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.

2018 Summer Newsletter

Hello Summer! Hello New Projects!

This year’s spring season brought rain to the bay area, allowing the beauty of many of our projects to flourish. Lush landscapes called for professional photo shoots and we’re happy to announce that we’ll be unveiling four newly photographed projects in the next few months!

Pictured below is one of our Palo Alto homes, lovingly coined The Sanctuary.

Photo by Joe Fletcher Photography

As many of you know, we hosted an Open House at the end of May to benefit those affected by the North Bay fires. We’re pleased to say it was a wonderful success and we were able to raise $8,500 for our cause while spending time with our colleagues and friends. If anyone is still interested in donating, please visit Rebuild Wine Country’s donation page.

For those of you who have not had a chance to visit our new Firehouse Design Studio yet, never fear! We’ll hopefully be hosting more events and presentations later this year.

This summer we’ve been excited to welcome not one, not two, but three interns to our office! Parker joined us in mid-May and was a great help in preparing for our Open House. He’s currently going into his second year at Syracuse as an Architecture student.

Ying arrived next in June through an internship program at UC Berkeley. She’s been delving into a couple projects around the office and working closely with fellow UC Berkeley alum Evan.

West is our youngest intern this summer having just graduated high school.  He’ll be attending Drexel University in the fall as a Mechanical Engineering major and is being exposed to the ins and outs of the design profession.  He’s been working with our Studio Assistant Serena, sitting in on staff, client, and consultant meetings, and gathering general exposure to all facets of our office

Every season is awards season, and this past spring was especially kind to us.

dosa by DOSA was awarded a Gold Nugget Merit Award for Best Commercial Project under 20,000sqft as well as the Best Commercial Architecture Practice – California & Best US Hospitality Design Project Award from the BUILD 2018 Architecture Awards.

One of our newly completed projects, Twin Peaks, won the Chrysalis National Award – Whole House Remodel over $700k. Stay tuned for more photos and information coming soon!

As a firm, we are committed to staying current in areas of design, innovation, and sustainability. Our designers frequently attend nation-wide professional conferences, trade shows, lectures and seminars in search of innovation. Just this year, we have participated in the Getting to Zero National Forum, the Living Future UnConference, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), and multiple Design Weeks in different states!

Summers are also for weddings and we happily congratulate Rebecca Hora and her husband Ryan Gilbert who were married in a beautiful ceremony in Connecticut just last weekend! Currently relaxing on a beach somewhere in Tahiti, she’ll be back in the office mid-July. Congratulations to you both!!

Here’s to taking on the second half of the year. We hope everyone keeps the positive momentum going and we hope to see you all soon!

– Feldman Architecture

Staff Spotlight: Michael Trentacosti

Q: Where are you from?

I was born just outside New York City, in a small town called Nyack. I lived there the majority of my life before leaving to go to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I ended up staying in Boulder for one year after school, five years in total. I then moved to Astoria Queens for four months before packing up everything and moving out west to San Francisco. I’ve been here now for a year and half.

Q: Tell me about your family

Both my parents went to culinary school and were chefs for a while. My dad started “Cater to You Food Service” which specializes in farm to table school lunches for high end schools in new tri-state area. My sister also works for his company as the head of event coordination.

My mom is a dietician who specializes in food medicine. Basically she looks at how food can be used as a substitute and how a lot of the issues that society deals with today can be cured by food rather than medicine. It’s based around the idea that if you’re eating healthy and on a specific diet you can combat or prevent diseases. She does this in conjunction with curating meal plans for students at the schools I mentioned before. She also volunteers on New York City Board of Education to teach less privileged individuals in city schools about cooking and basic nutritional facts.

Q: Please visually describe your personality

I have to think about this one… Okay imagine you walk into a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in New York City. The place is packed but you walk through to the kitchen. You push through the door and everyone in there is yelling at each other, but not in a demeaning way, think collaboration. It looks and sounds like chaos, but organized chaos. A first glance you may get the impression that it’s loud and crazy and disorganized but in reality it’s a very methodical and orchestrated craziness that ultimately produces something desirable in the end.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

I noticed when I was really young that most kids my age were obsessed with dinosaurs, but I was obsessed with construction. To preface this story, I was an avid snowboarder when I was a kid, but didn’t have daily access to quality snowboarding parks. I took it upon myself to build snowboard parks in my friends’ backyards as a hobby. Half the time I had no idea what I was doing, I was just a young kid screwing plywood together and making things out of it. I don’t think the experience necessarily got me into architecture, but I did develop an interest in design and building things.

As I grew older I developed even more of a passion for building. When I eventually went to college, I had a few friends in architecture related majors. I used to see their work, ask them about what they were doing, and eventually I grew an interest in it as well. It actually didn’t dawn on me until graduation that all of these things (liking construction, the snowboard parks) came full circle and built off of each other.

