Staff Spotlight: Norman Wong

Q: Where are you from?
I was born in Hong Kong. My family immigrated to San Francisco when I was a year old.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I attended elementary and high school in San Francisco and architecture school in Southern California – Cal Poly Pomona and SciArc.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My parents live nearby which is a huge benefit as they are aging and I don’t need to wait until major holidays to visit them. I have three sisters and two daughters, so I’ve always been surrounded by girls and women who have taught me a great deal of humility and respect.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
Aside from the overall impact of the visual beauty of all forms of great architecture, the aspect of architecture I appreciate most is materiality, whether it’s roughhewn timber, stone, or finely finished woodwork, plaster or metals. The choice of materials and finishes can be so powerful. When one sees a beautiful material or finish and feels compelled to reach out and touch it, that’s a sign that the architecture has engaged and captivated. Tactility is often overlooked as a crucial aspect of the experience of architecture.

Q: What are your creative outlets outside of work?
My main creative outlet outside of architecture is advanced origami. I also love to tinker with bicycles – although not really a creative outlet – but I am fascinated with the mechanical nature of all the components necessary for human-powered transportation.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
My favorite project type is custom residential although wineries are a close second. I appreciate the high level of detail, quality, and execution that these projects demand that are not common in other project types.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in-person or virtually)
I love being in the office in person (when others are present) for the comradery and idle chit chat that has nothing to do with work.  Building personal bonds is so important to me and it’s difficult to accomplish that virtually.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
I’ve accomplished the top of my bucket list by purchasing a new home this year. I also strive to stay healthy and fit and to travel more. It has been many years since I’ve had a proper vacation.

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

  1. My dream home would be completely off the grid and self-sustaining.
  2. Energy efficiency and minimal mechanical heating or cooling to maintain comfort.
  3. A fully equipped and spacious kitchen with high end appliances (this may be contrary to the previous features, but one has to cook!).
  4. A great view of landscape and/or water.
  5. A good distance from neighbors so I can blast my Techno/Trance music, blazing guitar solos by Joe Satriani, and deep bass resonance of JS Bach’s cello suites without headphones.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
This is a tough one. My first choice is a food tour of Asia including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and others.  Not too much to ask for?

I would also love to do an extensive architecture tour of Europe. I did not have the opportunity in my younger years to travel much, but would love to see some of the architectural masterpieces I’ve only seen in books.

And last but not least I would like to visit and camp in Patagonia in South America. I love backpacking and would love to explore the otherworldly beauty of Patagonia on foot.

CRAFT: Brit Kleinman and AVO

To kick off our Craft Series, which will highlight the varied work of the artists, makers, curators, and craftspeople that inspire and elevate our work, we spoke with Brit Kleinman, founder and creator of AVO, an art practice crafting everyday moments of awe. Brit describes her beginnings, processes, collaborations, and philosophies surrounding creating unique, handmaid rugs and textiles and reminds us why we all cherish the handmade: “Perfect isn’t that great” 

How do you first start honing your craft? What originally drew you to weaving and upholstery?
All my work at AVO starts where all of my favorite things start – with play. I like creating tactile work that sparks intrigue within a space and engages you through the senses. The techniques I’ve developed at AVO were largely self-taught and have grown and been mastered through experimentation.  

My mom is a textile artist, and as a kid I loved weaving, baskets, and crafts. Also I have always been a painter and studied industrial design in college. I’ve worked as a designer for a variety of products and brands – I’ve worked in luggage design at Samsonite, I was the head bag designer at Jack Spade, I’ve consulted for brands like Shinola and Casper, and most recently helped design the future trash can for NYC.I enjoy the process of learning and coming up with techniques that don’t exist yet.

AVO started with a passion for play and a lot of trial and error. For my patterned leathers, I spent a long time experimenting with dye, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and conducted a lot of research into the history of the material. My passion for weaving started by working with textiles mills through other brands. Then I bought myself a basic loom and started messing around. I’m thankful to have a great team now that continues to build out these processes on a larger scale. And a network of production partners all over the US. I couldn’t have predicted what AVO would become when I started 8 years ago!

Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with your clients to iterate your designs? Where does the initial inspiration come from?
I love designing pieces that are tailored to a specific space or experience. I always start by asking my clients to send me a mood board, and describing the big picture – how is this piece going to be used? Who are you and what interests you? How can our visions align and what excites the both of us? I often think in terms of sensorial experiences and creating a focal point in a space- something that people want to walk up to, inspect, touch, and experience.


