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Steve Trout

Architect has designs on Boise

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One could assume that Steve Trout has seen it all in Boise. In fact, he usually sees it before anyone else. As owner and architect-in-charge of Trout Architects--the Boise firm that his father, Ed, founded in 1968--Trout has envisioned a multitude of projects: museums, libraries, medical facilities, restaurants, motels, galleries and countless homes.

He speaks softly but directly and doesn't waste too many words. Simply put, Trout gets to the point, kind of like his pencil (yes, he still hand-sketches), which he uses to turn dreams into reality.

In the middle of a modest 27th Street office filled with blueprints, 3-D models and state-of-the-art technology, Boise Weekly got Trout to do something rare: sit down (he usually works standing up) to talk about Eco-Art, the ill-fated river sculpture and his future designs for the city he loves.

Pardon my pun, but was it always in your plans to work for your dad?

Not really. I wanted to be a photographer, a musician or an architect, pretty much in that order.

Was being an architect the least romantic of the three?

Actually, I've learned over time that it's the most romantic. There has never been a boring job or a boring day in the 30-some years that I've been doing this.

Did you ultimately decide to go to school for architecture?

I was sidetracked because I was a pretty good ski-racer. Downhill was my specialty. I was skiing in a national competition in 1974 but I fell and broke my leg--a double spiral of the femur. I retired from skiing and went back to the University of Idaho to finish my degree in architecture.

What was one of your earlier public construction projects that we might be familiar with?

In about 1987, it was the Boise Art Museum. We took the original building and built the new front and a major expansion.

What was the price tag back then?

A little under $1 million. It would be considerably higher today.

And you've worked a few times on Boise City Hall.

We remodeled that building several times. We didn't do the latest project.

Let's talk about the River Sculpture in front of the Grove Hotel. [BW, News, "A River Runs Through it... Sometimes," May 22, 2013]. The city of Boise turned to you to provide some analysis on that sculpture, which has fallen into disrepair.

It's definitely a piece of art and in a very prominent space [the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Front Street]. It might not have been what I would have done and you hear some criticism, but we found that a lot of people really like it.

But it's damaged and the misting feature hasn't worked for a while now. Your report, which was very detailed, had two options. One, was to fix it...

And the other is de-accession.

I don't think many people have heard that term.

Neither had I. It means to take it back, to return it to the artist.

The recommendation to repair the sculpture costs about $140,000. Does that mean that it will be better, or will the sculpture be what it always should have been?

It will be better in terms of maintenance and cost.

I read in your report that when the mist is turned on, the water drains to the street.

The drain at the bottom never got connected and the water runs across the sidewalk.

Where is the final decision on whether to fix it?

I think they're doing more research and exploring funding options.

You're currently working on an pretty interesting public art project that we'll see soon.

The Capital City Development Corporation hired us to retain an artist, and I turned to Dwaine Carver. He used to work here at the firm as an architectural designer. Dwaine designed something called a heliotrope. At Eighth and Main streets, there is a row of trees in front of the U.S. Bank Building and this sculpture will be aligned with those trees.

Paint a word picture for me of what it will look like.

Very tall, stainless steel metal rods--about 16- to 18-feet tall--and they're twisted into a trellis.

It looks like a tornado, but there appears to be some greenery inside.

We'll work with the city's forester to install different types of vines. This project is something called "Eco-Art." I think we're going to have it in place by September.

Heliotrope is set to be installed at Eighth and Main streets in Downtown Boise.
  • Heliotrope is set to be installed at Eighth and Main streets in Downtown Boise.

How would you rate Boise architecturally?

Actually, I think we were lucky to be about 20 years behind the times. If you remember the early 1970s, cities all across the country were tearing things down, screwing things up. People here said, "Time out, and stop tearing down Boise's downtown."

What does Boise's architecture need for its future?

Adventurous, smart, well-educated developers. And we have some, but they've had to be cautious lately.

I would think that your business is a pretty good barometer of the economy.

The phones are ringing more. I think people feel less threatened than a year ago.

How would you best describe your process of working with clients?

It's circular. We spin and spin and spin. If you think linear and think you're going to get to the end with a preconceived number, that will never happen. You have to be able to throw your work away, start over and work at it until you get it right.

How has your business succeeded all of these years?

I think we've learned to live on the cheap. Obviously, our office isn't extremely well-appointed.

I must admit that I've been in fancier offices of architects here in Boise.

We're not in it for the big money.

Do you work primarily standing up?

I don't sit very often. I'm usually standing at my table but I'm not computer-free; I've got four separate monitors there. However, I still sketch by hand and that's a bit of a lost art.

When you're looking at public art, what do you see that we don't see?

It's all about your point of reference: whether you're well-traveled, how much education you have, how deep your appreciation is for an artist or even the complexity of the construction of the art.

How long do you want to do this?

I feel as if I'm just getting good at this and hitting my stride.

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