AIA at FA: “The Resilient Practice”...

By Rebecca Gilbert

A few weeks ago, Feldman Architecture hosted a panel of successful women architects to discuss “The Resilient Practice” which was part of  the 15th annual Architecture + the City festival co-presented by the AIA San Francisco and Center for Architecture + Design. The architects discussed resiliency in two cases, first as architects who are meeting the challenges of a constantly evolving design and build process, and second as women who are succeeding in a historically male-dominated profession.

In the first case, the panelists described resiliency as the ability to adapt and find one’s career path in the context of an environment which is increasingly demanding architects to step outside of the comfort zone of pure design and into adjacent disciplines.  In this case, we understand their career paths as mirroring the heightened complexity of constructing or re-purposing structures in our increasingly urbanized existence.  The success of our careers requires us to meet this challenge – the growth of cities demands it.  The panelist discussed everyday examples of this concept.  Offices are expanding shared work spaces to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, embracing diverse educational backgrounds, and investing in technology to meet a faster design and construction cadence.

In the second case, the panelists understand that resiliency in the practice of architecture will require more equitable representation of women.  As our panelists astutely observed, while enrollment in architecture programs is increasing, growth in licensed female architects is lacking.  In some cases, technology, like remote working, is creating opportunities that did not previously exist.  In other cases as our panelist have shown, the path to workplace equality is knowing one’s worth and having the will and initiative to realize it. For these panelists, evolving with the increasing complexity of architecture has been a defining feature of their success.

Its encouraging that AIA SF has created a platform for women to discuss these issues and move the dialogue forward. I left that evening feeling inspired and lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive and progressive architectural community.

Third Thursday October 2018: Westerfeld House...

By Serena Brown

What better place to spend our October Third Thursday than San Francisco’s own ‘House of Legends’? The iconic Westerfeld House in Alamo Square is shrouded in lore and legends. Once home to Russian diplomats, various communes, and the founder of the Satanic Church himself, the home has seen its fair share of uncommon dealings. We were lucky enough to score a private tour with the home’s current owner, Jim Siegel, who purchased the house back in 1986. We arrived on a windy Thursday evening, wine and cheese in hand, with varying expectations as to what was in store. Upon entering the home we were all blown away by the gorgeous work Mr. Siegel has done to restore the house to its original beauty, classic Victorian wallpaper and all.

After depositing our offerings in the dining room, Jim began our tour with an informed recap of the unique history of his home. Commissioned back in 1889 by a German confectioner by the name of William Westerfeld, the house has changed hands numerous times throughout its history. Jon Mahoney, a famous San Francisco contractor, bought the house after Westerfeld’s death in 1895. He and his brother Jeremiah are most well-known for their restoration efforts after the great fire, as well as for building the Palace Hotel, St. Francis Hotel, and Berkeley’s Greek Theater.  The Mahoney Brother were also large fans of entertaining, inviting honored guests such as Guglielmo Marconi and Harry Houdini to attend and perform at their dinner parties.

In the 1930’s, the house ended up in the possession of a group of Czarist Russian immigrants, who opened a night club in the ballroom called “Dark Eyes.” It was during this time that the house earned the nickname ‘The Russian Embassy’, which is still prevalent today. Jim told us that a Russian colonel was allegedly murdered in one of the house’s many rooms, supposedly during a fight over a woman. In the 1940’s and 50’s, the space was converted into a boardinghouse that attracted many jazz musicians from around the city. John Handy, Art Lewis and Jimmy Lovelace were all said to have been boarders at the house during this time, though John Handy later claimed this was false.

Leading up to the 1960’s and 70’s, a series of communes came to call the house home. Jim mentioned that in his younger years he had a large fascination with the Woodstock era and has since dedicated one room in the house to the communes that once lived and played between its walls. During the commune years, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger came to live at the house and filmed a number of his cult classics. Featured in the films was Bobby Beausoleil, a Manson family sympathizer who is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, as well as Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. During our walkthrough, Jim eagerly pointed out a photo he had of LaVey and his pet lion sitting calmly in the upstairs library. The final commune to occupy the house was a 50 member collective called Family Dog, who held concerts and shows at the Avalon Ballroom and invited musicians such as the Grateful Dead to hang out with their members.

