano Theatre, a 150 seat “black box” theatre performance space. Both venues are shared by programs from throughout the school district. The exterior of the Performing Arts Center is constructed largely of concrete block and steel. Massive steel columns support the entrance to the lobby, a visual reference to the steel framed agricultural packing houses that still function nearby.

Building: New Harvest ChurchNew Harvest
Client: New Harvest Church
Architect: Anthony C. Pings & Associates
Year Built: 2008
Photo: Shaunt Yemenjian

The balance and careful treatment of every surface of the building are enough to have made Christian Dior jealous. Built as an adaptive re-use of a fruit packing plant, the tapered planes spread outward in a way that resembles the opened husk of a fruit. With so many 20th century buildings addressing a single façade (dismissing the notion that buildings have context and multiple vantage points), the New Harvest Church campus captures your attention up front and sustains your interest as you move about. One can also appreciate use of modern technology in the CNC cut signage carved away from the webs of steel I-beams throughout.

Are we on the mark? Do you feel we missed any? Share your comments with us below.

This post was written by:

kiel - who has written 140 posts on archop.

Kiel Schmidt is founder and curator of archop

Contact the author

45 Responses to “Decade in Review: Top 10 in Fresno Architecture”

  1. Arnie says:

    1. My top vote goes to the Woodward Library. It looks great and feels really good inside as well.

    2. Even though I have only seen pictures, my #2 is the H Street Loft project. Color, creative space use and near downtown.

    I don’t know if you missed anything, but I will say that this list is slim pickings for such a large metro area. The next 10 years can only be more sparse unless an economic miracle turns up under a rock.

  2. Abe Lopez says:

    Great job, guys!

  3. Enoch says:

    Great to see quite a few local firms made it into the top ten. This says a lot about our local architects. Thanks for once again bringing awareness to the built environment of Fresno/Clovis.

  4. Bryan Harley says:

    Good stuff, folks!

  5. Debra Tempesta says:

    Kiel-what a way to end a decade!!! Props my friend……value added to Fresno thanks to you!

  6. peter robertson says:

    May I suggest #11: The Henry Madden Library at Fresno State? The size of approx. eight football fields, the newly expanded library features native American elements, granite from the surrounding foothills and more than 1 million books.

  7. kiel says:

    Peter, you bring up a good point. In fact, the Henry Madden Library was on the short list. I think it didn’t make the top ten because of the design flaw of the stairs. Also when compared to the Federal Courthouse, both used concrete panels for a facade, and used local granite on the interior. In the both elements the Federal Courthouse has the stronger design.

  8. Joe Moore says:

    We talked about including the Madden Library. We all really liked the landscaping. We also gave it props for the energy efficient design. And the massive curtain wall is impressive. In the end picking just ten was tough, and things like the stairs and other aspects of the design kept it off the list. We also considered the Science II building and the WET incubator.

  9. Sally Oh-Weisse says:

    Spectacular choices. Architecture has come a long way here in Fresno/Clovis .
    It’s great to see that this recognition is amongst the arts. Thank you John king.

  10. Joan Sharma says:

    Just after moving to Fresno, I had the pleasure of observing the construction process that evolved over time for the Woodward Library. As the structure took form, I would often stop my car in the parking lot across the street and gaze at the site. I wondered about who had designed this elegant building. About a year later, I attended a lecture by Art Dyson at the Fresno Art Museum and understood that Fresno has a world class designer living and working here. I am very pleased that he has designed the new University High School on the Fresno State campus and look forward to seeing it. Good to know that I am not the only one who appreciates his work. I urge readers to take the time to attend any lecture/presentation that Mr. Dyson may offer to the public in the future. I was inspired by what I heard at FAM that night about the relationship of his design concept to a specific site and the people who will live, study and/or work in one of his buildings. Wish I could be that lucky. Every time I pass the Save Mart Center, I can’t help but wonder what Art Dyson would have done. Kudos.

  11. Joe Moore says:

    Yes, it’s exciting seeing the new University High School steel going up. I did an interview with Art Dyson about 5 or 6 years ago. I remember asking him what would be like to accomplish that he hasn’t yet. He mentioned one of the things he really wanted to do was do a building on the Fresno State campus. It’s great to see that dream coming into reality. I’m sure it will be on the next “decade list” 10 years from now.

  12. Hal Tokmakian,AICP says:

    Let’s remove the FYI terminal. I will not take the space to elaborate now. Now give more thought to including the Madden Library addition. Finally, Are there any ideas for the”dog” of the decade?… Where are you Dolarian & Wasserman now that we need you?

  13. kiel says:

    Hal, Please do take the space to elaborate. I’d like to hear what you think. Also, I’m unfamiliar with Dolarian & Wasserman.

    On the topic of “dog” or worst of the decade list, we decided to go purely positive and highlight the best of Fresno.

  14. Mike says:

    Too bad for every 10 cool structures constructed in Fresno the city planners allow for 1000 awful ones to also be erected. Well chosen list of the top 10.

