Donald Innis

Donald Innis

Donald Alywn Innis, (born in 1931 in Olean, New York), is an American architect based in San Diego, California. Innis is also an inventor and engineer and has pioneered the idea of floating real estate, specifically the notion of a floating airport using pneumatic stabilized platform (PSP) technology which he has developed and patented through his company, Float Incorporated.[1][2][3]

Innis designed several notable San Diego landmarks, including the 1970s remodeling of the San Diego Broadway Pier (one of the first pier designs to make use of significant above water landscaping and greenery), the master plan for the San Diego Embarcadero, and Terminal One of the San Diego International airport.[4] He is a long-standing member of the American Institute of Architects.



Early life

Innis is the middle son of Greta Matson Innis (Swedish-American, b. 07/08/1905, d. 05/05/1965) and Alwyn Osman Innis (American, b. 03/04/1896, d. 12/20/1974). His father Alwyn was an American-born RCAF squadron leader during WWII and a young American foreign exchange fighter pilot for the RFC's No. 46 Squadron during World War I in England from 1917 through 1918. Alwyn Osman Innis had trained at Canada's RFC camp at Bourden before being commissioned and sent to England. A.O. Innis returned to the U.S. when he left the RFC (then the RAF) in 1919 as a Second Lieutenant to become vice president and general manager of the Columbus Aviation Company.[5][6]

Early career

In 1949 at age 18, Donald A. Innis attended the University of Illinois in Chicago for one year before becoming a salesman and taking part in the racing of midget cars for Four Wheels Inc. (a Chicago auto leasing firm). Innis would race midget and stock cars on the quarter mile track at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago and would sell used cars for the company. Innis then moved to Tucson, where he briefly attended the University of Arizona.

Innis worked for Chicago architect Maurice Webster, (b Sept. 20, 1892; d May 17, 1982, Evanston, IL.) [7] who with architect Alfred P. Allen designed Chicago's Sky Harbor Airport, which had originally opened in 1929 just north of Chicago.[8] Webster also designed Stronghold Castle, a replica of a European castle which was built by Walter Strong, then publisher of the Chicago Daily News. It is now a conference center owned by the local presbytery of the Presbyterian Church.[9]

Innis later moved to California with his younger brother, artist and writer W. Joe Innis. Impressed by the look and the scope of the beautiful San Francisco horizon, Innis settled in the Bay Area. In California, Innis went to work for Falkon Booth architects in San Francisco. Innis worked his way up the ladder quickly at Falkon Booth, becoming a draftsman and then drafting designer, when around 1956 he received notice that he had been drafted by the U. S. Army for two different service calls. Innis had previously served seven and a half years in the Navy Reserve, beginning shortly after high school. While a Navy reservist working on airplanes, Innis accidentally fell off a wing of an airplane, injured his back and was unable to continue to serve. Somehow the proper paper work was not filed and Innis was unable to get a medical discharge from the Navy. The orders for Innis to return to duty came from the Army looking for recruits for the front line of the army infantry and (in a technical mishap) a duplicate order requesting Innis' presence on an Army operated cable ship in Alaska by the U.S. Army Signal Corp's Alaska Communications System (ACS).[10][11][12][13] Innis chose to honor the request to ship to Alaska and oversaw the laying of thousands of miles of the first military submarine telephone communication cables across the ocean using secret military charts aboard the wooden-hulled self-propelled barge, the cable ship Col. Basil O. Lenoir.[14][15] Innis' top secret job required him to enter a room "like Oz" and close curtains around him while he read the secret charts of where U.S. military communications cables would be laid at sea.

After serving in the Signal Corps, Innis obtained an early release and entered U.C. Berkeley's architecture program in 1958. While studying at Berkeley, Innis taught sailing at the U.C. Berkeley sailing club at Berkeley Yacht Harbor and often sailed with Hans Albert Einstein (son of physicist Albert Einstein), a professor of hydraulic engineering, who was teaching at the university at the time.[16] Innis graduated from Cal in 1961.

Career highlights

In 1961 Innis moved to Southern California, where he was joined by his parents. That same year he joined the San Diego based architecture firm of Paderewski Mitchell and Dean, AIA, as chief designer. While working for C. J. "Pat" Paderewski, Innis was in charge of designing the current Terminal One at the San Diego Airport (constructed in 1967). Paderewski (called San Diego's "Mr. Architect")[17] Paderewski had designed the first exterior all-glass elevator for San Diego's El Cortez hotel (the elevator has since been demolished). Paderewski was then president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which Innis would also later head.[18]

In 1965, Innis decided to form his own firm, Donald Innis & Associates. In 1966 Innis submitted the winning proposal in a competition for a design for new Balboa Park arcades, a design featuring simple arches.[19] However, the arcades were never built using Innis' design; the job was awarded to another architect many years later.

A year later, Innis was joined by fellow architect Dave Tennebaum, and the firm was re-named Innis-Tennebaum Architects Inc., AIA. For more than three decades Innis-Tennebaum Architects specialized in military contracts and the building of elementary schools, residential, commercial and other architectural projects. Noteworthy projects in and around San Diego included the original Del Mar's Flower Hill Mall (built in 1977 for the Fletcher family)[20] which included an underground restaurant, East Village Mall (Rancho Santa Fe), a total overhaul and remodeling of the historic Broadway Pier adding new innovative structures (and preserving the view of the bay all the way down Broadway Street), The Harbor Seafood Mart at the Embarcadero, and the redesign of the Red Sails Inn on Shelter Island.

In 1992, Innis retired from Innis-Tennebaum to create Float Inc. and pursue his dream project of a floating airport.[4]

Floating Airport

Forty years earlier while designing Terminal One of San Diego's airport, Innis realized that the airport could not expand to meet future needs while at its current location. The new site would need to be close to the current airport and population centers and accessible. There was only one answer. It would need to be built on the water. To achieve a platform large enough to operate an international airport (about 1,200 acres), the technology needed to be invented to float that kind of structure. A concrete structure using air for buoyancy became the PSP patent. In 1992, Float, Incorporated was founded by Innis and three partners to develop this plan.[21] The PSP technology Innis invented uses air movement to reduce wave loads and distribute them through the platform, a platform that could be used to house offshore airports, oil and gas production facilities, floating islands, military bases, and additional real estate for coastal cities.[22] The technology enables the platform to extract energy from ocean waves to create electricity and is less costly than most currently used large open ocean platforms.[21]

From 1993-2000, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division took an interest in the PSP's potential to serve as a floating military base and awarded Float Inc. a $1.5 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) in August 1995 to test PSP. Extensive numerical modeling was performed along with two series of wave tank tests.[21] The second series of tests at 1/48th scale was focused on air exchange. A final scientific report on the test results was submitted to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in December 2000.[21]

The floating airport for San Diego has been dismissed as "outlandish", "logistically ludicrous", "impractical" and "expensive".[23] The idea has not found favor with San Diego authorities,[23] although Innis and his associates at Float Inc. continue to pursue the idea.

Personal life

On July 5, 1962, Innis married teacher and flower designer, Virginia Maples (formerly Pasto). He helped raise her two sons from a previous marriage, John and Jim Pasto, who were teenagers at the time. The couple had three children of their own, Christina Jean Innis, Donald Innis Jr., and Cynthia Ona Innis. Virginia Innis died in February 2007 from injuries resulting from a single car accident in Point Loma, San Diego. She is buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego.

Don Innis still resides in San Diego and continues his passion for sailing. He is a long time member of the San Diego Yacht Club. Innis continues to work every day at Float Inc. striving to realize the dream of a floating airport and/or floating real estate.


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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