Staff Spotlight: Ahlada Pappu

Q: Where are you from?
It’s hard to say where exactly I’m from as I moved around a lot. I was born in India but moved to the US when I was a year old. I lived in the South Bay till the end of 7th grade when my family had to move back to India. I was in Hyderabad for 5 years and Chennai for the other 5 before I moved back to the US.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I received my Bachelor of Architecture from the School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai, India.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I am an only child. My parents are from Vizag (a small coastal city in India). My parents were the first in their family to move to the US. My dad is a software engineer, and my mom is an ayurvedic (alternative medicine from India) practitioner. My husband is a first-generation aspiring physician. His husky is the youngest member of my family.

Q: How did you get your start in architecture? What kind of projects are you most drawn to?
When I moved to India, I was intrigued by the rich palatial and temple architecture. I always used to think about how amazing the life of the royals and others living in Palaces would’ve been. When I started architecture school, I learned more about the vernacular architectural styles of India and appreciated the “tropical modernism” style. Looking back, I was always drawn to residential architecture.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I binged season 1 of Lupin, Alice in Borderland, Manifest.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I started learning to play the violin, in the Indian classical style. I was also able to spend more time experimenting with digital art at the beginning of the pandemic.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
A trip to Norway for the Northern lights, learn to surf, design my own house (even if it’s a weekend house).

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
This is definitely not a hidden gem, but I love Strawberry hill at Stow Lake.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I love water bodies and would want either a lakefront home or framed ocean views. I always wanted a courtyard to be the central space in my home. I feel they bring in the perfect amount of outdoor into your enclosed/indoor space. I would want an art studio, a large bookcase for my collection of architectural books and fiction novels, and a Chihuly sculpture.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
It’s been a while since I travelled outside of the country, but I’m really looking forward to my trip to Greece next summer. It will be a great mix of architectural sightseeing and relaxing at the beaches.

Women of FA: Anjali Iyer

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I must confess it took me a while to find my bearings. I felt quite lost and underwhelmed by architecture school as well as practice during my first few years working out of Bombay, India. In retrospect, the best decision I made was to move out of a developer-dominated real estate market to a smaller city like Bangalore, where there were opportunities and appreciation for design interventions. I managed to get into a small design studio that did great work. I am relieved to say that it was the right move and I fell deeply in love with the design process, and every nook and cranny of the labyrinth that is the architectural practice.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I thoroughly enjoy working on single family residences. I love that on every new project we embark on a personal journey with the client(s). You do a deep dive to uncover their vision, and along the way infect them with the excitement you feel, as that vision manifests in design possibilities. You foster that relationship, earn their trust, and hold their hand through this entire process – through highs and lows. I also love that as architects we get to be the hub in the wheel – we are generalists who get to leverage the expertise of consultants, contractors, sub-contractors, vendors. Solving complex problems with a group of specialists, you are always learning, getting better at real-time critical thinking and problem solving – that is a wonderful by-product of this job.

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 for over half my life now – it has been 22 years since my first job as an intern. My career has taken different directions as I have moved across cities and countries– making for a fresh start and new learning experiences in each station. But the one thing that I appreciate most about the profession is that we do our best work when we are collaborative. Architecture is a team sport, and the best projects are backed by a team of stakeholders that challenge and bring out the best in each other. And have fun while they are at it! The stereotype of the architect playing God (strongly reinforced in architecture schools) needs to be dismantled – it does take a village.

Looking back, now is an exciting time for female career professionals as the industry has acknowledged previously hushed issues and is more open to agendas that empower women (and men) to foster their personal/ family life without detriment to their career goals. It is still very much a work in progress, but the momentum is there.

Q What project are you most proud of?
I am kind of proud of them all – how each one has transformed and hopefully enriched the lives of our clients. I will go with the Round House – as it is such a one-of-a-kind project. Compounded by the fact that it was a remodel on a challenging site, this project with its unique geometry demanded excellence and creative thinking from each member of the team. I learned a ton on that project. There is a reason we don’t see too many round houses😊.