  15. edluv says:

    I’d love to hear the elaboration from Hal as well. As for Dolarian & Wasserman, it’s a reference to Ara Dolarian, former CSUF Art professor and Jim Wasserman, former Fresno Bee writer (currently w/Sac Bee). Back in the 90’s they wrote several pieces for the Bee that critiqued Fresno architecture. It was an interesting piece.

    Wasserman moved on, and Dolarian passed in the like 99/2000. I studied under Dolarian’s son, Robin @ FPU (he’s not there anymore).

  16. Joe Moore says:

    The airport expansion was a not so small example of a construction management disaster. It prompted then Mayor Alan Autry to criticize the design as too complex. According to the Bee:

    “If he could start the project over, Autry said, he would probably prefer a design that combined beauty and simplicity: “Boxes and rectangles are very underrated.”

    I’d say just for generating that quote alone, the building deserves to be on the list!

  17. Thank you for selecting our Santa Fe Depot project to the list! Historic Preservation projects don’t always get the recognition they deserve.

    The project was a labor of love for everyone involved. As projects like the Met Museum have shown it is no easy task to manage these types of renovations. Throw the State of California and a railroad to the mix and it really gets exciting!

    It is one of our projects that I am most proud of completing in the past decade too. Thanks again and for keeping this important discussion about the built environment alive here in Fresno!

  18. This is fantastic! I think you guys did a great job of taking a critical, objective look at the architecture of our city and developing something that brings awareness and perhaps more importantly – controversy – to the built environment. The discussion that was elicited about the Madden Library demonstrates that you were successful in the attempt to put architecture out there and start critical dialogue.

    I remember the Dolarian/Wasserman rants in the Bee when they dubbed themselves the unofficial “architecture police”. Perhaps that effort needs to be resurected in an effort to shine the light on architecture in the public realm. This also demonstrates that there are some great buildings in Fresno as well as some talented archtiects.

    Well done.

  19. Ivette says:

    My vote goes to Woodward Park Regional Library. The unique forms of this building showcase a design concept called “Organic Architecture”, a concept that transcends any design era or period. This is what Fresno lacks, we need more of this in town ;)

  20. Karen Bosch Cobb says:

    We are honored to have the Woodward Library recognized on this list. We are also happy to report that this library is incredibly well used; to us this demonstrates that the public appreciates outstanding architecture.

    At the Library, we are also very proud of our new libraries in rural communities: Caruthers, Kerman, Fowler, Mendota, and Orange Cove. These libraries were also designed to meet the needs of their communities. Of course, I am baised, but I think they are some of the most beautiful new buildings in our community, and we must thank the voters of Fresno County for supporting better library operations.

  21. kiel says:

    Karen, I agree 100%. The most important part of architecture in my opinion is how it gets used. I’m also looking forward to a new main branch downtown. Hopefully that gets the funding it deserves.

  22. Courtney Kalashian says:

    Well done, and fantastic choices! Perhaps you could work with the local AIA chapter ;) to set up a lecture/wine night to discuss this–invite the community and the architects for an evening of great architecture, conversation, and wine! Also, thank you for focusing on the orchids, not the onions.

  23. John Raymond says:

    As somebody relatively new to Fresno, my vote goes to the Federal courthouse. It’s interesting from every angle, close-up and at a distance, and at night as well as the day. Not crazy about the heavy landscaping in the plaza, but the building works.

  24. Dwight Kroll, Director of Planning and Development Services, Clovis says:

    We feel very honored to have Fire Station #5 and New Harvest Church recognized by your group and in the company of such wonderful projects as the Federal Court House, Woodward Park Libarary and the Unitarian Church.

    Fire Station #5 was a significant paradign shift for Clovis however has been well received by the community and has set the stage for other great architectural works in our Research and Technology Park. The Clovis City Council should really be commended for their vision here.

    The adaptive reuse of a packing shed for New Harvest Church shows what can happen when you get a good architect and you get out of their way.

    Thanks much for the recognition and congradulations all!

  25. Rachelle says:

    My vote mirrors Arnie’s with the Woodward Park Library as Fresno’s top building of the decade. Dyson’s Webster Elementary School and his United Japanese Christian Church also deserve to be in the top ten.

  26. What a fantastic list and a fantastic concept. I drive my the hospital building every day – sometimes multiple times a day – and I always admired it on a purely aesthetic level. But articles like this help me put the terminology with the aesthetics, and to better understand WHY certain buildings stand out. I’m a huge, huge fan of the Woodward Park Library and the Federal Courthouse as well. That said, I do have a request – there are a couple of buildings on here that I am not familiar with, so addresses or cross streets would be very helpful for those of us who are now intrigued to see these buildings up close for ourselves.

  27. K & R Anderson says:

    Any architecture by Arthur Dyson more then deserves to be voted in the top ten. His uniqueness and ability to transform structures into freestanding art forms is just amazing! His fans span globally as well as those fortunate to be close to him! We continue to be impressed!

  28. Cheryl says:

    I’m voting for the library. I love that building! I hope to see more diverse architecture here in Fresno like this. I do really like the Old Santa Fe train station downtown too. Love the blend of the old and the new. Keep it up!

  29. Brianne says:

    This was an awesome review of some buildings I love, and some I still need to check out. Thank you!