Jim recounted during his explanation that he always knew he would one day purchase the house. When he was boy he likened the exterior to that of the Adam’s Family House and since then has harbored a dream to own it. When he was only 19 he began buying and restoring old Victorian homes throughout the city. His first house he bought for $10,000 in Dogpatch and has since then purchased, restored, and scavenged tons of homes throughout San Francisco and beyond. He told us about a barn he has up north full of Victorian molding, doorframes, doorknobs, furniture, and more. He bought the Westerfeld house for $750,000, an enormous sum of money back in the 1980s, much to the chagrin of his father. Since then he’s spent thousands of hours fixing up the 25 rooms.

As we wandered the house all of us were in awe of the care put into each and every room, as each had its own character. Personally I was struck with the thought of the potential for hauntings, but Jim informed us that one of the first things he did upon purchasing the property was have it blessed by Buddhist monks, putting that thought to rest. One of the most impressive rooms by far was the upper tower, where one can experience views of the San Francisco skyline. Jim mentioned that he’s watched the skyline change over the years, and misses the days when he could see clear across the bay.

The house is full of stories, even in places we can’t see. Evidently there’s a satanic pentagram carved into the floor of the tower, and you can find teeth marks from LaVey’s pet lion on the occasional doorframe. In the kitchen there are paintings by Janet Joplin’s lead guitarist, and quirky furniture, such as a coffin coffee table, in every room. The last few hours of our visit were spent talking over wine and charcuterie about Jim’s outstanding work, and our similarities and differences as “modern architects.” Despite our firm having more modernist sensibilities, all of us can appreciate and love the traditional beauty of San Francisco Victorian mansions like Jim’s.

Although not open to public tours, there are various ways in which one might be able to take a peek inside the Westerfeld House. Jim occasionally opens his home up to various events, such as the Gallery Girls Haunted Mansion on October 27th.  A few of us took advantage of the opportunity to see it once again and attended this past weekend. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Westerfeld House, I encourage you to visit The House of Legends, a website dedicated to a documentary coming out in November about the house’s eclectic history.

We’d like to extend an enormous thank you to Jim for taking off from work early to show us his masterpiece.  Hopefully we can all visit again soon!

Chairity 2018: “Sculptchair”...

By Liza Karimova

When we first walked into TWO, our eyes were drawn to it: a soft paisley seat, four prancing legs, and a whirl of curves on its back. A short, tiny metal chair; a challenge, we recognized. A challenge that we ended up taking on.

Late last June, a few members from Feldman Architecture decided to participate in the annual “Chairity” event, spearheaded by TWO Furnish. Every year, “Chairity” invites designers from all disciplines to deconstruct, re-upholster and reinvent a used or forgotten chair, which is then auctioned off to raise money for charity. This year, the money was raised for Project Color corps, an organization that creates change by painting inner city neighborhoods, and Raphael House, which helps low-income families find stable housing and financial independence. Feldman Architecture were excited to participate in a design project that benefitted local organizations, and brought together a multitude of local designers.

Hence, a team of five – Johnny, Mike, Nick, Chris Kay and I (Liza) – showed up at the TWO showroom one evening to pick out their chair. Being the last to pick in the white-elephant style draw, the team ended up with the short, tiny metal chair; a challenge. Encouraged by the originality of the pick, and the fact that it was the only metal chair in the show, they decided to procrastinate for another many months, before finally attempting the transformation.

When the time came, the team started out by holding a few informal design charrettes. The common desire was to treat this project like an experiment, where there would be not successes and failures, just variations on a hypothesis.

Because of the nature of the raw material, which was not easy to work with given the lack of tools, the team agreed to focus on the seat of the chair after it was given a new powder coat. They took the paisley fabric, and decided that they would try to replicate this piece with different materials. Johnny etched the pattern on a wooden top, while the others cast concrete into fabric. The result was named “Sculptchair”.

The team used a combination of nylon and spandex, which was stretched between wood sheets to create the formwork. Fishing line and wire was tied underneath to create a mesh that would to push and pull on the fabric. Quick Crete was then poured into the resulting concave and convex form, and was left for a few days to set. The process was repeated with different fabrics and meshes.

At the chair auction, the description stated:
“Sculptchair” is an experimental exploration of the cushioned seat, which features interchangeable chair tops as a playful ode to our interaction with the sitting surface. While molding concrete into fabric, and engraving the original upholstery pattern into the seat, we have literally and figuratively pushed and pulled at the limits of comfort, treating the seat as an object in itself.

