The Early Days of Bernardo Wills Architects

With Gary Bernardo and Robert Wills as the sole employees, Bernardo Wills Architects was founded in June of 1991 in an eight-by-ten foot space in the Tomlinson Black Building in Downtown Spokane. 

“I recall thinking the decision was made and failure really wasn’t an option,” says Gary Bernardo “It had to work, and we had to do whatever it took to make it work.”

“We had a couple of doors set over sawhorses with a couple of Maylines,” reflects Roberts Wills about the firm’s first few months. “Clients Gary and I had worked with for years at our previous firm came knocking on our door, and we were happy to have them.”

Bob, Gary, and Bob Sr. Building the first conference room table.

The firm began its first expansion a few months after opening the doors. Expansion continued nearly every year thereafter until it became the sole tenant on the fourth floor of the Tomlinson Black Building in 1998.

Bernardo Wills Architects Early Focus on Public and Private Sectors

When the partners formed the firm, their business plan included an equal concentration on public and private sector clients. This is one of the key reasons behind the firm’s prosperity and resilience, especially during the recent soft economies it has endured. Development of these relationships positions the firm for explosive growth when, as is the case currently, both markets are strong.

The founding partners generally divide the sectors between them. Gary Bernardo focuses on private development that includes retail, mixed-use, medical/dental facilities, office buildings, industrial facilities, and multi-family housing.  Gary’s experience and understanding of retail development have earned the respect of developers who consider him as a regional expert.

Robert Wills’ focus has primarily been on public and government projects with clients such as Spokane Public Schools, Community Colleges of Spokane, Big Bend Community College, Spokane Airports, GSA, Wenatchee Valley College, Department of Social and Health Services and projects at Fairchild Air Force Base with the 92nd Contracting Squadron, Washington Air National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Principal Robert Pace, AIA, splits his time between the sectors for clients such as Avista, Spokane County, Grant County PUD, and Eastern Washington University.

Dell Hatch, ASLA, Principal and lead Landscape Architect, has built his career on providing services for public-sector clients throughout the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in design for parks and recreation facilities, streetscape enhancements, and urban design. Current clients include the City of Spokane Parks Department, City of Sandpoint, City of Spokane Valley, and the University of Idaho.

Bernardo Wills Architects Client Relationships

One testament to the viability and success of the firm’s project management model is long-term client relationships that have developed over the years. “The satisfying thing,” says Gary Bernardo, “is the number of repeat clients we have that continue to come to us for projects. Through the years as you look back you realize we’ve known some of them for almost 30 years. What makes that fun is some of the relationships have transcended the professional to be also personal friends.”

The Bernardo Wills Architects Team

“The staff we have today are some of the best people we’ve had in all the years,” states Wills. “One reason the company has done so well is mostly to their credit.”

“One of the highlights of the practice is getting to work with some very good people,” states Bernardo. “I have especially enjoyed seeing some of the younger architects grow into their capabilities. It’s been pretty cool actually.”

Pace, who worked alongside Bernardo and Wills at their previous firm, joined the firm in 1994. Including the Principals, firm management includes Associate Principals Chuck Horgan, AIA; David Hipp, AIA, Michael Stanicar, AIA, and Ryan Zane, AIA. 

The 42 member firm features 24 licensed professionals with registrations in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Hawaii.

The Bernardo Wills Partnership

“My father who was in business for himself said the hardest part was having good staff and good partners,” states Gary Bernardo. “That hasn’t been the case. Bob is someone I trust implicitly that no matter what I asked him to do he would give 110%. Though we’re not entirely similar, I think we’re very complimentary.”

“It really is like a marriage – opposites attract,” adds Wills. “The best part about the partnership is that it has endured. I think it has a lot to do with our shared philosophy about the practice of architecture, and what’s good in terms of design. That has helped make it a successful partnership.”

Both graduates of USC’s School of Architecture, Bernardo and Wills met while at another Spokane firm. While there, the two developed a model of project management to better serve clients. This model provides Principal project involvement to ensure the quality of design and service. 

