By Serena Brown
A few weeks ago, our office made the journey across the Bay Bridge to visit a project nearly 10 years in the making. Four houses sit atop a large lot in the East Bay Hills, soon to be occupied by four siblings, along with their families. Originally the site of their childhood home, the lot was cleared and divided to accommodate the new individual structures. Inspired by the five sects of traditional Chinese medicine, each of the four houses embodies a different theme. From left to right, the elements assigned to each are metal, earth, water, and wood. The fifth element, fire, is represented by the fire pit in the shared backyard
We began our tour in the Water House and were immediately introduced to the embodiment of its name—a beautiful water feature running the length of the front door to the kitchen. Following the trough, the floor plan then opens up into the great room, designed with floor to ceiling glass walls and striking white cabinetry. Our designers were able to take their time exploring the house; opening cupboards, meandering through rooms, and enjoying the view. The palette of the Water House is minimalist and clean, with white walls, dark hardwood, and black railings throughout.
By contrast, the Wood House next door feels warmer, its palette consisting of lighter wood panels and honey-colored floors. Its namesake is obvious, a tall wooden wall running the length of the stairs, fitted with subtle strips of light. Adjacent to the wooden wall is a large glass panel spanning both floors, a beautiful detail our designers appreciated in more than one of the four houses. An interesting feature in the living room took a bit of explaining at first glance. The architect had designed a customized sliding mount which was fabricated as a frame for a future commissioned piece of art. By sliding the painting to the left, they’re able to entirely cover their television, transforming the wall into a unique statement piece.
During our tour, the owner of the Wood House explained the process by which they assigned lots to the four siblings. When the project first broke ground, her two year old son was given the task of pulling slips of paper labeled ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ out of hat and handing them to his aunts and uncles. Each slip was connected to a corresponding lot. Whatever letter they received was theirs to inhabit. It seemed like a random and fair system to me!
Next on our tour was the Earth House, aptly represented by a large boulder placed at the foot of the stair in the foyer. The stone was selected by one of the owners amongst the dozens of large boulders unearthed by the excavation for the new homes. He collaborated closely with our design team on many of the more artistic features, many of which are found in his house, the final stop on our tour.
Despite being assigned the element metal, the owner of the final house took inspiration from a different aspect of nature: the sky. Named Sky House, the structure boasts a beautiful floating meditation room, countless skylights, and a roof deck with phenomenal views of the bay. A custom light fixture in the main stairwell was created to represent the steps on the journey after death, the lights creating a path leading up into the heavens.In the meditation room, tucked away at the top of the stairs, two large glass panels replace a section of the floor, giving the illusion of hovering between the earth and the sky. A glass folding door opens up onto the upper deck, adding to the outdoor connection.
The four houses share a backyard, connected by a series of wooden decks and walkways. Behind the Water House sits a pool, surrounded by drainage troughs and newly planted greenery. The owners already have plans for family dinners and shared holidays on the outer deck. The owner of Sky House is especially excited to have the opportunity to watch his nephews grow right outside his door. The individual who seems most pleased by the four-house development is the sibling’s mother, who now has her children and grandchildren all within arm’s reach. During our tour I was inspired and reminded of the closeness of my own family, my mother being the oldest of five siblings. Like this family, we too make efforts each year to spend holidays together and to visit as we scatter further across California. It was wonderful to observe not only the beautiful houses this family has created, but also the close bond they so obviously share. I’m looking forward to seeing the houses fully complete within the next few months as punch lists are wrapped up and personal touches are added in. Special thanks to the family for allowing us to tour and for sharing their special story with us all!
By Mike Trentacosti
As architects/designers, we are trained and trusted with designing, drawing, and supervising the construction of our projects. Very rarely do we find ourselves on a job site rolling up our sleeves and picking up a hammer. This is a dichotomy in our profession that I have often questioned. How, as architects and designers, are we expected to know how to properly draw our buildings if we have never built one ourselves? How are we to detail properly if we do not know the construction sequencing that must take place in order to build that detail correctly and for it to function? Rarely do we as architects get to design, draw, and construct our projects ourselves. So when the opportunity arose recently for me to go help a fellow architect and close friend build his own project, it was an experience I could not pass up.
