CRAFT: Feldman Architecture Studio

In this installment of our Craft Series, we’re happy to feature Feldman Architecture designers and architects that have rich creative lives outside of the studio. Their creativity inspires our professional work, and we are excited to continue sharing as they continue to create!

 

Malavika Mallik 
Describe your work – how did you select this medium?
I am a watercolor artist and I have been practicing art since the age of 10. I later went on to conduct my own art classes and present in exhibitions on local and state platforms. As a kid, I started out with sketching and basic shading using pencils and transitioned to ink and paper. This method identifies basic sciography, which is the study of shadow and light used to understand shades of colors better. I later worked more with watercolors as it allows you to take control and flow freely at the same time – the beauty of watercolor is confident strokes and the free flow of paint.

What’s your process like? What inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is mundane scenes that elicit nostalgia. My process begins with imagining a scene, and seeing if my imagination can paint that emotion. I first roughly sketch out the main elements of the painting and then start to fine-tune them before I bring out my paints. The first wash of light colors begins the work, and I finish with detailing with darker shades.

How does materiality play into your craft?
Materiality is essential for my craft – the canvas and the paintbrushes play a vital role. The sheets are much better if they are cold pressed and water washed at least once before I start painting to aid the absorption process. I like my brushes to be synthetic and smooth, and they need to be washed and dried with every use. Lastly, and most important is the watercolor/gouache paints must be truly saturated colors and not contaminated with any whitening agents.

Do you like to share your work? Do you have a website or account we can follow?
@the.tropical.tone

 

Gabby Cheung
Describe your work – how did you select this medium?
I’ve been sewing on and off for 13 years. Recently, I’ve been interested in mixing architectural elements into my wearable pieces. The side seam on these pants, for example, is inspired by wood joinery; the primary material in the backpack is construction scaffolding (recycled from an architectural installation in LA).

What’s your process like? What inspires you?
Sometimes I start with an interesting fabric, which sits in my apartment until inspiration strikes. A lot of times that inspiration comes from browsing tons of architectural details and finding patterns that interest me.

How does materiality play into your craft?
With fabric, material kind of dictates your whole piece – the way it hangs on the body is a huge consideration. I’m still learning a lot about this aspect

Do you like to share your work? Do you have a website or account we can follow?
@gabcheungg

 

Nick Polansky
Describe your work – how did you select this medium?
My work is sculpture. I like wood because every piece is unique and has an inherent story and properties.

What’s your process like? What inspires you?
Each sculpture is made from a single piece of wood. I play with the opacity, plasticity, trying to get something solid to appear transparent, and something stiff to be flexible working with the strain and stress in the grain by subtracting material in precise cuts. I use mainly manual power tools. Its a labor of patience and tolerance. I am looking forward to finding time to move up in scale. Most of the works are mockets for larger sculptures.

How does materiality play into your craft?
Wood is responsive and I am listening the whole time. Infinite lessons.

Do you like to share your work? Do you have a website or account we can follow?
http://nickpolansky.com/

 

Jess Stuenkel
Describe your work – how did you select this medium?
I started working with clay to get back to a hands-on creative process that’s specifically material and process driven. I primarily make functional ceramics; working vessels that are crafted to feel good in the hand and used daily.

What’s your process like? What inspires you?
Nothing is too precious in ceramics because there are so many points along the way for things to go awry. I lean into the process of discovery and am always trying new things, with varying results. Given the opportunity, I like to finish my work in atmospheric firings, handing over the reins to fire, soda, and the kiln gods.

How does materiality play into your craft?
Materiality is everything. It sets the boundaries to work within and to push against. I love that each piece of clay speaks of the place from which it was harvested. I work with live glazes that create an imprint of their environmental conditions in the final product. I aim to express the dialogue of these processes in the final work.

Do you like to share your work? Do you have a website or account we can follow?
@jess.faith.arts

 

Norman Wong
Describe your work – how did you select this medium?
Origami has been a hobby and interest since I was a child. My mother introduced it to me and over the years I sought out greater challenges and more complicated models.

