Expertise in our Backyard: William Stout Architectural Books...

Just around the corner from our office, on a quiet stretch of Montgomery Street lined by brick facades and a procession of leafy trees, William Stout Architectural Books has offered a quiet refuge and resources to the neighborhood for twenty years.  With over 20,000 American and international titles in the fields of architecture, art, urban planning, graphic and industrial design, furniture design, interior design, and landscape architecture, the discreet bookstore has become both a neighborhood staple and tourist destination.
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Bill Stout, the store’s eponymous founder, began as an architect and still “lives, eats, breaths design and architecture,” according to Carolina, an expert in design publications and a store employee.   Over thirty years ago, Bill began bringing architectural books back from Europe for friends, and eventually turned the hobby into the business that it is today, which includes a publishing company for talented architects with little exposure.  Bill’s passion for design has attracted equally passionate employees; Carolina comes from a family of designers and printers, and she studied Graphic Design in college.

Her colleague, Ian, used to practice design fulltime, and before becoming an employee at William Stout, he was a customer.  Indeed, many of the store’s customers are professionals in the industry who come to William Stout in search of inspiration or insight.  Ian describes them as “people who use the books for function rather than leisure,” and says that the comment he hears the most often is “I wish I had more time!”  Not only do customers wish for more time to pour over the many volumes on the crowded shelves lining the stores walls and creating aisles in the center of the crowded space, but they are also often required to make a return visit to tap the considerable knowledge of the store’s employees like Ian and Carolina.  William Stout has become a networking tool, or “directory,” the pair says, and they are often asked to recommend professionals as resources or consultants for their customers.   As it grew to become a cultural hub, the store’s clientele expanded to include tourists, as well.  “It’s a destination,” Carolina explains.  “You come here just like you would go to the MOMA.”

While the clientele has changed over the decades, the passion behind the business and the bones of the operation have remained true to their original forms.  Even the rise in digital publishing has done little to curb the store’s success.  Carolina believes that they experience of thumbing through a book, its “tactility” and “intimacy,” is too different from browsing a publication online for the two media to be in competition.

With a treasure trove of monographs on talented architects, complete with stunning images and well-honed text, it is challenging for a publication to stand out on the shelf and in the mind of the reader.  According to the pros at William Stout, though, there are a few qualities that make a publication compelling.  “Type is essential,” says Ian, whose own favorite book in the collection, Manuals 1: Design and Identity Guidelines, explores examples of graphic design from companies and institutions who capitalized on the science behind what makes a certain font, layout, or color scheme more compelling.  Monographs published in an architect’s prime, or even as promotional material for newer firms, can be just as successful as books published at the end of an architect’s career.  “Both have great energy” explains Carolina, “It’s the enthusiasm and confidence of the younger architects versus the experience and wisdom of the more accomplished ones.”  She finds herself drawn to collections that exhibit a “formidable character,” identifying Louis Kahn as engaging individual who maintained the same level as artistry in words as he did in his designs; if the architect’s a compelling person, his or her book will be, too.

At Feldman Architecture, we feel lucky to have such a rich resource just around the corner, available for insight or inspiration on any day of the week.  It is clear that Bill Stout’s passion for the intersection of design and books both casts a legacy that will remain meaningful for decades to come and extends to his employees.  As I step back across the shop’s threshold and into the sunshine of Montgomery Street, I catch Carolina pulling a definitive guide to graphic design off of the shelf for a customer at the front of the store.   Flipping through its pages, slowing to show its glossy images to the woman at her side, she smiles.  “This is kind of like the Bible,” she says.

-Abigail Bliss

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Vancouver in 3 Days: Where to Go, How to Get There, and What to Eat as an Architect in the City...

After five years since our move to the US, we decided it was high time that we expand our travels beyond the borders of the country. The province of British Columbia has always held a strong allure to us for its stunning landscapes and fascinating culture. So I was thrilled when the better half planned a surprise getaway to Vancouver for my birthday.  Four days felt awfully inadequate but we decided to roll with it. A short early morning flight transported us to a very warm sultry Vancouver. The airport with its wonderful First Nation sculptures and totem poles hinted at the rich history of British Columbia. A large ‘living wall’ affirmed Vancouver’s reputation for being one of the early adopters of environmental sustainability. The Skytrain took us through the suburbia to a very urban jungle that is Downtown Vancouver. We Airbnb’ed at a condo right in the heart of Gastown, one of the historic neighborhoods that is a surreal mix of high-rise buildings and cobbled maple tree-lined streets with vintage streetlights and a historic steam clock to boot!