Q: What challenges to do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
Gender inequality is real and we as a profession can fix it only with a unified effort from both men and women. Challenges mostly include preconceived biases because you are a woman in what has traditionally been a male domain. I feel like I go through a rite of passage to earn my seat at the table every time with a new client/ consultant/contractor, unlike my male colleagues, who seem to walk in the room with the confidence that they own it. As a female architect, you feel the pressure to exceed the bar – not just meet it. It can also be challenging to grow in your career or get access to networking opportunities when a lot of them tend to be boys’ clubs and male centric.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
Hard to pick one – there are some incredible architects out there who are women that have paved the way for the next generation, including mine. I have benefited from the wisdom of female mentors who guided me through tough times. Zaha Hadid deserves a mention because of how gutsy she was and how she stormed into the profession at the period that she did. She was a very inspiring figure to many of us when we were in architecture school.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
We are currently designing a home in Santa Barbara that is on a spectacular but challenging site. The clients’ vision for a rugged outcropping on a hill, evoking the spirit of an architecture that is centuries old, of-the-place, organic and native, has made for a fun design challenge. How do you make something feel timeless, lived-in? Looking back, I have come to appreciate the growth that comes with projects that stretch you out of our comfort zone – so I am excited about the potential on this one too.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
I like to think that I challenge my team members to bring their A-game to the project, support them so they can have a critical voice in the design conversation. That is the type of acceptance and space I sought out for myself during my formative years, and I hope to provide that for the teams I now manage.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
Interesting question… architecture practice demands all of it and some more. But seriously – your creative spirit carries into how you live day to day – the way you dress, the way you furnish your house, the way you entertain/host at home, the music you play, the environments you carve out for your quotidian life. These are small but extremely transformational experiences that one can consciously cultivate as a creative person. I love to bake and cook – activities that I do not necessarily see as artistic pursuits, but ones that immerse me in a completely different space from work. I pride myself on drumming up a scrumptious meal with whatever is in my pantry and refrigerator.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Do not get intimidated by deep-rooted cultural biases. Be curious, tenacious, passionate, and fearless. We all have insecurities but believe in yourself. I am a huge fan of speaking your mind and giving people a chance to respond/react to something you may otherwise be grappling with on your own. Communication is key. Find a mentor you can lean on or, a group that embraces you and relates to your journey. We are all in this together. Last but not least- get licensed!

Staff Spotlight: Yanhang Ren

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Nanyang, a small, historic city in the central plains of China.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I received my bachelor’s degree in Architecture at the Southwest University of Science and Technology in China, and then moved to the states and attended graduate school at UC Berkeley after taking a gap year working and travelling.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the oldest of two, I have a sister who just started high school. Both of my parents were born and raised in Nanyang. My dad is serving for the local department of building and planning inspection, but he studied forest protection in the college and later returned to his hometown where he met my mom. My mom just retired a couple of years ago, she used to be a technician at a chemical plant.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
Manipulating the space. It’s an art that empowers me to create space with rationale.

Q: What makes our office unique?
People, people, and people. I’m yet to meet all of the staff in person as most of our office is still working remotely, but all people I’ve worked with are smart, kind, and collaborative. I really appreciate the mentorship.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I wasn’t a big fan of water activities, but now I’m obsessed with kayaking… quarantine has made me more desperate to get in touch with nature.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I’ve only worked on single family projects at this point – so I couldn’t say if other project types would interest me more, but I’m a logic driven person, so I really enjoy projects with tectonics and novel structures.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
A ticket to the Mars (a serious face here), hike rim-to-rim in Grand Canyon, see my family when the pandemic is over.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A giant horizontal window facing toward the lake, this is the first image that pops up in my mind, an outdoor tub under the canopy of a chestnut tree, a studio surrounded by water, not too much furniture. I want to keep it as simple as possible, and maybe a gaming room can only be accessed from a secret door…

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I want to travel to the Faroe Islands. It’s been my desktop background for so long.

Staff Spotlight: Natalie Marcisz

Q: Where are you from?
I was born and raised in the East Bay – we hopped around from Fremont, to Danville, to Pleasanton.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I received my B.Arch from University of Oregon.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My dad moved to the US from Poland when he was 6. He still speaks Polish a bit, but I wish we had learned more growing up. My parents both spent most of their formative years on the East Coast. My mom moved to the Bay Area right before college, and my dad followed soon after he met her while on a business trip to the burgeoning Silicon Valley. I have one brother who is 2 years older and lives in Santa Cruz. I am lucky that my immediate family all lives close by!