It all started with a phone call a little over two years ago, from one of my closest friends I had met while studying environmental design at the University of Colorado. During that call, we discussed his plans to purchase a piece of land just off of Highway 1 somewhere between Port Orford and Golden Beach, on the iconic Pacific Northwest coast of Oregon. At the time I had no idea where this was, but judging from the photos he had sent me, the land looked like something out of a movie. Towering redwoods intermixed with that famous Pacific Northwest rain forest. Fog in the mornings and crystal clear blue skies in the afternoon. It was truly magnificent. At the time of the call, I had just returned from a design-build studio praxis where we built a tiny structure, and I was yearning for another opportunity to get my hands dirty and pick up a hammer. As the months passed though, I didn’t hear anything from him and began to wonder if he had followed through on his plans to purchase the property after all.
Finally, a few months ago, I got the call. “Hey buddy, I purchased the land! I’m going to start designing an accessory structure soon, stay tuned.” At that point, I had no idea when the project was finally going to get started, but I knew it was an opportunity I’d wait for. After that phone call, we started having monthly design charrettes over the phone or through face-time, and as they went on the project began to come to life. Next thing I knew, May was rolling around and the dates had been set. My buddy Cam was going to be taking off from his job from late July into early August, with the bulk of the work coming sometime during the final week of the build. So with that information I began to plan my trip. Over another phone call we discussed options of where I should fly into; the land being so remote that there are only a few realistic options for getting to it. Portland was 5 hours north, so that was out. Eugene was three hours northeast, so that was also out. Which left me with my only option. I was to fly into a small remote airport just south of the Oregon/ California border. I reluctantly booked my flight, unsure of what I was getting myself into, and set my plans to travel to Oregon.
As the trip rapidly approached, I began to dive deeper into the project. Phone calls became more and more frequent. We began to construct a list of materials, tools, and a building schedule. The site was still in flux but would be chalked out later. Itineraries were set and the team was rapidly coming together. The build team was to consist of three friends from architecture school, one artist, and myself. A dream team, if you will. Some of us had building experience while others had little to no experience. So right from the get go, I knew it was going to be a learning opportunity for all of us.
Before any of us knew it, it was time to get the project going. I made one last phone call to Cam to wish him the best of luck and let him know that I would be seeing him very soon. As the weeks leading up to my departure approached and passed I began to wonder what was going on with the build. I had reached out to Cam a few times during the weeks leading up, but I was often left in the dark on the build. After our brief conversations, I was frequently left to ponder whether the build was actually even happening or if everything on site was okay. But really, he was keeping me in the dark to ensure that he got the most out of my reaction when I first saw the project. Finally the day came for me to leave. As I sat at my gate about to board a small 20 seat “puddle jumper”, the thought crossed my mind one more time, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I gave Cam one last call, confirmed he was going to be there when I landed, and boarded my flight.
My plane ride was only about 45 minutes, so I found myself in this small remote airport in Crescent City California before I knew it. Of course Cam wasn’t there when I landed, so there was a brief moment of concern, but I found a small picnic table out front of the airport and plopped myself down and waited. After about ten minutes of waiting, I finally saw Cam rapidly approaching. I threw my bag in the back and jumped in. The first thing I noticed was how dirty he was. He was sitting there in the driver’s seat covered in a thick coat of dirt, carpenter pencil behind his ear and a smile on his face. “What’s up buddy… you ready?”
I thought I was ready, but boy was I in for a treat. We departed on our hour and half trip up the coast to the property and for the entirety of the journey I was left in awe of the pure beauty, power, and surrealism that the Pacific Northwest coast has to offer. Once we finally got to his property, it was dark out, so unfortunately I wasn’t fully able to take in full view of the land just yet. I jumped out of the car, greeted my buddies, grabbed a beer and demanded that Cam show me the site. Until this point I had only seen a couple pictures of the project, so I had no idea what state the build was at, nor did I have any real clue as to what the project looked like. With some convincing, we finally began our short but strenuous hike down to the site. As we approached the bottom of the hill he made me stop and slowly turn my light on to what was the building. At first glance I was astounded. But this was still when it was dark out. Therefore I was only able to take in what my headlamp could shed its light on. But there it was, tall sleek V columns protruding up out of the structural framing, with the roof sloping upwards, gently returning back to the hills beyond. I turned back to Cam, and with a smile on his face he said “wait till the morning bud”. We hung around the site for a couple more minutes then climbed back up the hill and hung out around camp, catching up with some old friends for the remainder of the night.
The next morning I was the first one up and eagerly unzipped my tent, only to find one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever witnessed. For an hour or so, I was the only one up, and I just sat there and took in the view. After some coffee, a few stories, and laughs, we all slowly made our way down to the site. As I climbed down the hill, this time with a handful of lumber and my tool belt strapped to my back, I began to get the full experience of the site.