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We realized immediately that this was a city where public transportation was supreme. The ‘waterfront-town’ is densely populated with a small footprint of 44 sq. miles. Across the peninsula is North Vancouver, accessible by the sea-bus and by road. We got ourselves travel passes and set out to explore our hood, Gastown by foot. We were within walking distance to the famous 17mile SeaWall that forms the waterfront wrapping around the city. One could see the snow-capped tips of the Grouse Mountain in the distance. The SeaWall starts at Canada Place – known for its iconic Sails of Light. Right next to it is the impressive new convention center – a majestic waterfront development with a six-acre living roof, the largest in North America in a non-industrial context. We hopped on a bus that took us to the famous Stanley Park. Unlike the Golden Gate Park which is fairly introverted and embedded in the heart of San Francisco, Stanley Park fingers out from the city, thus allowing views of Vancouver that change as one walks the wall. We took trails into the park at different points alternating between dense wild shaded vegetation to emerge again at the perimeter wall delighting in a different view of the city. We exited the park and headed to our pad by bus, exhausted but excited about our dinner plans. We had reservations at the popular Forage known for it’s locally-sourced innovative menu.  It did not disappoint my vegetarian palette. We strolled back home taking in the expanses of open urban spaces between the dense high rise condos. The lights had started coming on and the city glowed, draped by the ever-present shimmering water. This was a truly urban oasis where people lived outdoors than in their cramped condos. The city felt safe.

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On day two, we walked to  Medina Cafe, a Mediterranean restaurant with a solid reputation for unique flavors and the best Belgian waffles in the city. We beat the long queues and got ourselves a table within the hour. Pleased with brunch, we set forth to take the sea bus to North Vancouver. We landed at Vancouver’s carnival style farmer’s market at the Lonsdale Quay – a visual treat with its fresh produce and local vibe.

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We proceeded to our next destination- the Lynn Canyon public park with its suspension bridge and miles of hiking trails. Per our host’s recommendation, we chose Lynn Canyon over the more popular touristy Capillano Suspension Bridge park. We hiked for a few hours and then took a taxi to the foothills of the Grouse mountain. The Grouse mountain is accessible only by a gondola skyride that takes you over the forest to the a chalet on top. An alternative is the daunting but highly popular Grouse Grind hike aka ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’ involving 2800 odd steps through dense forest. We took the gondola — let’s say only because we were out of time. Ahem. The chalet at the top houses a few restaurants and a theater. A short hike took us to our first sighting of two rescued grizzlies that live there. They seemed very indifferent to our presence. We walked around the chalet to capture the panoramic vistas of the city across. A bus, a sea-bus and a train took us back into the city within the hour. Soon we headed out for our Italian night — to Lupo, a Vancouver icon in the entertainment district of Yaletown. Located in a charming heritage house with interconnected rooms, the menu was limited but inspired. We concluded a fabulous birthday dinner with a creme brûlée that was to die for. We walked home. The streets and landmarks were beginning to feel familiar…

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Day three – we walked a different section of the SeaWall to board an aquabus that took us to Granville Island- an old industrial hub that has been revived by local artists who set up their workshops in these factories. Weekends draw large crowds from the city. The tiny peninsula is animated with live music and fresh food at the large public market, accompanied by shopping unique finds at the artist workshops and boutiques. We picked up a few tchotkches and set forth to the piece-de-resistance of the day, the Museum of Anthropology by the Canadian modernist, Arthur Erickson. The museum is set in the large lush campus grounds of the University of British Columbia. The campus boasts of a good number of modern buildings but the museum was the jewel in the crown. The collection focuses on artefacts of the First Nation, the Canadian Aboriginals of the NorthWest Coast, though it has an extensive ethnographic collection of cultures from around the world. The strikingly modern building cleverly reinterprets the post-and-beam architecture of the First Nation people in concrete. Staggered concrete frames are spanned by vaulted skylights that filter natural light strategically into the museum spaces. The varying heights of the vaults along with a gentle slope in the floor, gradually expands the volume of the central exhibit area. The space culminates in a frameless glass wall that seamlessly merges into the outside. The outdoor landscape is marked by a reflecting pool and a few reconstructed Haida houses with signature totem poles acting as coordinates.  We were unable to do justice to the vast collection housed in the museum but it was really the architecture that was our main focus. It inspired, and humbled, leaving us in a contemplative state of mind. Like all good museums, the MoA has a great gift shop. We picked up some wonderful prints of modern reinterpretation of First Nation art by local artists.