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How do you source the materials you work with? Do you source with sustainability and locality in mind?
I think about this a lot because materiality is very important to me. It’s often overlooked that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry – and we make a conscious choice to only choose to work with leather that is a byproduct. The majority of our leather comes from US steers, and we use tanners in Brazil, Italy, and Spain, who embrace the leather’s natural characteristics that most people like to edit out.  That’s what gives each piece it’s individuality and beauty.  

The health of my employees and clients is also top of mind, we are careful to dye all our work in house with water-based dyes – it’s important for me that my team is not working with anything toxic. 

My approach to sustainability is making work that not only lasts, but gets better with age, and working with materials that are sustainable within their own cycle. Leather is biodegradable, and goes back into the earth unlike most vegan leather, or other synthetic alternatives. It’s funny, because leather is considered a luxury good, but in reality, is a super economic, durable material that we have been using for centuries. Leather self-heals, and the more you use it, the better it looks.  

How does materiality, in an aesthetic sense, influence your practice?
Materiality is where I start most of my designs – not sketching on a piece of paper, but instead picking up a swatch and experimenting with dyes. I try to have a dialogue with each material I work with. 

Working with leather reminds me of pottery or woodworking – each material has an ‘opinion’ of their own and pushes back. Some days it’s hot and the clay is cranky, leather is the same way – each one is unique, and that dialogue is what makes it exciting. There is beauty to be had in that repetition, I’m always learning from the materials I work with. 

Tell me what it’s like to run a small, women-owned business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
As a business owner, I must think very carefully about what kind of life I want to foster for myself and my team, and what kind of objects I am crafting. I think about my business as the product itself.   

I firmly believe in balance, I love living life to the fullest, and I love the work that I do. At AVO, we all work a 4-day week, which has always been a goal of mine and such a joy to realize I had the power to put into action! As a business owner you are in charge of making change for yourself and for your employees. 

Having my own business can be so stressful but also so rewarding. Sometimes it’s great to work for someone else and not worry about anything other than just being creative.  But for me, I enjoy the full range of challenges it takes to conceptualize and bring ideas into reality in a sustainable way. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s important to me to always strive towards creating a business I would want to work for, even if that means slower growth.

All businesses have the same problems, just at different scales. It’s been helpful to see other people in my position and realize it’s achievable – thankfully I have a network of other small business owners, and have built a great creative community around me.  

Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about handmade, high-quality, custom goods?
Integrity is what comes to mind – handmade goods have this inherent sense of integrity. It reminds me of the phrase “Perfect isn’t that great.”

Not that we aren’t detail oriented, but one of the things that makes handmade goods so beautiful are their variations. At one point, we became so good at creating our designs that some people didn’t realize they were handmade and thought they were screen-printed – it was just too hard to tell. After that first collection, I started to come out with work that showed more of the hand, with color variation and washy parts. When things are too perfect, they lose a little bit of their soul. 

Tell me about how you have collaborated with other brands – I love that you worked with Sabah!
Collaborations have been a great way for me to show off our materials in different forms and dip into other categories we don’t normally work in! I love what happens when two design firms come together, combining vastly different skill sets to create a new product. I enjoy working on all scales, making pieces that are personal objects, but also large installations that live in the public space.

Tell me about the rugs and tiling that currently live in our Twin Peaks project!
In that project, we worked on a colorful woven leather runner for the hall, and a large woven rug for the dining room dyed in sultry-silver earth tones that reflect the house’s surroundings. We also crafted leather tiles for the private elevator that resemble roman marble, but have the warmth of leather. 

Staff Spotlight: Malavika Mallik

Q: Where are you from?
I am from Bangalore (locally called Bengaluru), India. It is known by many names: the Garden City of India, The Silicon Valley of India, etc.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I earned my Master’s of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Prior to that, I went to M.S Ramaiah Institute of Technology for my Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I am the only child of my parents, so it’s safe to say that I am spoiled by my dad. My parents were neighbors, they fell in love at an early age and got married. My dad is a senior manager at a public utility company and my mom is a teacher for secondary and higher-grade kids. Teaching is her passion, and she would love to do it all her life. I have grown up around animals for most of my life – I have a rescued dog and cats, and I cannot imagine my life without them!

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
The first time I fell in love with architecture was when I participated in the Centre for Laurie Baker workshop, Kerala. Architecture is art that comes to life for people to experience and live in, and I am grateful to be one of the many creators of such art. I am drawn to ‘Tropical Modernism,’ especially by the buildings designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffery Bawa. I was truly lucky to have experienced Sri Lanka and Bawa’s architecture during my undergraduate years when I interned at a firm in Colombo for six months. My love for architecture has been growing ever since.

