Architect Lenise Candiotto Guimarães may have not earned the worldwide recognition had by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry, but the designs she created throughout her decades-long career left a lasting influence on the aesthetics of neighborhoods throughout Truckee and North Tahoe. Her legacy, one which she was too humble to recognize during her lifetime, is now a source of comfort for those she left behind when she died in May following a long leukemia battle.
“She was very family oriented, and it makes me happy to think of all the people and families enjoying the spaces that were designed with the idea of bringing families together,” said her daughter, Lissa Dodds.
While Guimarães designed many different styles, her work mostly centered on crafting functional structures that generations of families would go on to call home. She focused on creating warmth, often maximizing natural light to brighten up living spaces, moving away from the typical Tahoe cabin style that could sometimes be dark and cold.
“Growing up in a household where architectural ideas and designs were often discussed or critiqued and developed, houses and structures began to feel like living beings,” Dodds recalled. She added that her mother, who was very spiritual in nature, would often “ask for divine guidance when she was faced with a difficult design problem to help her make the best possible home for each family.”
Dodds didn’t fully realize just how much of an influence her mother’s designs had on the immediate area until she started joining her for walks during her illness.
“I was always kind of surprised because she would be humble, so humble, about it,” said Dodds, explaining that. “We would go on walks around the neighborhood and then sometimes we’d go on a different street — a street we’d just been walking on with for months with her— and then she’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, that house is mine too.’ Sometimes there were three or even five or more of her homes on one street.”
Dodds eventually began to compile a book about her mother’s architectural career, which, when it came together, illustrated just how much her designs left their mark, particularly in Truckee.
As a youth growing up in Brazil, Guimarães was always artistic, drawing and painting with oils. Upon completing secondary school, she took an aptitude test, the results of which combined her love of drawing with a newfound proclivity for math and led her down the path of becoming an architect. During the time she studied architecture and urban planning at the Universidade de Brasília in the early 1970s, the modern aesthetic that prevailed in the city became a driving influence in her own design style.
While family and friends expected her to stay in the architecture department of the Central Bank of Brazil, for which she had worked throughout school, Guimarães decided to travel around Europe and the Unites States, leaving Brazil in 1977 and ultimately settling in the Lake Tahoe area in 1978.
Here in North Tahoe, architecture was vastly different than that of her homeland. Having trained using the metric system, Guimarães needed to learn the imperial system of measurement used here in the U.S. She also needed to become familiar with the strict building codes that came with construction in the region. As for the designs themselves, unlike the brick and concrete construction used in Brazil, she was suddenly designing “stick frame” structures built mostly of wood.
After spending her early career designing for builder Jack Bachman, and later on the team for K.B. Foster Engineering, Guimarães in the early 1980s joined — in both life and business — with engineer Dennis Dodds of Dennis Dodds and Associates. Although their marriage would eventually end, Guimarães continued to partner with Dodds and his firm until her illness forced her to retire in 2019.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW: In the late 1980s, architect Lenise Candiotto Guimarães designed what became known as the “quintessential” Tahoe house of that time-period. Later in her career, she found pleasure in designing homes that fit the “mountain-modern” style.
It was during her time with Dodds and Associates that she started to observe flaws in the designs of ranch-style homes commonly built around the area during that time. This led her to design what would be seen as the quintessential Tahoe house of that era.
Beginning in the 1980s, she realized that the commonly constructed ranch-style design allowed snow to slide off the roof, only to pile up on the decks, driveways and other areas that needs to be shoveled. It was not an ideal design in a region in which snowstorms get measured in feet, not inches.
As described in a book compiled by Dodds, Guimarães eventually created an innovative design using roof lines styled to shed snow directly to the ground on the sides of the structure and walkway, and with the stairs sheltered under gables. Decks, garages, driveways, and other high-use areas were located at the front and rear of the houses and by design would not accumulate additional snow shedding off the roof.
The basics of this layout became extremely popular, and architectural designs by Guimarães have been built hundreds of times over throughout Truckee and North Tahoe. Variations of her original designs are still used and remain popular in new construction today. Her influence can be found in entire neighborhoods throughout Truckee, including Tahoe Donner, Prosser Lakeview, Sierra Meadows, and Glenshire, and later in her career, in the “mountain-modern” houses of Gray’s Crossing.
“I love that in Truckee and North Lake I can drive by or walk into the structures she designed,” Dodds said. “To me, it feels like her ideas are still alive and that we are still interacting with her when we enjoy the spaces she created.”