Living Building Challenge Series: Registration and Just Label

Happy Earth Day! This year
we’re excited to add an installment to our
Living Building Challenge blog series, tracking our progress with Curveball, which will aim to be our first project to achieve a Living Building Challenge certification, as well as the first residential certification at CORE level or higher in California. The Living Building Challenge is an ever-evolving certification program enacted by the International Living Future Institute, and is considered the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. The regenerative design framework aims to create spaces that give more than they take – connecting occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community. LBC certified buildings are self-sufficient, remain within the resource limits of their site, and create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them. We hope that Curveball can serve as a case study in residential buildings that not only mitigate their environmental impact, but also are net positive and regenerative. Click here to see an interactive map of current registered and certified projects. 

Our most recent milestone involved successfully registering the project with the ILFI as a living building a process in which the institute scrutinizes the application, ensuring that the building’s design will at least reach the CORE certification standards, which even without obtaining additional “petals,” are extremely rigorous. A major hurdle in the approval of our application involved communicating the unique significance of the site and its surrounding community – the Santa Lucia Preserve. The Preserve is a land trust that includes 18,000 acres of protected land, as well as 2,000 acres of land strategically carved out for residential development. Once a parcel is purchased within the 2,000 acres of land dedicated to development, the owners commit to dividing the site into homeland and openland – meaning that a very small part of the site can contain a building footprint. The owners act as stewards of their own lots, with help from the Santa Lucia Conservancy, which is dedicated to the conservation of the other 18,000 acres and works to keep that land open for public use.  

Our team had originally identified the project site as an ecological habitat (Transect L1), but with guidance from the institute, reassigned it as a Rural Zone (Transect L2). We were able to present evidence that the project site was formerly developed (ranch lands), and hence not an undisturbed site. Our documentation for the Ecology of Place Petal will include extensive research and documentation about the history of not only the Santa Lucia Preserve, but also the site itself and its significance to the local ranching community, as well as the preserve’s continued commitment to the Rumsen Ohlone tribe.

After achieving this major milestone (project registration), we are feeling confident in our ability to achieve an LBC CORE certification and have a renewed sense of motivation to pursue additional petals – most significantly the Energy petal, which would require the structure to function with net positive energy. We are also excited to pursue the Materials petal, which would ensure that the building avoids the majority of the toxic materials and practices identified on the Red List. The process involves a significant amount of advocacy, transparency, and cooperation from our industry partners to move towards a truly responsible materials economy. 

Additionally, we have benefitted greatly from seeking guidance and support from our peers – we spoke with the MFLA, Piechota Architecture, and Cello Maudru Construction teams about Silver Oak Winery, a local example of a Living Building certified project. Their willingness to guide and share has helped us immensely and inspired us to document our journey and provide guidance to our peers and community in a similar fashion.  

The Living Building Challenge certification requires a member of the project team to be Just Label Certified – and we’re excited to announce that Feldman Architecture will be pursuing Just certification as well this year. The Just Label is an additional ILFI certification for businesses and corporations, acting as “a nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations.” As a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations rather than a certification program, it’s a transparency platform for organizations to disclose their operations, including how they treat their employees and where they make financial and community investments. Our CSR Committee is currently working to investigate and self-report on our studio’s performance and policies in categories such as Diversity & Inclusion, Equity, Employee Health and Benefits, Stewardship, and Purchasing and Supply Chain. Upon completion, we’ll be able to share our scorecard publicly, identifying where we can improve, new policies we’ve enacted, and where we already excel. Stay tuned for more!  

Staff Spotlight: Yulia Korneeva

Q: Where are you from?
I was born in Siberia, Russia and spent all of my childhood and adolescence there. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not cold all year around, a lot of Siberia has four seasons and springtime is glorious (it typically comes pretty late, snow fully melts around May). When I turned 18, I moved to Saint Petersburg, Russia with my family and went to college. I lived there for four years before moving to the United States for grad school.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I went to college in Saint Petersburg, receiving a bachelor’s degree in international relations. Afterwards, I went to Lincoln University in Oakland for grad school, majoring in business and finance. And finally, I decided to change my career path, and pursued an architectural and interior design program at UC Berkeley, which led me to where I am today!