Q: What is the last show you binge-watched?
Broadchurch. A combination of small-town detective mystery AND David Tennant was too tempting to pass.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
My priority would be Residential, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the client’s interests and vision. There is always potential to envision extraordinary things when designing an ordinary seeming residence. The fact that our clients will be inhabiting and living in these spaces makes it very personal and intimate.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Slow travel in New Zealand and Vietnam, start a rescue animal shelter, and do a yoga headstand (haha).

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
I have won multiple awards for watercolor painting since I was in school, including a contest conducted by the Times of India (a national newspaper publication). I also take pride in mentioning that I was the youngest artist to exhibit at Chitrakala Parishath (a well-renowned art gallery in Bangalore) at the age of 16. I have continued to hold professional art exhibitions since then.

Q: What question would you not want to be asked in an interview?
“Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years from now” –  I like to think of myself as constantly evolving as a designer and as an architect, and the idea of limiting myself in the pursuit of a particular position/role does not appeal to me.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I love this question because I’m always planning beautiful things in my head for “my castle in the air”

  1. A huge green courtyard inside the house
  2. Lots of skylights and a terrace that can house a home garden for my plants and vegetables and of course a rainwater harvesting system
  3. Vernacular materials (yellow oxide and laterite stone and timber); wire-cut brick masonry with no plaster and some beton brut
  4. A room for messy artwork
  5. A lotus pond

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I am going to say this in my sleep too – it’s Japan. I am in love with the country. I have been learning things about Japanese culture and way of life, and saving money for a long time now so I can connect to the place better when I visit. I know in my heart that Japan is going to be a place I will remember for a lifetime.

Staff Spotlight: Jiayi Wang


Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Chengdu, China — The city of giant Panda and Hotpot.

Q: Where did you go to school?
Kansas State University. I started as an Engineering major and then switched to Art. Finally, I settled down with Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the only child in my family. My dad is a philosopher and a writer. He used to give lectures in college. Many times I found myself fall into endless discussions about the intangibility of existence with my dad. My mom has been retired for quite a while – she used to be a commercial manager. Luckily, both of my parents are very good chefs. Going to the market, cooking, and discovering new food with them taught me quite a lot about life, nature, and balance.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
That’s a hard question. The way I understand architecture keeps changing. Maybe the dialog between architecture and the consistently changing world attracts me. Also, I find the intimate connection of space between experience and senses interesting.

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the people in our office.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I learned to skateboard!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I like projects that give me the chance to challenge traditional thought.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in person or virtually)
After WFH for a looooong time, I really have been enjoy coming to the office and taking a walk around the neighborhood during my lunch break with my 28mm camera.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Attend a concert in Pompeii, go diving in Carriacou, and visit my family when Covid finally calms down.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A gracious outdoor space, a city view, a music studio, plants, and a nice full bar is a must.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
Brazil!

Women of FA: Kateryna Rogynska

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I found myself first becoming curious as my parents were building a home for my family. It was fun to see what their architect at the time (I was a teenager) recommended, I was especially fascinated by the process of selecting finishes. A few years later, my dad proposed I study architecture, since I was already attending a fine arts school.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I truly enjoy form finding in the schematic phase of a project, as well as iterating the design during design development to identify a more realistic form using real-life dimensions and materials. Producing and seeing renderings of the imagined spaces feels quite rewarding as well.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?
My first full time architectural internship was in LA in 2011, followed by several more professional adventures in Europe, and a subsequent move to SF in 2014. It has been a decade since I’ve embarked on this path.

I think the biggest revelation has been understanding how complex and humbling this career is. You never truly feel like you “got it” and everything is under control, especially during the early years. The second biggest revelation has been that design and construction are very expensive, be it a small or a large project. For most people, including designers and clients, handling and predicting budget is a major challenge, which is paradoxical for something as concrete and tangible as a building.

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
The challenges I have experienced stemmed from working in large firms with a lot of rigid hierarchy, where to be heard you had to be very loud. The bigger the architectural firm, the more tough skinned one needed to be to endure long working hours and an efficient but cold atmosphere between male leadership and younger designer staff.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
I quite admire Neri Oxman for her impressive body of research and Frida Escobedo for her highly tactile and earthy design aesthetic.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
The current Atherton home I’m working on has been a fun and complex puzzle to solve!


Q: What project are you most proud of?
This Atherton project has real potential to be a future favorite, but until then, there is a skyscraper design I did with my previous firm that I am proud of.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
In my eyes personal identity is inseparable from the design aesthetic. There were periods when I really enjoyed minimalist clothing and a rather austere form and interior. With the passage of time, I find myself gravitating more towards color and textures in both the designs I propose and in the way I create my surroundings in life.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
Playing music and DJing is one of my favorite ways to spend time. Photography and sketching takes second place.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Don’t be afraid to go all in on the design ideas and speak up to be heard.