  30. Jamie Dronyk says:

    Much appreciation for the shout out to H Street Lofts. :)

    The list appears to be very well thought out, with a good mix of project typologies that span the entire decade.

    List Pro: at least half of the project architects / firms are local; List Con: ONLY half of the project architects / firms are local. There is a lot of local talent I think that is yet to be discovered by the Fresno community, so my hope for the next decade in review will be to see more local talent in the Top 10.

  31. jdmccubbin says:

    Kiel, Congratulations on your archop site (and it’s recornition in the Bee). The site is very good and should be a “winner.”

    Comments on choices in “the Decade”:
    I think, the FYI Terminal should NOT be on the list, even if it is a great building because it doesn’t “work”;
    1) the majority of the building is not accessable to “the customers” because of “security concerns” (aka TSA point of entry blockages),
    2) in inconvenience of the terminal’s bus stop location (i.e. distance from baggage claim), taxi area, drop-off/pick-up lanes (except for the GOOD idea of short-term cell phone waiting), rental cars access and surcharge, parking lots’ (not structures) distance from terminal , no direct intermodial connections nor posted information, pedestrians’ difficulty in transiting between the terminal and the larger community and vise-versa, vehicular inconvenient access from most directions (except McKinley or Peach northbound)) of the city,
    3) no public viewing area of flight operations (commercial, civil general, forestry, and military flights)
    4) lack of traveler/intermodal information during all hours the terminal operates,
    5) the ugly, fake, “forest experience” in the public area.

    I LIKE AIRPORTS, BUT EVERYTIME I have used FYI something “bad” or unpleasant happens, as a result of management decisions. However “great” the building may be, the ways it is being operated to exploit and/or inconvenience the “visitors” is not. Please delist it!

    Why is the 1899 San Joaquin/Santa Fe/Amtrack Station on the list as architecture? That remodel seems to be (just) “good maintenance” or “wise preservation” rather than creativity, innovation, conversion, adaptation, etc. Although those activities should be recognized, given Fresno’s rush to “D&R”, i.e. demolish and replace.

    How about a follow-up with the Decade’s “bottom ten” list of failure? Suggestions: continuing failure of Fulton Mall, no solution to “The Homeless” problem(s), continuing auto-centric planning, the Met, the Mariposa Mall minor axis incompletion,

  32. jdmccubbin says:

    How about a discussion about the X-Met? J>D>

  33. Margaret says:

    What is the Unitarian Church doing on this list? I live near it, and every time I drive by, I think what an ugly building it is.

  34. good job kiel
    ps. about the comments you cant please every one

  35. flo says:

    i enjoyed the varied list kiel…from the preservation of the train depot to our first LEED project of the Unitarian Church. I like how the list has mostly local architects too!

  36. Nice Blog . . . how do I get involved?

  37. Arthur Dyson says:


    Kudos to you and your associates!

    Recognition of the importance of our built environment is a valued step in creating a meaningful society. Your success in eliciting public dialogue in this direction is encouraging and highly beneficial.

    In appreciation,

  38. Imad says:

    In my Building Code Consulting practice over the last 25 years, I had the opportunity to review the designs of all types of buildings and structures from architects and designers located throughout California, other States and some International.

    I’m happy to report that Fresno and the Central Valley is the home of some of the best talented architects that can compete with the best of them. Many do not receive the recognition they deserve.

    I enjoyed the article in the Bee, thank you Kiel, and it’s about times some of these buildings and their designers got the recognition and exposure. I will do my part to highlight these write ups on Social Media.

    Well done!

    Imad Naffa
    NAFFA International

  39. Andrew Cardillo says:

    In regards to the Performing Arts Center on the Clovis North campus, the correct spelling is “The Dan Pessano Theater”.

  40. Hal Tokmakian,AICP says:

    RE;jdmccc commeht: “continuing failure of FFM” ? I couldn’t disagree more. Blame the Mall? Noooooo o o o. Lets talk about political compromises. lack of follow through by City govt. RDA, maintenance, housing in CBD; a competed freeway system 25 years overdue, an amended city General Plan in 1974 that changed city planning policy from centralization {1964] to decentralization. We are indeed fortunate that FFM still remains as the peerless work of Art and Landscape Architecture that it is.

  41. Keith Woodcock, AICP says:

    I know that this is a late comment, but when I recently came across this piece and read the comments, I just had to weigh in on the Fulton Mall. If memory serves, it was the FM that helped the City earn its All American City Award in the 1960’s. It was the subsequent decisions made by the City and RDA to allow great outward development that let the downtown erode. In fact, during most of the 1980’s Fresno had the largest annexation program in the nation that fueled outward development at the expense of its older neighborhoods and the CBD. Anyway, the article was good in that it stimulated a lot of discussion.

  42. Alan Garretson says:

    I’ve never been to the Woodward Park Library, but that photo is excellent… and all the projects look great!


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  3. [...] At the start of this year and double ought teens decade, with the help of Joe Moore, and Shaunt Yemenjian,we put together an op-ed list. Decade in Review: Top 10 in Fresno Architecture. [...]

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