Q: Tell me about your family.
All my family is in Russia. I try to visit them as often as I can, but lately it’s become almost impossible. I have a younger brother who is a UX designer and a younger sister who is a freshman in college. She is currently studying to become a structural engineer and was hugely inspired by my career path.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
The Last of Us. Funnily enough, I’ve been really into foraging and learning more about mushrooms as of late. Mycelium is a fascinating stuff and I’m not surprised there is a show (and a video game) about humans turned into zombies by mushrooms.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I got more into baking. I really enjoy not only how technical baking is, but also how sometimes you need to trust your gut and experiment with ratios and flavors. And of course, I appreciate when people enjoy what I’ve made. I’ve also decided to learn Italian.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
The most fascinating thing about architecture is that buildings and humans have an unspoken connection. There is a dialogue between people and the spaces they inhabit. Client needs, preferences, and desires are what make each project unique. I also believe that there’s a bond between the built environment we craft and live in and its natural setting.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
The best projects are the ones where the client trusts your vision but also pushes your creative mind. I like working on houses that are simple, elegant, and have a sense of belonging to the site. I also like when everything has a purpose, and the design is fully functional.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?

  1. Open floor plan
  2. Substantial fenestration to welcome in more natural light.
  3. Repurposed/salvaged materials like marble countertops in the kitchen – that’s every baker’s dream. I’m also constantly aware of how much natural stone ends up in landfills post demolition, and how special it would be to give it a second life.
  4. Reading nook.
  5. Custom designed shoe display. I’m a shoe addict and collect designer shoes, so it would be nice to have a way to showcase my entire collection.

CRAFT: Chris French Metal

In the next installment of our CRAFT series, which highlights the varied work of the artists, makers, curators, and craftspeople that inspire and elevate our work, we spoke with Chris French, founder of Chris French Metal. Formally established in 2001 CFM has grown into a talented and highly skilled team of artists, designers, and fabricators, a meticulous studio providing high quality details and services to many of our best projects.

How did you first start honing your craft? Tell me about your background in fine arts.
Art was an accident; our whole business was somewhat of an accident. I grew up building; starting with LEGOs, which evolved into skateboard ramps, then speaker boxes for my low rider, and later furniture for my bedroom. I was simply doing what I knew how to do and what I was good at. I was not a good student, school was very hard for me, but in drafting class and wood shop I was the quintessential ‘A’ student. I wasn’t raised in an academic environment and had no basis to articulate what specifically interested me – this meant my discovery of “craft” happened later in life.

It wasn’t until I met an incredible group of friends at Arizona State University that I knew I could do something with the “craft” I had been inadvertently developing throughout my life. I graduated from ASU with a BFA in Sculpture and immediately moved to San Francisco in March of 1997. I was doing the typical artist thing back then – get a gallery in as many states as you could, create a new body of work every two years, and ship it around for exhibition. I had success with this model, but struggled with the artist’s statements and academically articulating the conceptual aspects of my work. I felt like I was right back in school.

Simultaneously, I was making functional objects for people and those functional objects became handrails, guardrails, and eventually a spiral staircase. This pragmatic approach to metal fabrication scratched a similar itch as my fine art practice but did not have all the conceptual and academic demands around its meaning. I followed this path and here we are 22 years later.

What originally drew you to metalwork? What sets metal apart from other materials you’ve worked with?
I think the immediacy of shape and the ability to change it just as quickly is what originally drew me in.

How does your early career and previous experience in the industry influence your work today?
I don’t see what we do at Chris French Metal as art. I guess I would say that studying art gave me a language to talk about what I see. I’ve always been a looker, someone who notices the nuances in the ordinary, but it wasn’t until studying art at ASU that I had access to the words to describe this skill set.

Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with clients? Describe your relationship with the architect and contractor.
We like to get involved early and ask a lot of questions. Most of the work we do is heavily integrated into the architecture and requires that we are involved with the entire process. I prefer some direction.

Who is on your team? Is collaboration important to your process?
Eleven of the best people you could ask for – my wife and I run the company.

We have three Project Manager / Designers who take our proposals and design documents and dig in.  They work hand in hand with Contractors, Structural Engineers, Waterproofing Engineers, Lighting Consultants, Architects, Interior Designers, Site Superintendents, Outside Vendors, Shop and Field Staff as well as with me personally. They run all the project specific purchasing and coordination.

We have a Facilities Coordinator who handles all our shipping and receiving, co-manages all purchase orders in our database, and helps get work through the shop and into the field.

We also have six shop staff who do all the fabrication and installation.

Tell me what it’s like to run a small business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
For me, it’s an emotional roller coaster.  There are such intense highs and lows, and they can all happen within hours of each other. I wear a lot of hats and they’re constantly swapped out throughout any given day. That said, it’s also very rewarding. I am supported by incredibly talented people who all love their work and show up every day to do their best, so I couldn’t ask for much more.

There have been too many challenges to list, but over the last 22 years the two biggest were the 2008 crash and COVID. We managed to make it through both of those, maintaining all of our staff, so we’re doing pretty good if you ask me!

Which new technologies have influenced your work as of late? How do you think they will change the industry going forward?
For us, it’s CNC machinery. We purchased our first CNC mill at the end of 2019, and it’s incredible what we’ve done with it and how much there still is to learn. Not everyone in the shop is well versed yet, but we’ll get there!

Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about high-quality, custom goods?
Those with the means and patience can get just about anything they want. We are fortunate to work with creative people who really know what they want, and we get to figure out how to provide it. The process is stimulating and keeps everyone engaged along the way, and can sometimes be frustrating and exhausting, but never boring and never easy!

Design and Process: Renovating an Architect’s Oakland Home

Managing Partner Steven Stept, along with help from the FA Studio, recently completed remodeling his family’s Oakland home – infusing the original structure’s traditional detailing with Steven’s modern aesthetics. Below, read more about the design process and the challenges Steven faced acting as the client, owner, and general contractor – all at once!  

Tell me about your project! What was your design vision for the renovation? What functionality were you missing in your previous space?
This is a house I’ve fiddled with for 20 years and made minor improvements to over time, and as an architect, it’s exciting to test ideas – which this space has allowed me to do. Over the years, I’ve added modernizing elements slowly but surely, notably to transform the landscaping. I added black powder coated steel retaining walls in the front yard, as well as concrete retaining walls and vertical IPE screens in the backyard, which were easy ways to subtly add modern details to the exterior. As I started this renovation, I wanted to carry a modern vibe with steel accent detailing throughout the interior and exterior spaces.

In late 2019, I dusted off a sketch that had been sitting on my desk for a year. The pandemic was the personal pause I needed to finally push this project ahead and, when I enlisted support from our studio, I had time to focus and push the design forward. The first major move we made was chopping off the breakfast nook in the kitchen and pushing the building out four feet into the side yard. This move both expanded the kitchen downstairs and my office upstairs, which gave us more room to add our desired programming.

Upstairs, the previous dark and compressed attic/cluttered office was sculpted into highly functional workspace. The new and expanded space has multiple workstations, as well as updated lighting and windows. Additionally, the kitchen needed to be remodeled – before it was compartmentalized and clunky with remnants of a 60’s remodel lingering in worn materials, outdated appliances, and an inefficient floor plan. We had a vision of a modern, open, functional space with updated appliances, which my wife, Camille, was especially excited about.