My passion for construction as a young child was ultimately where my interest in design stemmed from and curated through the years. It grew from an interest in construction to a love of architecture.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

Definitely detail-oriented residential. I like to curate space based off of a particular need of an individual. I believe that residential projects are the most customizable and the most interesting. They really come down to detailing and I personally find a lot of interest in how the details of a building come together.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

3 weeks!

Q: What makes our office unique?

For one, the office itself. Being in an old firehouse means the space has a lot of history and culture, especially for this area. It seems like it’s a pretty symbolic building in the Polk Gulch district. I like how there’s a ton of natural light in the office as well. I feel like in a lot of traditional offices there’s more of an objective towards the work rather than the space, which makes sense. But the space we work in here; it’s inspiring.

Everyone’s attitude towards each other in the office is also pretty unique, no one is trying to compete and everyone is working with each other. There’s this office bond that allows everyone to be themselves, be open to conversations, and communicate in a friendly manner. We have this ability to be professional yet causal with one another.

Lastly, the level of experience that every individual brings to the table is different. Each individual inputs their own strengths into the project but is also given the opportunity to learn something new every time.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?

Learning something new every day. In a lot of jobs, you kind of settle into a routine 8-5 position doing the same thing every day. We repeat a lot of things here, but everything that gets repeated is customized to someone’s needs. There’s always a chance to learn something new. Even through repetition, we can use that previous experience to ultimately become a better architect.

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

I have a few.

First, Olson Kundig by Jim Olson & Tom Kundig. I enjoy the level of detail that they input into all of their projects. They have an uncanny ability to look at something that’s often designed the same way and turn it over on its head in a way that’s interesting, yet simple.

I also respect MacKay Lyons-Sweetapple Architects Limited. Brian Mackay Lyons has an interesting way of looking at landscape and at how space interacts with nature and connect it to what a client is looking for. That’s not always seen in architecture. Most of his work is local to where he’s from but it’s so well developed that he’s established a name for himself worldwide.

Allied Works is the third one, they have a unique ability to define spaces. They often choose a really untraditional material palette that interacts well with whatever the space is intended for. They do it in such a manner that it doesn’t take away from the actual space, rather it’s supplemental to how it functions, which I think is really important in architecture.

Q: What’s your design process like?

Having a background in environmental design, I tend to look heavily at the site to begin with. The characteristics of the site help define the space for me. It’s kind of a trickle down method from there. I rely a lot on client feedback and intentions, meshing those two together into something schematic. From there I just continue to refine the project.

Q: What’s something you’re proud of?

I guess this a multi-faceted question. I’m proud of where I came from. I’m a “New Yorker” and I carry that with myself. One of the first things I do when I introduce myself is say I’m from New York. I think it sums up a lot of aspects about me.

I’m proud of the decisions that I’ve made as a young adult to get me to where I am today. What I mean by that is my decision to move out west with no real family out here and my decision to pursue architecture has ultimately helped me follow my aspirations.

Welcome West!

Our third and final intern has just arrived! West will be joining our office for about six weeks this summer to assist in projects and learn as much as possible about our office culture. He just graduated from The Bay School of San Francisco and is on his way to study Mechanical Engineering at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. West lives in Marin and enjoys biking Mt. Tam, swimming, and spending time with friends in the city.

Site Visit: St Francis Wood

By Serena Brown

As a few of our projects start hitting the finishing stages, office sites visits have been popping up on our calendar. Today about half of the office gathered bright and early in St. Francis Wood to check out a home that’s set to be move-in ready within the next two weeks.

The project of interest is a full remodel of a single-family home constructed in 1916. The original designer, Henry H Gutterson, designed 83 homes in the St. Francis neighborhood, combining revival-style architecture with his own personal tastes.

Being located on a prominent double lot provides the house and yard considerable space for San Francisco. Our tour began on the bottom floor in what used to be part of the basement but has since been excavated and converted into the family room. The lower floor also houses a guest suite, office/gym, and a large playroom for the entire family with access to the backyard. Despite being lower than ground level, large clerestory windows allow for natural light to stream into the space.

After donning our paper shoe covers to protect the reclaimed teak flooring, our group headed up to the main floor to scope out the great room, kitchen, living room, and dining room. The southern wall of the great room was pushed out and a deck was added for more living space. A fireplace sits along the west wall, with ventilation sneaking up from behind the TV to the roof. A second fireplace can be found in the living room, along with a few light fixtures that got our designers talking.

The top floor houses three kids’ rooms, as well as the master suite. The color scheme throughout the house is soft and minimal, sans the creative bathroom wallpapers (our favorite was the leafy gold main powder room). Alongside the stair, a gorgeous wall of reclaimed cedar climbs steadily upwards toward the ceiling, a simple backdrop to what will soon be a beautiful chandelier.