What’s your process like? What inspires you?
I seek out origami models that at first glance, don’t seem possible to fold from a single square of paper. I’m inspired by models that are so complex that they push the limits of what is possible to fold.

How does materiality play into your craft?
Materiality in origami is crucial. The paper that I use must hold up to hundreds of folds and shaping. Paper made from mulberry tree fibers are best but I’ve used everything from flimsy tracing paper to brown paper bags in my experimentation.

Do you like to share your work? Do you have a website or account we can follow?
I like to share my work in person!

Staff Spotlight: Chris Kurrle


Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in the Old-Line State, for you Pacific Coaster’s, that would be the Great State of Maryland, our seventh state. Home of the Chesapeake Bay, Blue Crabs, Fort McHenry, Annapolis, the birthplace of Babe Ruth and the Baltimore Orioles.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I grew up in a small rural community in central Maryland. I went to Francis Scott Key HS, affectionately known as “Corn Field High” by all our rivals. I went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Majoring in both Building Science & Architecture, with a Minor in Geology. One would think that after 5 years at such a school, I’d be able to spell Rensselaer, but I did just look it up… again.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mother was born in Chile and came to the United States with her parents and younger brother while her father completed his residency at Johns Hopkins. While here, Salvador Allende was elected, assassinated, and the country had a coup. What was intended to be a two-year trip, turned in to 11 years. My mother finished high school, met my father while in college, got married, had me, and ended up staying in the US after her parents and brother returned.

Q: What makes our office unique?
One of our best attributes is our office culture. The way we work as teams, our mentorship, the in-house activities we support both socially and professionally, the celebration of our individual strengths, and the willingness to acknowledge our weaknesses. It humanizes us all, creating a studio that is passionate, professional, and team focused.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I honestly don’t watch that much TV, but I’ve been an F1 fan for a long time, and Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” follows the racing series over the course of the season, and I’ve really enjoyed watching that. I think mostly because almost all the people that I’ve been trying to get to watch F1 for the past decade are now hooked and text me before sunrise on Sundays!

Q: Which hobby are you most fervently pursuing at the moment?
Hobby? Singular? Really? Ha, I think I’m the hobby king of the office. In spring and summer, it’s bike riding (road bikes mostly), and archery. I love bicycles, the places they take you, the memories and friendships they foster, the culture(s) they support. Bows are the most complex tool I’ve ever played with – powerful, meditative, precision that is ridiculously satisfying.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I really enjoy the range of work more than a particular kind of project.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?
Personally and professionally, I think it’s really important that we’re always learning. Solving problems as a team, no matter the scale of the problem, always reveals multiple ways to approach, tackle, and solve issues. Our team structure, both at the project and leadership levels really provides structure for this. Maybe that was already best said by Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its part.”

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
Bernal Heights, shhhhh

Q: What superpower do you wish you had?
The FORCE, like Yoda.

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

  • Minimum 1250 acres, varying terrain of oaks, arable land, riparian corridors and a 150-acre pond.
  • Hobby barn/garage, big one
  • Outdoor cooking/entertainment area (w/60” Santa Maria Grill and Gas grill, Pellet and Wood Smokers, Clay Oven)
  • Equestrian Facility/Stables (for Horses/Llamas)
  • Modest single story main residence (3 bedroom) with wonderful natural light, indoor/outdoor living, great for entertaining. 3 Guest Cabins

Sustainability Update: 2030 Commitment

We are excited to announce the results of our AIA 2030 Commitment data reporting for 2021. Our combined portfolio, which includes 11 projects totaling over 42,000 square feet, came in at an overall predicted 98.13% EUI (energy use intensity) reduction, far exceeding the current goal of 80%, and just below our ultimate goal of 100% EUI reduction (or achieving net-zero energy use) by the year 2030. 75% of our projects reported from last year met the 80% target, with 5 projects predicted to achieve net-zero energy use. Our findings indicate that a drastic reduction in our projects’ gas use combined with increased PV production made the biggest difference in a nearly 30% jump in our portfolio over previous years.