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The mythology of the First Nation and their survival despite colonization and repeated pressures to assimilate, runs strong. At the MoA, we had discovered the works of Bill Reid, a true Renaissance man who drew from his Haida roots as a sculptor, carver, goldsmith and artist. Reid was one of the pivotal figures that championed the cause of the First Nation people and gave their art legitimacy in modern history. Born to a mother who was a Haida, Bill immersed himself in their culture and became one of the leading artists of his time. We knew we had to make time to visit the Bill Reid Gallery set right in Downtown Vancouver. The next day, we chose to skip the larger Vancouver Art Gallery and visit this tiny gem instead. Tucked away in the bustling downtown neighborhood, this building though surrounded by high-rises doesn’t get dwarfed. Well-proportioned and thoughtfully detailed, the gallery is carefully curated with permanent exhibits by Bill and a few by his protégés. The silver and gold jewelry display by Reid are spectacular. The gift shop offers a varied collection of original aboriginal art. We couldn’t be happier with our decision to visit here on our last day. It felt like an appropriate homage to conclude our first venture into British Columbia.

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In a little over three days, we had gained some insights into the story of the First Nation people and into the cosmopolitan urban pulse of Vancouver, it’s most populous and popular city today. As someone born and raised in India, there was a comfortable familiarity with Vancouver’s British influences- be it describing temperature in degree Celsius, distances in kilometers or getting a ‘bill’ at the end of a meal 😉 We explored the nightlife on our last night. No vacation of ours is quite complete without a sampling of the local music scene. Gastown was perfect for our quest. We walked the streets exploring a few bars and clubs. We settled on one which had a live jazz session. It was evidently a neighborhood haunt as the regulars seemed to know each other. It wasn’t touristy. We had lucked out with warm sunny days for our entire vacation concluding with a smattering of rain as we made our exit. This was a fun trip- a teaser that had whetted our appetite for more. We knew we would be back…soon. – Anjali

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Barcelona: The Common Ground between Gaudi and Tapas...

This fall my wife and I traveled to Barcelona with a contradicting agenda:  Relaxation and exploration.

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We’re no strangers to Western Europe, but neither us had made it to Spain in our previous travels.  We decided to stay in the city for a full week, wanting to sink in and get to know Barcelona.  The only items on our agenda were to relax and gain a renewed perspective.

We stayed at a small apartment on the edge of the Eixample and Gracia districts with ceramic tile floors and a vaulted brick ceiling.  Heavy wood French doors opened onto a small balcony that had enough room for a cafe table and chairs.  The street below buzzed with cars, scooters and pedestrians.

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The Eixample was once a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of the dense Gothic quarter.  In recent years, it has become home to high-end retail and trendy dining.  The neighborhood scale is defined by large blocks and tree-lined boulevards that terminate in octagonal intersections intended to provide increased openness and ventilation.

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In sharp contrast, the Gracia to the north is an energetic, unpredictable neighborhood. Many streets are scaled to fit only pedestrians or scooters.  Dense blocks of cafés and markets open up into unexpected plazas with children playing and adults socializing.  The Gracia feels like a tight-knit community   ̶  a city within a city.

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The northern tip of the Gracia is capped by Antoni Guadi’s Park Guell.  The park reflects Gaudi’s naturalist style and free-form organic tile mosaics.  At first glance, the park resembles a greatest hits album.  All of Gaudi’s architectural styles fit neatly into one park.  A closer look reveals an artist in his prime experimenting with organic shapes and skewed structural forms.