Little by little, step by step, the building started to unveil itself to me, only to be finally framed by the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. The building was perfectly sited on the corner of a hill gently touching back to the land. I sat there for a few moments in absolute awe. I practically dropped all the lumber. I turned back to Cam, who just smiled back at me. Not a word was said between us in that interaction but somehow we both knew what the other was thinking.
Finally, I collected myself and got down to it. I discussed with Cam my role on the build and we got right to it. I was in charge of hanging all of the slatted 2×2 members that were to wrap the entirety of the building. Cam and I sat there for a few minutes discussing and drawing out the sequencing of the design and detailing of the rain screen. Then, piece by piece, we assembled the slatted wall. As we went along, we experienced ups and we experienced downs. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned. That’s the beauty of building. It’s never perfect but it’s what you take out of the process that stays with you longer than the successes of the build. I think those are some of the most important lessons that I was able to take out of this project. Every build is different, each offering its own hardships and lessons, but it’s overcoming those challenges that ultimately helps you progress as a designer and builder.
Over the few days I was on site, we experienced quite a few of these challenging moments. We would work from sunup till past sundown. We worked until we weren’t able to see in front of our faces and we were only able to build what was lit by our headlamps or lanterns. It was as true of a learning experience that I have ever had.
Then as quickly as it started, it ended. The last day of the build was upon us. There was a lot left to do. When we woke up that morning, there was an unspoken determination amongst us that the goal of the day was to progress the project as far as we could before we had to wrap up to shoot the project with whatever light remained. When the day finally wrapped up, we rushed to clean up the site. Then we all of took one collective moment before the shoot to sit on the deck as a group, enjoy a cold beer and soak in everything that had led up to this moment. It was in that moment that I turned around and caught Cam in a moment of reflection. It’s moments like that as an architect that you strive for. He sat back and soaked in what he was able to not only design but create with his own two hands. This as an architect is the moment in which you realize you were able to take a drawing, consisting of only lines, and turn it into something real. That moment where you see your true potential, where you realize you took a pile of raw lumber, pieced it together, and turned it into a true sculpture; when you see the idea you imagined finally come to fruition. That night, we wrapped up the photo shoot, cleaned up the site some more, and just sat on the deck and enjoyed our last moments with the structure*
The next morning, we all woke up at the crack of dawn, grabbed a couple more pictures of the project, packed up our belongings, and said our goodbyes. As we left the land and drove up the coast, I spent those moments reflecting on what I had learned from this trip. It was at that time that I reflected on the power of building. I think as architects, we often take building for granted as we only get to experience it from a one sided perspective. When we get the rare opportunity to experience the other side, it is the lessons that we draw from those success and failures that ultimately make us better designers and architects.
*This project is still ongoing as it is planned to evolve over time with its program
Designed By: Cameron LeBleu
Photography By: Maxwell Justman
By Heera Basi
While most of the country is basking in the summertime heat, here in San Francisco the summer fog has me dreaming of sunshine and the outdoors. Fortunately, our summer is just around the corner and there is no better or more fabulous way to soak up that experience than GLAMPING! I recently learned of a Japanese resort that epitomizes the Glamping experience – the Hoshinoya Fuji. Ever since learning about this resort, I have been inspired by their design philosophy, approach to hospitality, and connection to the landscape and local surroundings. As a member of the Feldman Architecture Interiors team, I will certainly be looking to this glamping resort for inspiration on my next project!
© NACASA & PARTNERS INC.
The Hoshinoya is an experience based luxury resort company that is equivalent to a lifestyle brand. Their philosophy focuses on much more than just the basic hotel function of providing a place for tourists and travelers to sleep. From the food, activities, siting, and most importantly, the design, the Hoshinoya approach focuses on stimulating all the senses and providing a completely immersive and transformative experience. They market the guest experience through a storytelling narrative – detailing the arrival, stay, and feelings upon departure.
The Hoshinoya Fuji resort is tucked into the foothills of Mount Fuji above Lake Kawaguchi. Appealing to local climbers and tourists looking to get out of the city, the resort offers an elevated and luxurious glamping experience. As they say: “Glamping is a stylish form of play designed to stimulate these dormant senses –without the toil and labor associated with camping– but it requires a suitably sophisticated playground to be effective.” Guests are greeted by the smell of smoke from a large campfire, the sound of leaves crunching under foot, and are encompassed by the forest and eventually the breathtaking views of Mt Fuji.
Azuma Architect & Associates designed the resort to give visitors different levels and qualities of the glamping experience. The site is broken up into two zones: the lower cabin zone and the upper cloud zone.