Q: How did you get your start in architecture? What kind of projects are you drawn to?
My parents were very into visiting open houses when I was a kid. They were not necessarily looking to move, it was more of a curiosity and search for potential ideas to use in their own home – a Pinterest of the 90s, if you will. It was a common weekend activity for my family, and while my brother was often complaining about the prospect of yet another open house, I found myself really taking in the seemingly endless possibilities of each home. From these experiences I knew two things at a relatively young age: I was going to live in a French-style chateau with sparkling black and white tiled floors, and I was going to be an architect. Luckily, only one of those things happened.

Q: What makes our office unique?
From my experience so far, the people. Everyone has something unique to contribute to the firm, and I cannot wait to get to know everyone better once we return to the office!

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
Currently binging Mare of Easttown. A crime drama AND my girl from Titanic? Yes, please.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
Walking. It has been a very cathartic activity for me, especially during such a weird time.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Travel to Ireland and hike the coast with my Mom, complete an oil painting worth hanging, and design my own home.

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?|
One of my most hard-won was the National Champion title with my high school dance team. We went from not even qualifying freshman year, to 1st place our senior year. It made the victory that much sweeter.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
Expansive sunset views, a large central fireplace/hearth, entertaining space that spills out into the yard, a wine dispenser, and my own natural hot spring … but I’d settle for a pool-sized hot tub.

Staff Spotlight: Drew Curran

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Plano, Texas – a suburb of Dallas.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I did the five-year architecture program at University of Texas, Austin.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the youngest of two sons – my brother is two years older than me. Both of my parents are from Detroit, my dad works in telecoms and studied engineering in college, and mom is a high school Biology teacher.

Q: How did you originally become interested in architecture?
It all started in our seventh grade humanities unit on Spanish missions. We had to make floor plan for a mission using graph paper, which was really challenging (mine was horrible) but interesting to me. That sparked my initial interest – in middle school I was really into art, and in high school I was into STEM – and it feels like working in architecture and design is a great combination.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I started playing tennis! Also, living at home in Texas, I was able to perfect my margarita recipe. I spent a lot of time watching cooking videos and cooking for my parents.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
So far, I have only worked on remodels of single-family homes. I am interested in working on something slightly larger in scale, or maybe a commercial project.

Q: What is your favorite part about coming to work? (in person or virtually)
Hanging out with Nick (I’m one of the 3 or 4 people in the office right now)! I also have really been enjoying seeing different parts of the city while riding my bike to the office, as I am new to SF. Learning to avoid all the hills!

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
Yes. I’ve won concert tickets for a radio station and multiple raffles. I have been incredibly successful at the University of Michigan Dallas chapter alumni raffle – I win almost every week. I also have a seventh grade baseball trophy I’m pretty proud of.

Q: What question would you not want to be asked in an interview?
Don’t ask me about my weaknesses because I have none (just kidding).

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
At least one bathroom and natural light. At most, the most expensive speaker system installed in every room, and a helipad. And of course, a comprehensive rainwater/greywater collection and filtration system and PV array, with a Passive House certification.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
New Orleans – I was planning on visiting until my trip was cancelled by Covid. IMO it’s the most underrated city in America.

Staff Spotlight: Nicholas Tedesco

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Ventura, CA – just north of LA.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I did the five-year architecture program at USC.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the oldest of three – I have a sister that’s eight years younger, and a brother that is five years younger than me. My parents are both from Chicago and moved to California before I was born, so all my siblings and I grew up in Ventura. I come from a big Michigan family, so my attending USC was a little contentious (my dad played football at Michigan).

My wife is from Ft. Lauderdale, we met studying abroad in Barcelona when we both were students at USC. We lived in LA for four years after graduating, and then moved up to SF, and this year we’re making the move to Marin.

Q: How did you get your start in architecture?
When I was in high school, I was a very serious violinist, and was planning on going to music school – until I started exploring where that could take me professionally, which didn’t excite me. I started exploring other creative fields and admired our family friend who was both a big-time surfer and a successful residential architect – I thought he had the most amazing life.

Q: What makes our office unique?
Even though I haven’t been at FA too long, the first thing I noticed was a really nice office culture, everyone I’ve met and worked with is super welcoming. It seems like a great group of people who genuinely want to spend time together.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I was able to buckle down and finish my ARE’s – then found a lot more time to surf.