Additionally, we were able to add a primary suite upstairs by structurally reframing the entire suite – exploding the roof and developing a large dormer for additional volume. These moves allowed each of our two kids to assume their own bedrooms downstairs – they’re elated! These additions make for a very comfortable home for our family of four – the original 1,310 square foot 1928 era home expanded to 2,089 square feet.

What have you learned about working with clients by playing the role of both the client and the architect? What about working with builders?Throughout this process, I’ve developed a stronger sense of empathy to client challenges – there are so many decisions to make, costs that can increase in a flash, and scheduling challenges that can be extremely frustrating.

I’ve also been shown firsthand how hard it is to be a builder. For this project, I acted as both the owner and builder, ordering and supplying many of the materials, products, fixtures, cabinets, electrical components, custom moldings, and flooring myself. It was a big challenge with so many moving pieces to manage. The experience really gave me a deeper appreciation for the excellent builders and general contractors we work with who keep our projects moving along seamlessly.

We started this project in July, moved out of our house in August, and finished off the project in April. We were able to keep up an impressive pace by working long hours and doing a lot of work ourselves without third party vendors – like the foundation, framing, sheet rock, plumbing, and painting, which is only possible with a job of this size. I’m grateful to have worked with an awesome team.

Have you enjoyed working on your own project in the FA studio? What has the experience been like of working with FA designers on your own home?
It was very helpful to tap different designers and architects in our studio to help me with this project: Aaron Lim, Anjali Iyer, Evan McCurdy, and Mike Trentacosti helped collaborate on the design and production, and with their help, we were able to design faster and smarter.

Are you able to be more experimental with any techniques/details/etc than in client design work? What is your favorite feature or detail of the current design?
Not necessarily more, however the difference was that we did have to make some decisions ‘on the fly’ and I was onsite to make those decisions as construction was underway, so we experimented and tested out new ideas very easily and flexibly. It was mid-pandemic, so my makeshift office was the back bedroom surrounded by stacked furniture and a portable heater. Since I moved in 20 years ago, I’ve been playing around with combining the beautiful, traditional elements of the original home with the more modern feel that I’ve been pursuing professionally. For instance, when renovating specific rooms, we had to navigate transitioning the existing traditional trim into modern spaces. I ended up taking this transition a step further than we had initially planned by creating portals between spaces that gracefully blend the old baseboard into the new. Initially, we considered standard interior window molding, but ended up taking a fresh approach, deciding to paint the more modern trim black to match the windows. Prior to the remodel, I painted one of our existing white windows with black paint to see the comparison and asked Camille what she thought. We ended up choosing black windows that day!

It was also fun to discover great new, affordable products that I can use in my projects at work. I had a very specific need for narrow profile up/down shades that would clear the window handle when fully deployed, based on the window trim that was evolving from the portal concept. We searched ‘narrow-profile’ shades online and discovered a German made company with Bay Area representation, Fensterman LLC, who manufactured shades with a 7/8-inch width. It was a very rewarding problem to solve.

Are you able to involve your kids and wife in the design process? How has it been collaborating with them?
My kids weren’t super interested in the design and construction process, they were more interested in getting back in the house and seeing the finished product. They love having their own rooms and are now starting to show more care and respect for their spaces as they get older.

Even though I drove many of the decisions, my wife Camille was very excited to redo the kitchen with new appliances and was involved in learning about and picking out finishes. Throughout our relationship, Camille has grown to really appreciate both modern design, as well as our larger Oakland community!

Project Team:
Builder: Saul Mejia
Landscape: IRI Landscape, InSitu Landscape
Structural Engineer: Provest Structural Engineering
Lighting: Kim Cladas Lighting Design
Photography: Kristen Paulin

Vendors:  Atherton Appliance, Murray Windows and Doors, DaVinci Marble, Brown Felicetta Designs, Aaron Robinson Custom Woodworking, Belmont Hardware, City Lights, Fenstermann, Vipp, Blu Dot

Staff Spotlight: Neda Fattahi

Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in Tehran, the mountainous capital city of Iran. I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a couple of years when I was high school and then went back to Iran for a few years before moving to Oregon!