Unlike our last office site visit, this house had so much to see. Thus, our tour “group” split off into smaller pods of people, based on interest and walking speed. Chris and I took the time to walk around the exterior as he explained the level of excavation that took place to create the lower floor. The back retaining wall is still in process and the landscape has yet to be started, but it’s easy to see how all the pieces will come together. As we were leaving, one of the client’s children appeared looking for his dad. After asking one of the construction workers if he could enter the structure, he received the answer “of course! It’s your house.” Perhaps once the finishes go up and the scaffolding comes down, it’ll feel more like a home.

It’s always interesting to see projects in different stages of construction, besides simply through photos. There are a few projects on the boards that are coming together, so hopefully we’ll visit some of those next. Stay tuned!

Springtime in New York

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.



Staff Spotlight: Daniel Holbrook

Q: Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. My parents still live there, as well as my sister and her two kids. Lancaster is a small city, but has a very vibrant downtown. I always knew I wanted to live in a city.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I went to college at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg Va which is in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Blacksburg is very rural, the opposite of city life, not at all where I pictured myself studying architecture.  However, I fell in love with the campus, the surrounding mountains and the great architecture school.

Q: Who is in your family?

My wife, Mollye, who is a structural engineer.  We have a two year daughter together named Ellis.

I also have an older sister and younger brother whom I’m very close with, as well as my parents—all in Pennsylvania.

My sister is a school teacher and administrator. My mom owns and runs her own women’s apparel store specializing in handmade purses.  My father has spent 30+ years in plastics and manufacturing.

My brother also studied architecture at Virginia Tech, but with more of a focus on furniture design. We overlapped for one year in design school.  He’s now working for a cabinetry shop that designs and manufactures casework, as well running a small woodworking business called Hambone Philadelphia. He manufactures small wooden objects, like cutting boards, desk organizers and candle holders.  I have one of his desk organizers on my desk in the office.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

Like a lot of architects, I was obsessed with legos as a kid. Whether it was legos or tree forts, I loved to build  things. I always enjoyed art classes and really liked drawing. My mom told me I should be an architect, and since I always listen to my mom, here we are! It was a profession that melded all my interests together and I decided, in high school, to pursue it as major in college and then a career. It’s somewhat terrifying to think that my “highschool self” made such a substantial decision!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

I like small ones that have a “jewelry-box” quality; ones with intricate details but not a massive amount of square footage to coordinate..  Residential projects are a lot of fun, I really like working closely with clients to design a house that elevates and simplifies the way they live.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

It will be five years in September.

Q: What makes our office unique?

Our office is very collaborative. There is a general sense that we get to the best place by talking to each other and relying on each other’s expertise’ rather than one person taking ownership over an idea or project. There’s also a total lack of ego in the office which comes from the top down. It really causes us to look at a design or a project and decide what’s best for it, rather than what each individual is trying to achieve through it.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?

Well, I get to bike to work, which I really like. But day in and day out, the people at Feldman are the best part about coming to work. I feel very fortunate that I get to work with such a smart, talented group of designers.

Q: Do you think you could live abroad in another country? Where would you choose to go?

100%. I almost burned my return ticket from Copenhagen when I was there a  few years ago. Copenhagen is an unbelievably humane and livable city with lots of families and kids.

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

My Grandfather, Father and Mother all started their own small businesses. Each of them worked incredibly hard to build something from the ground up.  My Grandfather started his own accounting firm, My Mother owns her own retail store and my Father ran a manufacturing company for most of my childhood. Very different ventures, but their individual work ethic and drive to do things right has always been my professional compass.

Q: What’s your design process like?

Iterative. I typically work through a design problem to the point of frustration and then walk away.

I take calculated breaks to finally get comfortable with a solution. Often I’ll find solutions to a design problem while doing something unrelated, like cooking or running.  Walking away and coming back to the design with a clear head is crucial for my individual process.  Often my first reaction to a design problem ends up being the right one, but not always, so it’s imperative for me to work through multiple failures to test that initial reaction to a design problem.

Q: What are your opinions on robots?

I’m a little scared of them to be quite honest. Most movies about robots do NOT end well…

That being said, I did see a video recently of a robot framing a house and that seems really exciting.  Not totally sure how I feel about giving robots nail guns though…

Our Second Summer Intern Has Arrived!

We’re excited to introduce you to our second intern for the summer, Ying Pan! Ying is from Taiwan, and before coming to San Francisco, graduated from a vocational high school in Taipei. During that time she majored in drafting, but is now currently studying architecture at UC Berkeley. She will be helping us by translating work for our clients who speak mandarin, as well as working on a few of our in-progress projects  around the office. Outside of school and the office, Ying’s hobbies include playing basketball and skateboarding, and she loves puppies!