While this data only represents predicted energy use and post-occupancy data will need to be collected and analyzed, this is a huge step in the right direction towards our commitment to reducing our work’s carbon emissions and a net-zero energy future. Stay tuned as we continue to report our progress and findings on our blog. Onward!⁠

 

Process Case Study: Round House

THE ORIGINAL HOME
Meera and her active family of four were in search of a new home in the South Bay to call their own, and after three-and-a-half-years with no success – having sifted through over 1,000 listings and visited nearly 30 in person – they finally found the one. “We walked in thinking, ‘We’ve seen so many homes. This is likely not it,’ Meera says. They walked out, however, with the same unexpected realization: ‘Oh my God, this is the one!’, they told Dwell in fall of 2021.

The clients fell in love with this unique circular house and initially planned a modest remodel. The original home, built in 1965, was one of a few similarly shaped homes built in California in the 60s. Soon after moving in, the family recognized the inefficiencies of their new home – low roof eaves awkwardly obstructed the otherwise spectacular views. The original structure, referred to as the “doughnut house,” had an open-air courtyard in the center. It “was really interesting and very awkward at the same time,” said Steven Stept, Partner-in-Charge. The public living areas faced the private wooded hillside, while bedrooms opened onto sprawling, exposed views of Silicon Valley.

“’I have a soft spot for preserving what’s there,’ says Meera. ‘For a while, it was just a finishes (updating interiors/exterior finishes) project.’ However, once things started failing in the older home, the project morphed into something bigger. ‘At that point, we thought, ‘We should probably do it right, but we can still pay homage to the original design,’” she told Dwell.


VISIONING
“From day one, we thought, ‘What a fun opportunity to try to see what we could do with a circular house,’” Stept says. “We were excited by it.”

The clients are a family of four, with two middle school aged children. Meera is an avid cook and baker, and wanted food, cooking, and therefore the kitchen to act as the home’s metaphorical and physical center, and also needed to accommodate the cooking lessons she hosts for family and friends. Meera, a talented designer herself (a Principal at AP+I Design), was excited to engage alongside our team, and later, worked to select all the interior furnishings and collaborated on the project’s finish selections.


Spiraling outwards from the kitchen, the updated floorplan aspired to reconfigure the original structure’s public and private spaces in a more logical manner – nestling the primary suite on the opposite side of the home, facing the tree grove, and orienting the great room, kitchen, and outdoor living towards views. The clients envisioned living on one level, so the updated plan places their desired programming on the main level, while the existing footprint allowed the design to accommodate lower ‘bonus’ spaces, like a home office and an extra in-law suite with direct level access to the arrival court.

“It was very exciting to develop a precise plan that respected the tangent points of the circular shape, which all referred back to the central core – the kitchen” Anjali Iyer, Project Architect, told Enki Magazine. 


CONSTRUCTION AND TECHNICAL EXECUTION

Los Altos Hills, a suburb originally developed in the 1950s, was zoned to accommodate large, uniquely shaped lots with strict building codes protecting open spaces, vegetation, and views.

The lot’s size and steep slope meant that if the home was built by today’s regulations, it would max out at a compact 1,020 square feet—making it much more beneficial to work with the existing design. After tracking down the original building permit and negotiating with the city, the team eventually got approval for a comprehensive redesign—as long as they didn’t exceed the original permitted square footage (Dwell).

A challenging build with atypical geometry on a steep slope required extreme creativity from David Toews, BayWest Builder’s Superintendent, who led the project’s construction through a variety of unique challenges.

Because of the circular plan, David stressed that geometry and strict calculations were important from the beginning, suggesting that the house needed a compass to guide its construction. Viewing the building in layers, starting from the foundation all the way through framing and steel work, he expressed that exacting precision in each phase would result in the most successful project. After inspecting the plans prior to starting construction, he immediately referenced a past project, the Sundial Bridge in Redding, which inspired ‘The Tool’ – a 16-foot-tall by 45-foot-long compass. Its function was to properly measure the circumference of the house during the construction of foundation and walls, helping the team keep track of the plan’s vectors and ensuring each wall lined up with its counterpart. The home’s plan carefully and precisely radiates out from its exact center of the kitchen, where the compass was anchored. Today, you can find the compass base, now serving as a front door stop, in the entryway of the completed house.