Q: Where did you go to school?
I studied architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Living in the rural town of Eugene was a big contrast to the urban lifestyle I was used to. Eugene is a perfect college town, and I grew to love it over the five years that I lived there.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I have an older brother who works in tech and lives in South Bay with his wife, my parents are business owners and live back home in Iran.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I’m mostly fascinated by the impact of space and architecture on people’s everyday lives and how it can enable them to lead a better, happier, and healthier lifestyle. What I love about residential architecture is the opportunity to create a space and a home that is a direct reflection of a family’s values, dreams, and what they aspire to be.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I like working on a wide variety of projects that are new and offer a lot of learning opportunities. I enjoy working with clients who are adventurous and open to new ideas!

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Complete a triathlon, successfully crash a stranger’s wedding, and climb mount Fuji!

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
Jack Early Park in North Beach!

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I would want a large library with floor to ceiling shelves and a reading nook, large windows and lots of natural light, a lap pool, a sun filled art studio, and a large outdoor deck!

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
Argentina and Japan have been on my travel list for a while, and I hope to visit them soon!

Staff Spotlight: Janie Wright

Q: Where are you from?
I am originally from Waverly, Tennessee. I feel that growing up in a small town of 4,000 people shaped me in many ways. Even though I have left and explored, I always love the feeling of driving back into my hometown. I love that it feels like nothing has changed at all, but then every now and then there’s a surprise that keeps things interesting.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I studied architecture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This experience opened my world to study abroad, which was quite literally life changing for me. The first study abroad trip I took was around the Gulf of Finland. From the moment I landed in Sweden, I knew that traveling was going to be a big part of my life. The opportunity to learn about architecture by experiencing it within a cultural context was profound for me. Following this trip, I went on to do a semester abroad in Krakow, Poland. This love for travel eventually led to an opportunity to work abroad in Indonesia building Bamboo architecture. My time on the island reignited my creative spirit and helped me see design from a new perspective.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My family is all from Tennessee. Most of them live within miles of each other, many on the same street. My parents are my biggest supporters and what I am most grateful for in my life. They have been incredibly patient with me as I have pushed the boundaries and forced them to leave their comfort zones on multiple occasions. I also have multiple families across the world, both human and animal. My Bali family is near and dear to my heart as they helped me through one of the most adventurous and challenging times in my life.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
Most of my experience is in hospitality design and I have always aspired to work on single family residential. In both project types, I get to help design an experience and create the backdrop for so many life moments. My work in Bali was highly focused on how a person feels in a space and how materials can impact that feeling. This work deepened my passion for architecture and interior design. Combining this concept with the framework of the senses and elements is where I find so much joy and possibility to create an impact through design.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
Residential design. I love the idea that I get to help shape someone’s daily life. A person’s home is the place they should feel the most themselves and the most comforted. This is the place where they will have their morning coffee and spend time with their family. Where they will make major life decisions and host milestone events. It’s where they will come back to after a long day and find solace. It’s a huge gift to give to someone and a very meaningful relationship to me.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to as many places as possible! Would love for my parents to see the places I’ve lived abroad and to show them how much it means to have had their support along the way.
  2. Dance in a flash mob! I have actually done this once before and am patiently awaiting the next opportunity.
  3. Like most architects, I dream of building my own house!

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
I feel my identity has shifted and built upon itself with every new experience. I am a very different person than I was growing up in Waverly, but also the same in many ways. I grew up questioning things. Why things are the way they are and how can they be different or better. I am a very curious person and enjoy learning new things that change my perspective. I feel this is highly important in design. With each new client, I get to learn about their own experiences and unique backgrounds, while also discovering a new site with interesting limitations and possibilities. There is so much to learn from each new project and each time it reshapes the identity I have as a designer.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?