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Later, we found Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion tucked among stately civic buildings.  Van der Rohe’s flawless modern details provided a few quiet moments and a lot of inspiration.  The pavilion is constructed primarily with steel, stone and marble slabs  ̶  heavy materials that paradoxically achieve lightness, texture and a unique warmth.

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We explored the city’s culinary scene alongside its architecture and found that both traditions are deeply rooted in history.  Tapas and pastries rule the streetscape.  Every block of the city seems to boast a beautiful pastry shop and multiple cafes spilling onto the sidewalk, where residents enjoy their ritual late-afternoon beers and salty snack

Just as Gaudi experimented in his work, many local chefs in Barcelona are taking risks by studying food on a molecular level and reassembling tastes and textures into something modern yet familiar. Bodega 1900, located in the Poble Sec neighborhood, presents itself as a classic Vermuteria – a casual gathering place for tapas and Vermouth.  Chef Albert Adria, a stalwart in molecular gastronomy, uses modern cooking techniques to recreate classic tapas in unexpected ways.  Though many of Adria’s dishes are conceived through the lens of modern technique, they remain soulful and deeply rooted in Barcelona’s culinary history.

Experimentation seems vital to the Catalan capital; Barcelona remains vibrant by respecting its collective history and embracing artists that forge a new path forward.

On our final morning in Barcelona, we embraced the spirit of experimentation by emptying our pockets of all our spare Euros and purchasing enough pastries to cover our small kitchen table.

 

 

Catching up with the Client: Nicole on Fitty Wun...

“I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the noises,” reads a quote scrawled in red marker and attributed to the family’s oldest son, one of the many funny phrases salvaged from the three boys’ childhood and preserved on the wall in Fitty Wun’s kitchen as a Christmas present to their mother.   All of the quotes are goofy, both nonsensical and honest in the way that only small children can be, but this sentence in particular stands out as appropriate for the space.  From the kitchen, I look up into a three-story atrium that stretches from the ground level entry-way, through the home’s open public spaces, to the bedrooms and quiet office above.  Ringed with a steel staircase, this cavernous vertical space is often full of the clamor of boys bouncing off the walls, running their house through cycles of chaos and control, with their mother, Nicole, presiding over the activity from its central hub in the kitchen.  “The house completely deconstructs when everyone is in it, but this is a house that my kids can’t break.  We built this house to use it,” she says.

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And use it, they do.  On weekday nights, the family’s oldest son camps out at the corner of the table in the dining room at the front of the house, a pile of homework in front of him; his younger brother spreads his toys across the floor of the family room; and the third perches on one of the red stools at the kitchen island, close to his mother.  “This is where the school bus drops off.  This is my corner of the world,” Nicole says of the kitchen, where she often finds herself “flitting around, cooking, and checking on homework.”  From it, she can see through the dining room out on to the quiet Cole Valley street in one direction and into the family room at the home’s rear façade in the other.  She can call up through the atrium to any room in the house or downstairs to the family den, where cartoons of baseball parks across the country line the wall.  From her “command station” in the kitchen, she is constantly visually and audibly connected to her family; Fitty Wun is first and foremost a family house.

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The family first purchased the house in 2006, drawn to it not for the structure itself, but for the garden space behind it.  At that point in time, the house was just one floor, and all three boys shared a single room.  There was no way the structure could accommodate the family’s three boys, two cats, one dog, and active lifestyle; they began to develop concepts for the home’s renovation.  Among them were three ‘must-haves’ that remained intact throughout the entirety of the design process, and Nicole enjoyed watching her family’s visions turn into their quotidian spaces: “The process was really fun.  There was a lot of laughing.  I miss that process – the word collaborative was exactly what it was.”

While the family knew that space in the city was a luxury, their first ‘must-have’ was an open, communal living area, which they preferred to packing in extra bedrooms or bathrooms.  Today, the kids only sleep in their bedrooms; the family prefers to live together, in shared spaces, at the center of their home.  In addition to being set on an open central space, the family was intent on putting the outdoor spaces of their home to good use.  Nicole’s favorite spot in the house is its crowning green roof, and the sliding glass doors between the living room and the backyard where the boys and their friends congregate to play basketball and run barefoot are almost always open.  “That whole concept of living indoors and outdoors?” she says, “We actually do it.”  The third and final ‘must-have’ was a quiet office that would function as a pocket of calm in an active household.  The architects responded with a floating pod that hangs above the atrium and its echoes bouncing off the walls, presiding over the activity from a quiet, removed perch.  It’s where the oldest son and his father retreat to watch The Walking Dead every week; the pod has become the residence’s “man cave” as the boys grow older.  Still, their mother insists that no one in the family ever does more than “pretend to be a grownup,” and if the house has weathered well under the weight of growing boys’ feet, the family’s sense of playfulness has remained equally intact.  “Our idea of art is superheroes and Legos,” Nicole confides.