Projects of note since its founding include:

  • Fairchild Air Force Base’s award-winning Child Development Center and Education Center|Library
  • Spokane International Airport’s Concourse C Expansion
  • Big Bend Community College’s Library|Grant County Advanced Technology Education Center – the College’s largest project to date
  • The Davenport Tower
  • McEuen Park Redevelopment in Coeur d’Alene
  • Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office
  • Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center in association with Pfeiffer Architects
  • Gonzaga University’s John Hemmingson Center in association with Opsis Architects
  • University of Idaho Dan O’Brien Track & Field Complex
  • The Village at Regal Pond

Timeline Highlights:

  • 1991: Open doors in June; Latter-Day Saints engage firm for 1st of over 50 separate projects; closely followed by Safeway to whom the firm has provided services on over 120 separate projects; South Regal United States Post Office; Spokane Falls Community College’s world-class track and field facility – one of over 100 projects for Community Colleges of Spokane; Remodel Aviation Maintenance Facility as the first of over 80 projects at Big Bend Community College; Begin 1st of over 50 projects through the years for Spokane Public Schools District 81; provide services on 1st of over 175 projects for Tomlinson Black and 1st on over 80 for Tombari.
  • 1992: Fairchild Air Force Base’s Award-Winning Child Development Center; The first of over 50 projects involving Walgreens; 1st of over 45 projects for Wenatchee Valley College.
  • 1993: Addition to Big Bend Community College’s Math|Science Building; Planning and Design begins for the Redevelopment of Shadle Center; Magnolia Hi-Fi.
  • 1994: Associate Principal Robert Pace joins firm; IDIQ contract at Fairchild Air Force Base (1st year of 5 consecutive).
  • 1995: Liberty Lake Sewer District Administration Building; Historic Restoration of Globe Hotel building.
  • 1996: United States Air Force Design Award for the Child Development Center at Fairchild Air Force Base; Latah Creek Plaza; 1st of over 20 projects featuring a Starbucks.
  • 1997: Revitalize Wenatchee Valley College’s Van Tassell Center; Planning begins for Spokane International Airport Concourse Expansion; Masterplan and Design for Hanson Center’s Marketpointe and Marketpointe II retail centers; Staples at Marketpointe.
  • 1998: Expansion of Spokane International Airport’s Concourse C; Fairchild Air Force Base’s Education Center|Library; Modern Electric Water Company’s Administrative Office designed as a model of energy efficiency, Pier 1 at the Spokane Valley Mall; Omak Science Lab addition for Wenatchee Valley College.
  • 1999: Spokane Neighborhood Action Plan’s award-winning sustainable and affordable multi-family housing community Riverwalk Point Phase I; Office Depot.
  • 2000: At the ‘Y’ (Heritage Village) shopping center revitalization; Wheatland Bank prototype at Spokane Valley Mall and Moses Lake; Liberty Square multi-tenant building for Greenstone Corporation; Revitalize Argonne Village in Spokane Valley; Child Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base, CO; Flightline at Fairchild Air Force Base; AIA Merit Award and AIA Washington Civic Design Award for Modern Electric Water Company.
  • 2001: Library|Grant County Advanced Technology Education Center and Remodel Flight Center at Big Bend Community College; Spokane Valley Mall Plaza with Old Navy, Linens-n-Things, Sportsman Warehouse, and TJ Maxx; Masterplan for Spokane International Airport Business Park; Sundance Center retail and business center masterplan and design; Nez Perce Plaza shopping Center in Lewiston, ID masterplan and design; United States Air Mobility Command Design Award for Fairchild Air Force Base’s Education Center|Library; Excellence in Masonry Award for Modern Electric Water Company.
  • 2002: Revitalize Downtown Spokane structure for Global Federal Credit Union’s Commercial Lending Center; TJ Maxx in Logan, UT; Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors Remodel and Addition; Riverwalk Point Phase I Awarded Rebuild America’s Energy Champion Award for Public Housing; Concourse C awarded Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s International Design Award; United States Air Force Design Award for Fairchild Air Force Base’s Education Center|Library.
  • 2003: Safeway as ground floor of Mixed-Use Building in Seattle, WA; Emergency Room and Urgent Care Addition at Spokane’s VA Hospital; Dormitory for US Job Corps in Curlew, WA; District-wide elementary school modernization for Spokane Public Schools; Riverwalk Point Phase I Awarded Department of Energy’s Power Player Award.