Although the chair did not win any prizes, the team had a lot of fun experimenting with wood and fabric-formed concrete. We tried to stay true to the materials and aesthetic that we use in our designs – humble and lasting.

Who knows, maybe we will participate again next year! We want to thank the rest of the members at Feldman Architecture for their encouragement, witty critiques, and their support!

Dzine SF – Medici by the Bay: A New Renaissance for Clients and Architects...

By Lindsey Theobald

A month or so ago, Dzine SF hosted an SF Design Week event entitled “Medici by the Bay: A New Renaissance for Clients and Architects.”  Jonathan was invited as a guest speaker to the luncheon panel, which also included Bay Area architects Matthew Mosey and Irit Axwelrod, as well as developer Greg Malin.  The speakers were also joined by Lissoni Inc.’s CEO Stefano Giussani, representing Pierre Lissoni and their interior design practice.  Lissoni is also a prolific furnishings designer, several pieces of which are well represented by the DZine showroom.

The panel’s discussion focused on design within SF and how it compares to the caliber of design across the world.  Topics they debated ranged from SF’s implementation of cutting edge design practices compared to Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia as well as how we as architects can push our clients out of their comfort zone to then expand our own design boundaries. They questioned how to push forward design in SF while still respecting the regional vernacular of the city, and what could potentially come next.

I was interested in much of what Irit Axelrod discussed.  She often found herself frustrated by the limits of design that local clients typically prefer.  Few clients have been willing to put total trust in her as a designer, choosing instead to play it safe and design up to known regional modernism.  Her aesthetic tends to lean towards raw, warehouse/loft spaces with modern minimalism, but she admitted that she’d be equally as interested in creating an edgy and minimalist interior within a traditional SF Victorian.  Perhaps that juxtaposition would show future clients that the two can coexist.

Jonathan was sympathetic to the struggle between the freedom of pushing design versus responding to our clients own aesthetic comfort level, as well as their pragmatic requests.  Jonathan feels that as a firm we are lucky since most of our clients are great collaborators and put a large amount of trust in us as designers.  We are able to push the envelope on design frequently, knowing that our clients’ design values align with our own, as well as with the world of architecture.

 

Living Future ’18: Designing Solutions...

By Ben Welty

This past May I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend the Living Future 2018 unConference, an annual gathering, now in its 12 year, that is hosted by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The ILFI is best known as the administers of the sustainable design certification program, The Living Building Challenge (LBC), which is widely considered the most difficult green building certification to achieve. A Seattle based collaborative, they’ve emerged on the scene in recent years as a challenger to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and it’s more commonly known green building certification program, LEED.

While still somewhat considered grassroots in relative comparison to the scale of the USGBC and LEED, as interest and participation in the LBC has grown, so has the reputation of the ILFI and the conference itself. The quantity and diversity of the seminars was evidence of this, as the content avoided going stale and structured themes afforded attendees the opportunity to define their own paths without fear of getting lost in the shuffle of what can sometimes feel like convention center musical chairs. Taking this approach I chose to hone my focus on the somewhat familiar but complex topic of water conservation and policy, while also exploring the less commonly known field of Biophilic Design.

The water issue is complex. It’s the only necessity of life for which humans are in direct competition with every living organism that surrounds us. Compounding this are the difficulties we seem to face when it is made abundant, as it oftentimes remains unsuitable or insufficient for human consumption. 11% of the world’s population are currently without access to clean water while 25% do not have access to proper sanitation. Yet even in the most arid of places we’ve learned to harness it, treat it, consume it and release it back into the environment in a symbiotic relationship with land not necessarily suitable for human habitation. So why the struggle?

Simply put, we have the tools to solve the issue of water scarcity but our policies and practices do not currently support this. These points were made clear as one after another passionate speakers made their cases for water conservation, policy and equity, each noble in cause and abundant in information. However, there did seem to be a lack of a common thread between the extremes of the spectrum to tie it all together. For instance, I could not help but feel a disconnect between the conversations surrounding the obstacles of building modern, private residences in arid climates and the struggles of the city of Detroit as they deal with a public water crisis in their marginalized communities. This underscored a social chasm that is the widening gap of privilege vs. poverty, an issue that is manifesting itself at local, national and global levels. But this in no way diminishes the importance of the individual conversations themselves, because as world populations continue to grow and climate change tightens its grip, water scarcity is quickly becoming one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century.