“We custom designed steel inserts in the concrete floor, and the decks boards were cut in a tapered shape to respect the curved geometry. The process was thoroughly enjoyable as we had to question and reinterpret each detail in our toolkit that would have worked for an orthogonal building. The project warranted a higher degree of collaboration between the design team, the consultants, and the contractor” Anjali Iyer, Project Architect, told Enki Magazine. 

The design interprets the existing structure through a modern lens – integrating current seismic codes and updated structural work throughout the project as to stabilize the home into the existing steep hillside. To further withstand seismic disruptions, the concentric design takes biomimetic approach, “We took some inspiration from things that are naturally very strong structures,” the homeowners explain. “There’s tons of circular steel, and it’s all crossed and connected to each other. That’s a spider web.” Visually, the team took advantage of these structural modifications and smoothed previously segmented walls into pure curves.


Throughout the home, the design’s success is largely due to an unwavering commitment to the concept. “Once we took on the challenge of really respecting the circle to the nth degree, that really created the plan—and created all the details too,” says Stept.” That’s something we try to do a lot in the office, once you have a concept that’s a strong one, just don’t ever forget about it, and try to push through it all the way to the end,” said Steven Stept, Partner-in-Charge, in Dwell.

 

THE FINAL PRODUCT
Alongside Meera, our team selected clean and modern finishes and furnishings to invite dramatic views to the forefront – a Japanese style of charred wood siding, called Shou Sugi Ban, seamless concrete floors, crisp curved white walls, and minimalist interiors feel fresh and durable. In the kitchen, a circular skylight streams daylight into the kitchen, creating a makeshift sundial that illuminates different sections of curved casework throughout the day. A concentric hallway traces the kitchen, leading to discrete pie-shaped rooms carefully arranged to demarcate private from public spaces. An outdoor deck is strategically carved out at the intersection of the living room and kitchen – framing sprawling views. Tall, curved pocket doors vanish into the walls, asserting a seamless indoor-outdoor connection. The modest perimeter deck allows outdoor access from all the bedrooms, while curved landscape walls radiate outward and into thoughtful softscape.


“Lifting out of a polished concrete floor, the kitchen mimics the external body, embracing a cylindrical design that allows for a large island and uninterrupted flow. A small skylight hangs above, spotlighting the space and casting shadows that reveal the time of the day. Conventional solutions may favor geometry, but fortune favors the brave, and thinking outside of the box – quite literally – has resulted in a home like we’ve never seen before.” Enki Magazine, March 2022 issue.


Find more information on the finished project here. Photography by Adam Rouse. 

Sustainability Update 2022

Looking forward to 2022, our committee has listed three primary areas of focus: Sustainable Design Workflow, Education and Knowledge Sharing, and Strategic Planning. By setting goals within each of these areas, we hope to continue to refine our internal processes, increase our general firm knowledge on sustainable design best practices, products, and systems, all of which will work to align our overall initiatives with our firm’s strategic goals.

In terms of our in-house workflow, our committee plans to continue to improve our project checklist and increase transparency for our project teams. Check-ins will continue to take place at regular intervals throughout the design process to reinforce our standard sustainability practices and goals. We also plan on auditing our process documentation with a consultant from the Department of Sustainability who will assist us in further refining our focus.  

More specifically, our committee is largely focused on better understanding our projects’ carbon footprints, accounting for both the embodied and operational carbon that results from their construction and use. In efforts to develop a better understanding of our projects’ embodied carbon, we’ve continued our deployment of Tally on select projects, an embodied carbon measurement software, while also beginning to analyze typical building assemblies that are common in our work.

Life Cycle Assessment study of the embodied carbon in building components using data from Tally


Regarding our buildings’ operational carbon, we intend to begin leaning more heavily on post-occupancy energy use data to not only have an accurate accounting of a project’s actual energy use, but also to better predict the energy use of future projects early in the design phase. As we continue towards our 2030 goal of net-zero operational carbon for all new projects, it’s becoming clear that we must not rely solely on theoretical modeling alone.

