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.

Staff Spotlight: Maria Bermudez

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from San Jose, Costa Rica.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I graduated from the architecture school of the Hispano-American University of Costa Rica.

Q: Tell me about your family.
We are a family of 5. My parents met when they were 18 years old, and they have been together ever since then. I have two younger brothers – I’m the first child and the only girl.

All my family lives in Costa Rica, but we visit each other as much we can.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
Architecture is so versatile; we have the opportunity to explore design in so many ways. Each project reflects a careful selection of colors, textures, and sensations that changes people’s lives through space.

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the team. I love being part of such a diverse and collaborative group of designers.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
Dark, The OA, and Money Heist.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I baked a lot during quarantine. I tried all kinds of pastry recipes. I started to mediate and recently joined a Pilates class.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I believe every project has something special, but I find myself more inclined to work on projects that challenge me to learn something new.

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

  1. Floor to ceiling windows to enjoy natural light and ventilation.
  2. Big kitchen island to gather friends and family while cooking.
  3. Open concept living room and dining with a fireplace for the cold days of winter.
  4. Spacious bathroom with a free-standing bathtub and outdoor shower.
  5. Little garden or backyard to plant herbs and flowers.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I would love to visit Japan and explore the traditional and contemporary architecture.

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.

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.