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
I spend a lot of time surfing at Ocean Beach, which I feel is a really underrated part of SF. I like hanging out at the Mucky Duck in the Sunset.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I would have an epic wine cellar, a half-pipe or full-on skate park, a climbing wall, a music room, as well as both mountain AND ocean views.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I want to do a trip to Chile and Argentina to go hiking and drink wine in Patagonia. I also would love to visit New Zealand!

Third Thursday – John Bela

For a virtual springtime addition of our Third Thursday series, we were happy to hear from urbanist, environmentalist, and UC Berkeley and CCA Lecturer John Bela about his many accomplishments and realizations surrounding the ways in which we interact with public and urban spaces. Currently, he serves as a Partner & Director at Gehl Studios, but prior to that, he co-founded Rebar Group during his time at Berkeley, and in a studio space in the Mission birthed a handful of ideas that we have become quite familiar with today, many of which have become increasingly important due to COVID social distancing.

Bela expressed his interest in the intersection between the formal and informal construction of urban spaces, framing examples as centralized and decentralized hierarchies, touching upon how we humanize skyscrapers and big cities. Where these things overlap create a true ecosystem – like the metrocables connecting the city center to mountainous villages in Medellin, and the half-abandoned Luxury tower in Caracas, now occupied by informal settlements. Not glorifying the informality, but finding the sweet spot between strategic and tactile, Bela introduced us to his ideas of urbanism, and the mindset that fostered his experiments.

Rebar produced a series of thought provoking ideas – including Bushwaffles, or soft, bright pink, inflatable wearable buffers between wearers and the hard urban landscape.

“Sold to the public via a vending machine, it is a piece of modular inflatable urban furniture – a pillow to sit on, float on, tie and wrap around you. Through strings it can be connected to other Bushwaffles. Two could form a mattress, three could be a sofa, and more could become a great seating area for a party in the park with friends.”

Interested by flexible urban spaces, Bela along with Rebar investigated an idea based around the shortest-term lease money can buy in a city – metered parking spaces. In the spirit of “user-generated urbanism”, Bela and his colleagues created some of the first parklets in metered parking spaces in San Francisco’s Mission District – introducing a completely new urban space into the typology. Working with Third Thursday favorite Reuben Margolin, Rebar created mobile parklets that traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, parking spot to parking spot, loaning temporary green spaces to city blocks.

What started as a social experiment has taken a new meaning in a public health crisis – parklets in 2020 have provided reprieve from COVID social distancing protocols, restaurant closures, and feelings of isolation. The Parklet is now a permittable urban space, and has bridged an urgent need, as well as changed the fabric of cities globally.

In 2005, Rebar started Park(ing) Day – a global, public, participatory art and design activism project. It is a day where people across the globe temporarily repurpose street parking spaces and convert them to tiny parks and places for art, play, and activism. Park(ing) Day is Friday, September 17, 2021.

Catching up with the Client: San Mateo Transformation

Last week, we caught up with Katie Morgenroth, a new client working on a remodel in San Mateo. We were struck by her talent as a designer and the ease at which she was able to communicate ideas with our team, allowing the project to move smoothly and to satisfy everyone’s vision. Katie spoke with us about the intersection of her work as an industrial designer and the collaborative relationship she has developed with our design team.

How did you find Feldman Architecture and what made us the right fit?
We did a fair amount of looking at architects online and through home tours which helped inform the style and feel we wanted to pursue. Dezeen, Wallpaper, Dwell and Pinterest helped us crystallize common themes we liked. Architecture, like product design, is a form of art, with many layers and feelings that merge together. A common pattern in the homes we loved was an airy and effortless aesthetic that blended architecture and nature. Also, for us, sustainability was very important. The fact that FA can design gorgeous, sculptural looking buildings with a sustainable ethos really drew us in. We very much wanted our home to feel in harmony with the land and have a real sense of place. That is one of the things that attracted us to our home when we first bought it – the building itself is unassuming, but is very private and on a property with trees and natural landscaping. We wanted an architect that would accentuate the home’s natural setting. I also gravitated to the tone of voice that the firm used to describe the work – FA seemed approachable even before we met.