And although we’ve identified that bringing a higher level of organization and carefully vetting and documenting our processes are key to us realizing our goals, we also feel that a big part of furthering our sustainability initiatives depends on keeping our entire staff educated on current and emerging sustainable technologies and products, through the sharing of our own research as well as engaging with our peers. This year, we plan on holding quarterly sustainability focused information sessions and presentations with the entire firm as we continue to develop a deeper understanding of our practice’s roles in the bigger picture of climate awareness. In terms of Strategic Planning, this will also allow us to better align our firm’s strategic and sustainability goals, further engraining sustainability as a cornerstone of our firm’s future.

Women of FA: Heera Basi

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I first became interested in architecture when I was in high school. I loved both math and art classes (our high school had amazing art program and my favorites were ceramics and glass blowing). Also, when I was in high school my parents remodeled our home, so I got to experience the design process firsthand at a young age. However, I didn’t go straight into an undergrad program in architecture – I started as a Molecular Biology major, but soon realized it was not my passion. I remembered my exposure to architecture, and it seemed like the perfect combination of the creativity I enjoyed with art and the problem solving that I loved in math. So, I changed my major to Urban Studies and Planning and applied to grad school to pursue a Master of Architecture degree!

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
There are many parts of the design process that I love. I really enjoy the early stages of design when you can dream big and be the most creative and open to different possibilities. I also appreciate the problem-solving aspects of the process – whether that’s trying to resolve a tricky detail or coming up with a new solution to something that isn’t working as well as it could be.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?
I have been practicing architecture for about 12 years now. Time flies! When I first started, I thought 90% of architecture was pure design work. But in reality, there are so many other aspects that go into building a home and managing a project. One of the most important qualities of an architect is their people skills – fostering relationships and building trust is such an important part of the profession. Whether with clients, contractors, consultants, or colleagues, a successful project truly comes from a great team where everyone is working together toward the same goal of creating something inspiring and meaningful.

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
Fortunately, the industry is evolving and there are more female architects and industry professionals. But there are still times where I show up on a job site and people don’t expect me to the be project manager or architect in charge.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
So many! I really admire Julia Morgan and what she achieved in the industry at the time, and I appreciate how she brought a real local California vibe to some of her projects. I also love the work of Rossana Hu. We saw her speak and present her firm’s work at the Monterey Design Conference in 2019. I had just visited Shanghai earlier that year and was inspired by the celebration of the historic architecture and traditional style, while adding a modern twist to blend the two together.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
All my projects are interesting in their own way, but the project I’m most excited about at the moment is Staglin Family Vineyard East Residence, which is currently under construction. It’s for a family in the wine industry and is located on their vineyard. Not only is the setting incredible, but it’s always a really fulfilling experience to see our design work come to life. This is also a project that we’ve really been able to execute details at a high level – we’re fortunate to have a talented, collaborative team where everyone is working together to create a beautiful and unique home.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
When I’m not in the office I love being outside and spending time with my family and friends – hiking, exploring, cooking, getting out of the city to soak in some sun. Not sure how creative that is on its own, but it certainly helps me recharge and get the creative juices flowing at work!

Third Thursday – Adam Rouse

For last month’s installment of our monthly Third Thursday speaker series, we invited architecture and design photographer Adam Rouse to share his work with our studio virtually. Having worked for Aidlin Darling Design for the past 15 years while developing a parallel photography practice in the last 7 of those, Adam’s unique perspective as both a photographer and practicing architect influences and drives his work. Recently, he shifted primary focus to his photography practice, and continues to expand his work shooting design focused projects within the Bay Area as well as up and down the West Coast. We’ve been lucky to have him shoot a number of our projects, including Sunrise, Slot House, the Atherton Pavilions, and Round House.

His talk began by introducing an idea that interests him – atmospheric density – or the certain indescribable gravitas that moves an observer when experiencing both a space, as well as a poignant photograph of said space. Heavily inspired by Zumthor’s work and theory around the experience of space, Adam spoke about the idea that architectural photography is powerful in its ability to translate the innate feeling of a building, enabling architects to share their work with larger audiences. Most people will not experience an architect’s work firsthand, but hopefully they can experience the magic of a structure through a thoughtful image.