Staff Spotlight: Gabby Cheung


Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in Pasadena, CA, but I tell everyone that I’m from LA because it’s more recognizable. Although Pasadena is famous for its New Year’s Rose Parade, and I lived right on the parade route!

Q: Where did you go to school?
I did my BA in Architecture at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!)

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mom is an electrical engineer who grew up on a farm and my dad is a kindergarten teacher who grew up in a huge city. They met in Iowa and somehow landed in California (with stops in Vegas, and Tennessee) where my sister, Sierra, and I grew up! We’re all super-introverts who love cats. Our family kitty, Theta, is kind of a brat, but we love her anyway.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I love thinking about architecture as a puzzle. It’s such a subjective field, but I like that architects start to justify design decisions based on a broad range of factors: climate, narrative, sequencing, function etc. When you can finally nudge all those factors into the right place, the design feels complete. The fun part is that the same puzzle can be solved in an infinite number of ways!

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the amount of collaboration and camaraderie. Everyone has been so willing to help me learn the lay of the land from day one, and I don’t feel a major hierarchy among staff.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I watched Lupin on Netflix and WOW, what a production! I highly recommend to anyone who loved BBC’s Sherlock. I’ve never rooted for a fictional thief so hard.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?
Before starting full-time, I interned at FA and helped with marketing drawings remotely. I’m so glad to finally be coming into the office and seeing my colleagues in person. The espresso machine is also a big plus!

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
When I was in high school, I won a scholarship from Taco Bell. It was a super obscure award, but they put a picture of me up in Times Square as a part of the prize! I also won a couple of architecture awards during my time at Cal.

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
I have no idea if this is a secret or not—I’ve only lived here a few weeks—but the staircase at Vallejo and Jones is my favorite place to walk at lunch. It has beautiful views in both directions and the wind is much appreciated after the steep trek to get up there.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
My dream home needs a dedicated studio space for sewing and art. I would also throw in an atrium with lots of natural light, some sort of loft, and unique wall art. Lastly, passive heating and cooling!

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I haven’t booked my flights yet, but I am absolutely going to visit Milan and Stuttgart as soon as I can. Both beautiful places, both full of great architecture.

Women of FA: Liza Karimova

Q: ­When did you first become interested in architecture?
The field of architecture always seemed like the perfect balance between artistic expression and logical reasoning. An early interest in physical sciences and my participation in evening art school drove me to consider it as a profession. The challenge of conceptual thinking is what kept me in pursuit.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I gravitate towards modern single-family residential projects with unique clients, who have an appreciation for design and love to be involved in the process. I really enjoy collaborative design. It’s also fascinating to discover how other people like to live!

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
It’s hard to find female mentors and role-models, especially those that have a healthy work-life balance, and that have the time for you!

Initially it was a challenge to connect and network with a predominantly older male-dominated industry. I feel that it has taken me longer to build relationships with consultants and clients – but overall, I think that I have been lucky enough to have met people along the way that took the time to listen, helped guide me, and made sure my voice was heard.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
I admire the work of Paz Gutierrez. She is at the forefront of sustainable architectural research. She is currently working on designing a biowall out of lichens that can remove carbon dioxide and toxins out of air. How cool is that?

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
All of my projects are interesting and unique in their own ways! But one particularly exciting one is a home in the Santa Lucia Preserve that we called Stone Villa. As the name suggests, it’s a modern interpretation of a Tuscan stone villa, set in the Californian landscape. What is unique about the design is that it recreates the experience of walking through a street in a hilltop village in Tuscany, where all circulation happens outdoors. Each major space is contained in a separate stone volume that is placed along a major axis that serves as the access route – or street. The tower signals the main gathering space and provides views down into the valley below.

But projects aside, I am very excited to have been working on the office-wide design vision process guide that we have been developing with a small team. Essentially, it’s a worksheet that guides one through gathering relevant information, synthesizing it, and ideating on concepts. It’s brought excitement to all my projects and inspired more collaboration amongst team members.

Q: What project are you most proud of?
Last week I attended a housewarming for the first project that I ever worked on from inception to completion. It’s magical to see a house that you worked on for the span of multiple years turn into a home. It’s also a wonderful way to understand how much you have learned and grown through the whole process.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
I feel that my multicultural upbringing has made me very open-minded and curious. It has also cultivated an insatiable appetite for novelty, growth, and personal development. Growing up in three different countries, speaking multiple languages daily and switching schools every other year leaves its mark. This journey has brought a sense of exploration to my work, and a love for challenges.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Surround yourself with people who uplift you and inspire confidence in your skills! And always be open to learning.

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