© NACASA & PARTNERS INC; Hoshinoya Fuji Resort
The cabins are sited such that the approach leads visitors through the woods, and upon entering their individual cabin they are greeted with a majestic view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi. The architecture is not literally evocative of a cabin in the woods, which would be a simplistic and one-dimensional approach. Instead the cabins are made from concrete and glass. What could be seen as an ultra-modern and cold experience in fact breaks down and abstracts the core elements of camping to a glamorous core. Each concrete unit is staggered, and this shifting allows each one to have a view of Fuji beyond. The cabin interiors are also minimalist, alluding to the idea that the outdoor experience is simpler and less adorned. Additionally, each cabin has a balcony that comes fixed with a wood stove to emulate the experience of sitting around a campfire. This understated elegance also accentuates the views of the adjacent lake and natural surroundings, making the views and outdoors the primary focus of the experience.
© NACASA & PARTNERS INC; Hoshinoya Fuji Resort
In contrast to the cabin zone, the upper cloud zone has no dramatic views and instead focuses more internally on the experience of being immersed in the woods. This zone includes a dining area, café, and gathering space for guests. The wooden platforms that comprise the cloud zone are sited so that they float above the forest.
As a takeaway, just remember: “Glamping is simply a conduit for delivering the finest offerings of the wild.”
Next Step: Scheming a way to visit in person and make this summer daydream a reality!
By Humbeen Geo
We were told multiple times that we came to New York at the perfect time. Parks were blooming, the sun was shining, and the nights were warm enough to walk around without layers. But the humidity… I heard way too many tongue metaphors. The city immediately grabs and captivates you with the people, the street, and the art. San Francisco can often feel preserved. New York felt like it had so many layers: trends dying and emerging, cultures replacing, morphing, and really alive. We will never pass up the opportunity to visit places like the Whitney or the Highline; however, it was pleasant and fulfilling to just walk around without aim.
By Ben Welty
My wife and I spent our honeymoon in southeast Asia this past January visiting the northern and southern regions of both Thailand and Vietnam. The first stop was Chiang Mai, Thailand, for temple touring, hiking with and feeding and bathing rescued elephants at a preserve, white water rafting, and visiting remote villages via ATV in the Golden Triangle. However, the best part of our stay was participating in a Thai cooking class where we got to visit local markets and using the ingredients we found there to make our new favorite Thai dish, Khao Soi! After Chiang Mai we were off to Koh Lanta in southern Thailand for some rest, relaxation, snorkeling and motor biking before heading off to Vietnam.
We spent our first night in Vietnam in Hanoi before making the trip to Halong Bay for a 3 day, 2 night cruise. Though overcast for most of the trip that did not take away from the experience of exploring one of the most unique geological formations in the world. The views were breathtaking and it was truly an amazing experience waking up on the water in the midst of towering, monolithic limestone islands covered by rainforests. Finally, our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City where we spent our last few days exploring the city, taking in some somber history at the War Museum, and dining at a rooftop restaurant during a very rare Super Blue Moon.
Overall it was an amazing experience! Great people, great food and great culture. We will be visiting again!
By Matt Lindsay
At the end of 2017, my wife Abby and I traveled for just over two weeks to South Africa and Victoria Falls. The main purpose of the trip was to visit Abby’s cousin and her family, who are currently serving their third tour as employees for USAID in Harare, Zimbabwe. We agreed to meet them in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday, but spent the first four days of our vacation in the eastern South African Lowveld on the Timbavati Game Reserve. From our lodge in the bush, we were treated to twice-daily guided game drives where we saw an unbelievable array of wildlife: endless birds, baboons, leopards, lions, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and more.
After relaxing days on safari, we flew to Cape Town to meet up with our family for the holiday. Despite being a world away, Cape Town felt very familiar to us San Franciscans. The center city is densely populated and sits at the foot of towering mountains that overlook the broad bay. During our stay, we experienced some of the city’s most popular attractions, with a hint of Bay Area nostalgia: urban hikes (Lion’s Head and Table Mountain), great museums (Zeitz MOCAA), wine regions (Stellenbosch), a decommissioned island prison turned historic landmark (Robben Island), and even an impending water crisis…
After Christmas, we flew from Cape Town to the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia where the Zambezi River surges over Victoria Falls and cuts a narrow canyon through the surrounding hills. Despite a few frustrating border crossings and battling the crowds at the falls, we found unmatched natural beauty at the falls and in the surrounding river valley. From our river lodge, we were also able to explore local villages and spot more wildlife including hippos, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and monkeys. After fifteen incredible days, our first visit to Africa was over and we made the long journey by plane straight over the top of the globe and back to San Francisco.