We love Adam’s architectural prowess for shooting our work, specifically his attention to detail. Adam walked us through his impressive portfolio, pointing out small details in a few of his photos, like the First Christian Church he explored and photographed in graduate schoo l, in which every flat head screw was oriented vertically – God is in the details. “I always want to capture these types of moments and speak with the architect. The details tell the story – the tight detail photograph is just as important as the establishing shot.”

It was especially interesting hearing Adam discuss shooting Sunrise, which was the first project he photographed twice, once in misty February and once in sunny, hot August. Contrasting light and day lengths made each shoot a very unique experience. His intimate detail images very articulately characterize the materiality of the project, which successfully all tie into the broader project goals. Now, we’re even more excited to continue our working relationship with Adam– see more of his work here.

2022 JEDI Committee Updates

As we start a brand-new year, the team at Feldman Architecture wants to continue to share our progress, setbacks, challenges, and successes with our community to both hold ourselves accountable, as well as to join in on the knowledge sharing that makes larger scale meaningful progress attainable. In 2021, our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Committee was hard at work improving processes, learning, and growing. Below, find updates and as always, please feel free to reach with comments, questions, and suggestions! We’d love to hear from you.  

In 2021, FA’s JEDI committee focused on two main initiatives. First, we hired DEI consultant Humanize Us All to perform an operational audit of our studio, analyzed and learned from their findings, and reacted to and/or implemented their recommendations. Secondly, our committee completed a deep dive into researching internship, mentorship, and volunteer opportunities and encouraged participation from interested staff, with the goal of identifying a marquis program to align with to support the next generation of designers and architects from specifically underrepresented communities.

In spring of 2021, the Humanize Us All team issued an anonymous survey to all FA staff that provided an extensive list of questions about their personal experiences, opinions, and suggestions in the categories of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Humanizing Culture, and Policies + Procedures at Feldman Architecture. HUA then used this data to tailor a presentation to first our JEDI Committee and Executive Team, and later our entire staff with findings, suggestions, successes, and areas for improvement.

The audit began by identifying our strengths as a firm, acknowledging that the best foundation for growth comes from leveraging preexisting strengths. For instance, reporting found that the vast majority of staff feel respected and valued by the organization, and additionally feel like they belong at FA. 100% of FA staff members believe that the organization has a growth mindset, and every FA staff member identified that gender diversity was important to them.

Afterwards, our committee completed a deep dive into HUA’s full Humanity Audit, compiling a list of recommendations to focus on in 2022. These were divided into three categories: Quick To-Do’s, 2022 Goals, and 2022 discussion points. The Quick To-do’s included a task list for easily accomplished items such as posting all important information and announcements to our intranet, ensuring all staff complete a mandatory Sexual Harassment training, reviewing our office protocols, and reminding staff they have the option to put their pronouns in internal and external communications/signatures.

A few of the 2022 Goals and Talking Points include:

  • Integrate diversity into our selection process for prospective clients and projects.
  • Finalize a database of minority-owned and value-aligned businesses and share internally and with peers.
  • Solidify and redistribute an updated and anonymous complaint form with all staff.
  • Research and begin the process to enact affinity groups at FA.

These goals were then presented to our staff at a 2022 kick off meeting, with the hopes of encouraging feedback and participation.

This presentation was accompanied by the introduction of a handful of volunteer and mentorship opportunities that our staff have the option of participating in this year. So far, we have two staff members volunteering for the Spring semester of the SF ACE Mentorship program, in which they meet weekly with local high school students interested in potentially pursuing a career in architecture, construction, or engineering, and help them with a relevant design project. We have also identified SF NOMA’s project pipeline camp as a volunteer opportunity this summer. Additionally, our internship program will expand to work with SFUSD Career Pathways to welcome a local, high school intern into our office for the summer months. Lastly, this year we are excited to become a NOMA President’s Circle Corporate Member, benefitting from the organization’s events, DEI training, and resources.

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