  • 2004: Port of Kennewick’s Office Building with Ground Floor Retail and Clover Island Boardwalk; Purcell Industries Administrative and Assembly; Awarded GSA Eastern Service Region IDIQ contract.
  • 2005: The Davenport Tower high-rise hotel; Liberty Lake Library/Community Center planning and design; Main Terminal Ticket Counter Upgrade at Spokane International Airport; Awarded Campus Architect at Big Bend Community College and Wenatchee Valley College; Riverwalk Point Phase I awarded HUD Doorknocker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Affordable Housing.
  • 2006: Turf replacement of Joe Albi Stadium for Spokane Public Schools; Port of Kennewick Yacht Club, AmericanWest Bank branches in Airway Heights, Richland, and Walla Walla, began Waterford Place Condominium Towers and Clubhouse in Richland, awarded Resistance Training Facility at Fairchild Air Force Base’s Survival School. One of 5 finalists in Spokane Chamber of Commerce’s Agora Awards; Awarded Grant County PUD Architectural Services Contract for the first time.
  • 2007: One of the busiest years in our history. Began work designing renovations to the historic Bissinger Building as the future World Headquarters of Bernardo Wills Architects, was awarded our first design-build project with Garco Construction – the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Fairchild Air Force Base.
  • 2008: Added Interior Design to our list of services, began work on another Armed Forces Reserve Center with Garco Construction, this one in Yakima. Began work with Spokane Schools on funding acquisition to upgrade NewTECH Skill Center. 
  • 2009: Dell Hatch joined the firm and added Landscape Architecture to our list of services. Was awarded the Vancouver Armed Forces Reserve Center with Garco Construction. Began work at the University of Idaho for the first time.
  • 2010: Moved into the Bissinger Building and quickly felt right at home. Completed our first projects with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, the City of Cheney, and Rockwood Clinics. Renovated Lincoln Heights Center to add the first Trader Joe’s in Spokane.
  • 2011: Began the complete renovation of the former Burgans Furniture building into Ruby Suites. Was awarded the Lincoln County Emergency Response Center in Sprague. Continued work with Grant County PUD, Spokane Schools, and Spokane Airports.
  • 2012: Landscape Architecture group went wild: Began work on the redevelopment of McEuen Park in Coeur d’Alene, replaced field turf with artificial turf at Spokane Falls Community College, replaced the running track at Whitworth University, and completed a traffic calming project at the University of Idaho. The firm also began work on the Hemmingston Center at Gonzaga University with Opsis Architecture.
  • 2013: Awarded the Spokane Central Service Center design-build project with Garco Construction. Began work at Washington State University on two student housing projects: Chief Joseph Village and Global Scholars’ Hall.
Washington State University Global Scholars Hall. Pullman, Washington Image license: WSU and BN Builders. (Bernardo/Wills Architects PC, images 5, 9, 23, 25 and 26) © Copyright 2015 Benjamin Benschneider All Rights Reserved. Usage may be arranged by contacting Benjamin Benschneider Photography. Email: or phone: 206-789-5973.
  • 2015: Began work on the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center on the Gonzaga University campus with Pfeiffer Partners. Was awarded the largest design-build project in firm history – the Unaccompanied Enlisted Personnel Housing dormitories at Joint-Base Lewis McChord. Completed our first project in Kendall Yards for Greenstone.
  • 2016: Completed Revel Spokane Senior Housing project for the Wolff Companies; Began work on the largest CLT manufacturing facility in the (state, nation, world?) for Katerra. 
  • 2017: Began work for Fairchild AFB and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office on feasibility studies for a joint-use Small Arms Range. Began work on the Whitworth Water District Office & Maintenance facility.
  • 2018: Awarded the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office and North Bank Regional Playground, our two most significant public-works projects in the past ten years. Began our first of seven projects with Horizon Credit Union. 
  • 2019: Awarded our first project for the City of Sandpoint – ever! Multi-Family housing sector grew exponentially – with 12 MF projects being added during the year.