Is collaboration important in your career? How has your experience of design in your professional life crossed over to this project?
Collaboration is essential in my career, I have learned, many times over- that we cannot do anything successfully alone. As an Industrial Designer, we need the expertise of engineers, UX designers, project managers (and many more) to make a product magical and achieve the best possible outcome.

At work, the last year has required us to adapt to new ways of collaborating – allowing us to design together, apart. We use shared virtual sketchbooks to pass ideas back and forth and update each other with new information. Matt, Steven, Lindsey and I have borrowed this workflow and it’s been great. We are all able to be very visual and communicate efficiently – we can easily align on what we are hoping to achieve. If I have a circle in my head and they have a square, we can easily share what we are thinking and sync up.

In terms of our work with FA, I’ve really enjoyed walking around the property with Matt and Steven and observing as they flip between creative and technical aspects of design. That is specifically why we wanted to hire an architect like FA, I have a certain aesthetic that I really want to achieve, but without that expert intuition of how things are made, I knew we would never be able to achieve the final outcome we hoped for. Because of my background, I am able to go that layer deeper with Matt and Steven, building off their ideas and at times developing alternate concepts in CAD. It’s been a fun process. Matt and Steven have really encouraged the collaboration and I’ve personally learned so much from their perspectives.

Describe your experience working with Steven and the FA team. What stands out as successful in the process?
One thing we really appreciated was how FA was able to expedite the process by quickly assembling a team to suit the goals and needs of our project. It was clear early on that FA has strong relationships and trust built up across the industry. On our project, we were able to fold in a lighting designer, structural engineer, and landscape architect quickly and have kept the whole thing on track. We are submitting for permit now!

We were really impressed by the google slide presentation you made to introduce the project to our team. You clearly spent many hours thinking about this project before you started to look for an architect.  And, we love how you have kept this live document as a way to communicate your feedback to design meetings and discussions. Describe your process when selecting your preferred schemes, finishes, etc.
When we design a product at work, we are always careful about proportions, form, materials – so I am very used to working with different layers. When working on our project, I am very conscious of the materials, light, and views in addition to the flow between spaces – if there are too many rich focal points it’s hard to appreciate anything in isolation. Choosing what to accentuate or tone down in each space has been the most challenging and interesting part of this process.

We like the exposed wood ceilings, lighting details, casework, and views – but we want to be able to see that all in the same frame, and peel back whatever is too extra and doesn’t work. We have been pretty consistent in some areas- finding a quiet material palette for the project, so that when we introduce furniture, flowers, decorations and art into the house, we are bringing in beauty and life as opposed to extra clutter. Sometimes what pulls everything together is the omission of things; simplicity can really bring harmony.

What aspect about your project excites you the most?
Because of how beautiful the property is, we want to focus on bringing the outdoors in without breaking the bank. We have been able to be creative with budget constraints – for instance, we would have loved floor-to-ceiling windows, but we are able to achieve that effect in different ways by looking at the intent and taking a few steps back. As one example, the existing entryway is dark and enclosed, but by pushing the door out a few feet and placing a large window at the end of the hallway, we are able to achieve a similar effect that a floor to ceiling window would have given us.

Working with the FA team, we identified a few choices we really liked – high asymmetric skylights, a bold spine at the center of the building and powerful indoor-outdoor moments. We also have been enjoying exploring casework concepts that give the home a muted, warm, modern feeling. The combination of the geometric elements of the house with a natural palette help accentuate the outdoors and the beautiful oaks on the property. I am also excited to be able to reuse parts of the existing structure, making the project as sustainable as possible.

As the designer of the family, how do you integrate your children and husbands needs and opinions into the design process?
It’s pretty funny – and kind of a joke between my husband and I. We always want to feel like we are collaborating, but it’s also really nice to have clear roles. My husband and I have known each other since we were 18 – he is a financial advisor, and I am a designer. I very much trust him on the money side of things, and he lets me lead design decisions, but if there are aspects of the project he cares about – he will most definitely let me know.

We also love involving our kids in the design process – I want them to be able to be messy and rambunctious, so we have been specifically selecting resilient materials, I don’t want our house to feel too precious. I like to give them tile samples and rough ideas and see how they react – let them really feel materials and interact with the process.