One possible design solution to this growing problem could be found in the concepts of biophilic design, whose modern incarnation is still somewhat emerging in the broader field of sustainable design. I found Living Future ‘18 to be a great platform for these concepts, as I imagine this group is far too often passed off as hippies-cum-scientists selling the idea of nautilus shell living as a means to saving the planet. But that would be cliché, as its core tenets that combine nature and design in order replicate natural processes in the built environment have shaped a movement that, for the most part, has avoided its mission coming off too literal (Read more about biophilic design and the ILFI’s initiative HERE). This point was made clear at the beginning of nearly every seminar I attended on the subject, a sign that they’re conscious that the stigma still exists. That said, the content by and large proved otherwise and as building technology advances and sustainable living engrains itself into the social conscious, it’s predictable that these interests would be widely embraced by the design community. The results of this is a broad catalogue of well-designed, contemporary buildings whose numbers continue to grow. No longer is “good design” exempt from incorporating sustainable features. In fact, good design and sustainable design are becoming synonymous, if we’re not there already. So, moving forward, I’m anxious to see whether or not biophilic design assimilates into our contemporary design language as fluidly as sustainable design has over the past two decades.

While the breadth of the Living Future conference pales in comparison to the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference, the quality, knowledge and passion of the speakers did not fail to impress. And though this year’s group of exhibiting product vendors leaves much to be desired, I trust that the list of participants will become more robust in the years to come as more manufacturers survive the strict vetting process that is a perquisite to attending. So, as the ILFI and its unConference enter its formative teenage years, I anticipate (and hope) that the next step in its growth will be largely subsidized by the design and building industries themselves, as it continues to undergo the transition from admirable ideology to established principle.

Feldman Architecture’s Open (Fire)House!...

By Serena Brown

A little planning goes a long away, and a lot of planning makes for a great event! A few weeks ago we hosted our first Open House Fundraising Event in our new design studio. This has been my project since I started here at Feldman so it was especially satisfying to see it all come to fruition. We invited a number of industry friends and colleagues to visit our newly renovated space and help raise money to benefit those affected by the North Bay fires, in conjunction with Rebuild Wine Country.

Before the big day, our office underwent a transformation. The materials library was converted into our Raffle Hall, with all the gifts that had been graciously donated to us from businesses all around the bay on display. We were given tickets to various museums around the city, gorgeous designer furniture pieces, books and items from local shops, and even a signed Kevin Durant jersey! Overall, a respectable haul.

Our main office space remained largely unchanged, besides the conversion of my desk into the main bar and a raffle ticket station tucked against the far wall. In the days following the event, I kept a pack of wet wipes handy for leftover alcohol stickiness. The upstairs landing housed our second bar and candy station, as well as a few standing tables for mingling and conversation. As the night went on, the main floor became increasingly crowded, thus we did our best to encourage people upstairs to enjoy the view.

We were lucky enough to have Matt Wrobel come by to play two gorgeous guitar performances. My only regret is that there were so many voices that his music got almost completely drowned out! We’ll have to have him back once again for a more intimate gathering. We were also happy to learn that our summer intern Parker has a knack for photography and was able to take snapshots throughout the event. To see some photos and get a glimpse of our new space, head over the Flikr album HERE.

Every staff member had their assigned post for the evening which made the event flow smoothly and my stress levels remain neutral, a rare feat for any event planner! I was happy to see our guests and designers alike mingling, laughing, scouting out raffle prizes, and generally having a wonderful time. The raffle drawing occurred at the conclusion of the evening, and while everyone was able to collect their prizes in the end, I do wish I had thought to get a mic for the announcements. Our golden ticket winner chose to head home with a beautiful bench from Leverone Design. The highly coveted KD jersey ended up going home with someone who had only put one ticket in the jar! Lucky indeed.

Thanks to everyone’s enthusiasm and generosity, we were able to raise $8,500 for our cause. Our goal was set at $10,000, but we had the unfortunate coincidence of hosting our event the same night The Warriors were playing game 4, so perhaps we missed out on a few super-fan guests! I really enjoyed hosting such a fun party in our new space and I hope to do it again in the future.

If anyone is still interested in supporting our cause and donating to Rebuild Wine Country, you can find more information on their website HERE.

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