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While researching the history of MCA I came across some very interesting information about our firm’s founders. Our firm went through much iteration to become McGinnis Chen Associates, Inc. today. While water damage to buildings has happened since the first building was constructed, waterproofing and building enclosure consulting is a fairly new specialty. Our firm was part of the early days of building enclosure consulting and has evolved with the industry throughout the decades.

Back in 1963, Elmer Eugene Botsai and Robert K Overstreet, two Architects in San Francisco, joined together and founded the firm Botsai Overstreet Architects and Planners. Originally the firm was considered an Architectural Design firm but they quickly began to specialize in remedial architecture. They worked mainly on projects where the buildings had damage or failures and required repairs. This specialty was beginning to take root in the overall construction industry and was called “building pathology”. Traditionally, the building enclosure was considered to be under the responsibility of the Architect of Record; as building construction became more and more complicated the responsibilities of the Architect began to increase. With that came mistakes and lawsuits. Thus companies specializing in this work were born.

So who were Elmer Botsai and Robert K Overstreet?

Elmer Botsai was born in Roseville California. He briefly served in the US Army and then studied Architecture at the University of California Berkeley. In 1978, he was elected president of the American Institute of Architects. He became Dean and professor emeritus of the School of Architecture at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1980. He became President of the Hawaii Society AIA. Botsai also co-authored four books on building technology and was considered a leader in the field. According to his profile on the American Institute of Architects, Botsai was known for his “…detail-oriented mastery…” of “…water infiltration, membrane and sealant failures, and dry rot.” Botsai was known for his blunt manner. One of my favorite quotes from him came from a Washington Post article from 1978 titled “Suits Against Architects Rise by 20%”. Botsai was interviewed as sitting President of the American Institute of Architects about the increase in liability for Architects and discuss his firm Botsai Overstreet which specialized in these forensic and litigation cases. When talking about how Botsai Overstreet can be called in to assess a building that is only a few years old but was experiencing failures he is quoted saying “we’re expensive as hell.” His commentary is correct that it is usually much more expensive to fix a problem after the building is constructed than to prevent such failure from happening in the first place.

Robert Overstreet was born and raised in Jackson Mississippi and his father was famed Architect N.W. Overstreet. Overstreet served in the US Navy in World War II and the Korean War. Following his stint in the Navy he studied Architecture at Tulane University, University of Texas, and University of Oklahoma under Bruce Goff, the protege of Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed and built his beautiful architecturally significant home in Corte Madera, CA in 1968. His design style harkened back to Wright. His home in Marin County was featured in several publications including the New York Times. His home took over 10 years to build and Overstreet did much of the work himself. His file drawings were donated to Mississippi State University along with his father’s in “Overstreet and Overstreet, a Legacy in Architecture.”

Today’s McGinnis Chen Associates, Inc. builds on the foundation laid by these two giants in the industry. MCA continues on their legacy of attention to detail and the advancement of building enclosure science.

Author – Erica Reynolds, PE, AIA, Senior Associate

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