  1. Nooks, lots of nooks!
  2. Luxurious retreat style bathtub set in nature where I can see the stars and completely escape.
  3. Secret rooms and passages that create interest and mystery.
  4. Views of both the sunrise and the sunset. I feel it is important to align my life with the cycle of the sun, but also because I feel these are magical moments that happen every day and should not be missed.
  5. Seamless indoor/outdoor environment that celebrates the way the environment impacts and weathers spaces over time and is overflowing with edible plants!

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
This list is constantly growing and hard to choose just one. I guess I can say I am the most eager to return to Bali at some point. It will always hold a special place in my heart and be a second home to me.

Staff Spotlight: Fernanda Gusmao

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from a planned city called Goiania in the state of Goias, Brazil. Its urbanism was influenced by the City Garden movement and Art Deco. As a reference, the city is located in the middle of the country, 2 hours from the capital, Brasilia (planned by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer).

Q: Where did you go to school?
I studied Law in a Catholic University called Pontificia Univerdade Catolica de Goias.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mother, Zuleika, is a brave matriarch that taught my sisters and I to be independent and to face challenges head on despite all the adversity in the world. I have 2 sisters, Kamilla and Lorena, who taught me every Bon Jovi song, as well as how to bring humor into every aspect of my life. To keep the girl power going, my 2 nieces are the newest additions to the family – they’ve certainly introduced a different way of seeing the world, as well as a little hope for the future.

My partner, my dog, and I enjoy exploring the city, binge watching TV series, and playing video games. We have our own lazy dynamic on the weekends.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I never realized how big of an impact architecture had on my life until recently. Visiting Brasilia as a kid, I always viewed architecture as an art. Now I’ve come to understand that it’s also a way of making people’s lives easier and better.

Q: What is your favorite part about coming into work?
I love interacting with my coworkers and creating a warm and welcoming space in our office.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Learn to skate, buy an electric guitar, and go to New Orleans.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A home theater, a barbecue area, a pool, an arcade room, and a beer fridge.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?

Staff Spotlight: Nicholas Mobilia

Q: Where are you from?
I’m originally from a small town called North East; it’s in northwestern Pennsylvania. I usually just tell people I’m from Erie because it’s less confusing that way. Especially when I was living in Philadelphia – everyone assumed I was talking about the northeastern region of the city.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I went to school at Penn State. It’s a bit of a family tradition; my dad, my brothers, and a lot of my family went there. I chose it because I didn’t know what I wanted to study and it’s a large school that offers a lot of different programs.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I have two brothers – one older and one younger. My family and I are tight knit but right now they all live in the DC area. Prior to that we were all scattered but now I’m the outlier on the west coast. I also have a two-year-old niece which makes me feel old; it’s okay though because she’s the cutest child that ever lived.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I like buildings that are situated on interesting or complex sites. It’s a fun challenge to design something that responds to and complements its setting without being overpowering. Beyond the overall design process I enjoy detailing a building. It’s like putting together a puzzle – how do all of the complexities and intricacies come together so that the finished building looks like the original sketches and renderings.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I binged watch For All Mankind. It’s a sci-fi show that depicts an alternate history in which the Soviet Union succeeds in landing the first people on the moon rather than the US. As a result, the space race and cold war never end. It’s a really cool and nerdy premise which is right up my alley.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
Not too many – I got a bit more into board games and definitely watched more TV but other than that I think things stayed relatively the same.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
Unsure! I’ve spent a lot of time working on large multi-family projects so I’m excited to transition to smaller ones where we can create more intricate and beautiful detailing.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
Lots of windows! I love having natural light. I’d also want some sort of interesting or relaxing view, outdoor space or spaces, a nice kitchen (after so long living in small apartments I’m dying for a normal sized kitchen), and a fireplace for the coziness factor.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
Asia or South America. No specific destination in mind yet but those are two huge geographic areas I’ve never been to. I’ve traveled through the US a decent amount and I’ve made a few trips to Europe so I’m anxious to try something new.