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I visited the home on a recent Wednesday morning, when a rare sense of calm had settled over Fitty Wun.  The family dog napped in the sunshine, the plastic figurines that usually lie strewn across the living room rug had been tucked away, and the home’s Hallmark swing hung still and empty.  The sunlight streamed in through one side of the atrium as we climbed the stairs towards the green roof, and by the time we descended back down towards the entryway, having explored the loft spanning the boys’ bedrooms and looked out through the master bedroom’s full height windows onto the green backyard, it filtered in through a second side, bound to peek its way through each edge of the atrium’s rim before setting.  No matter how many times the sun circles and sets, though, the home doesn’t lose its everyday, Lego-laden charm, says Nicole: “We love this house every single day.”

– Abigail Bliss

A Year In Review – Kat Hebden...


A year ago I traveled from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco to work as an Architectural Graduate. I had not been to America before but chose to live in one city for the duration of my stay because I hoped to experience an intimate sense of place and people in such a diverse and vast country. On a Saturday afternoon I emerged from the 24th Street Mission Bart Station into a vibrant world of color and music. What followed was an unforgettable 13 months immersed in new landscapes and communities with the opportunity to be part of an innovative and design-focused studio, Feldman Architecture. I learned so much from my colleagues, who became mentors, neighbors and lifelong friends.kat4kat2Kat1

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In between exploring the hills of San Francisco I was lucky enough to visit ten states, but California with her redwood forests, endless coastline, lakes and mountains was home. My path quickly fell off the Lonely Planet page with the overwhelming hospitality of new friends and their families. I spent my first white Christmas listening to country in Yosemite, fished the shores of Tahoe on the Fourth of July, surfed the breaks of San Diego Thanksgiving morning and hunted for matzah in the Mission. It was great to be able to celebrate each holiday once and also to be in San Francisco to enjoy other occasions such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and title wins for the Giants and Warriors.

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My friends taught me how to shoot, how to shuck an oyster and crack a crab, how fast to run from each wildlife species and the intricacies of football. How to go forward on a horse and backward on a kayak and to be more adventurous, confident and spontaneous. I learned of site, materiality, climate and craft. The intent of the pilot visa I was issued is to encourage cultural exchange between our countries. I could not have imagined how much I would learn and now carry with me from this experience. The photos I have included are of California but remind me of the people I shared the memories with. I would like to thank everyone at Feldman Architecture for their support, incredible generosity and for every opportunity and experience they gave me.

Kia ora is a Te reo Maori greeting also used to give thanks and feels fitting here.

Kia ora friends,

Kat

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The Broad Museum...

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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles, during its first few weeks of opening. I suppose it is only in our youth that we consider actions that require us to leave the comfort of our beds, drive for six hours, and arrive in a city at 5:00 AM for the sole reason of visiting a museum.

With no tickets, our only recourse was to wait in line. We thought we had arrived early. We also thought it was autumn. We were wrong on both counts. People actually cheered when an attendant emerged from the building pushing a cart full of water bottles.

Standing outside, it struck me that the museum’s building will inevitably draw its context from the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The contrasts seem clearly intentional: containment vs accumulation, repetition vs fragmentation.

 

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Within the museum, there is a very simple, but experientially, very strong differentiation between the lower and upper floors. I would liken it to the Titanic: the dark, subterranean underbelly of the engine room almost defies belief that just a few floors above, people are dancing in a sparkling, luminous ballroom.

In the lobby, the dark walls have been molded perfectly smooth. And within this polished surface, the gentle slopes and curves of the wall give way to a singular void, where people are swallowed whole to be led upward. It’s not merely a simple change in elevation; one quite literally emerges from the cave below into a place of light.

– Humbeen

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