Staff Spotlight: Bianca Mills

Q: Where are you from?

My dad was in the military so I never quite know how to answer that. I’ve lived in San Francisco longer than anywhere else, on and off since I was eight. At this point I’ve lived here for about 19 years total. I like living in the city because I’m close to most of my family, I like the unpredictable weather, and I think there’s some of the best restaurants in the country here. That, and I live in a rent controlled apartment that I’m not planning to leave anytime soon.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I started at New York University in the photography department and I graduated with a psychology degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I switched majors when I switched schools because psychology seemed a little more practical and was something I’d always had an equal interest in. While at NYU I was taking abnormal psych as an elective while most people in my class were taking electives like ‘circus’ and ‘acting,’ which were very popular.

Q: Tell me about your family?

My parents are both retired and will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They live in Kentfield, Marin. My dad was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army while my mother worked in retail most of my life and had a few interior design clients after she retired.

My sister is in marketing. She and her husband live in San Rafael with my nephews, James and William. My brother and his wife recently moved to Austin with my niece, Sadie, and nephew, Brady. My niece and nephews are my favorites. My prized possessions are a large collection of bee drawings for ‘aunt Bee’.  I spend time with them as often as I can. Living in Austin makes it difficult to see Sadie and Brady outside of FaceTime.  James and William are at the age where they seem to have sports every day that they don’t have school. I go to their games and make dates with them as much as possible.

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

I’ve always enjoyed administrative positions in creative fields but I got into architecture specifically by accident. I’m both right and left brain so I’ve always been interested in creative arts as well as organizational tasks, finance spreadsheets, and human behavior. These types of roles are a way to combine the two. Also, creative professions tend to have office cultures that I fit in better with as opposed to dry, homogenized, corporate environments.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

I’m coming up on my 5th anniversary in May.

Q: What makes our office unique?

I agree with what everyone else has said but don’t really want to just repeat it. I like that it’s casual and there are always different conversations going on. I like that everyone is very different but can appreciate the same sense of humor.  Our staff meetings usually include a lot of laughter.

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

I like the atmosphere and that I’m able to just be myself. I can wear jeans and converse every day. I live close enough to walk to work. Feldman has a great group of people that I both respect on a professional level and also care about on a personal level.

Q: Do you have any fun plans coming up?

I actually do! I am going to Paris for the first week of June and stopping in Dublin on my way home to see The Cure at Malahide Castle!  They’ve been my favorite band since I was 14.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?

To do a gorilla trek in Rwanda, to live somewhere in Europe for at least a year and to take my mom as my date to the Oscars the year I win for Best Original Screenplay.

Spring Newsletter 2019

Springtime in San Francisco

Promotions, new hires, photo shoots, and publication announcements? It must be Spring!

One of our newly photographed projects, dubbed ‘The Meadow Home’, was inspired by prominent views and beautiful slopes. The design team, made up of Lutsko Associates, Zaharias Design, Strandberg Engineering, Kim Cladas Lighting Design, Art of Construction, and BKF Engineers strove to integrate the structure into the landscape to minimize its massing within a large undeveloped meadow. Kudos to whole team for a beautiful job well done!

This designer should be a familiar face! Daniel has been an integral part of the Feldman team since 2013 and we’re thrilled to announce that this past December he became the newest Associate at our firm! With fourteen years of experience behind him, he’s continuing to excel as a project lead and is always sharing his knowledge with those around him.

In 2019 we’ve also added two more designers to the Feldman Family! Kateryna Rogynska joins us after working at Morphosis in Los Angeles, UNstudio in Amsterdam, LAVA in Berlin, and SOM here in San Francisco. She is a multidisciplinary creator with extensive experience in institutional, commercial, office, and high-rise design projects and we’re excited to have her join the team!

With two decades of experience in high value residential projects in both the Bay Area and Southern California, Jeremy Alden joins us as a seasoned Project Manger with an integrated knowledge of design and construction. He’s been living and working in the Bay Area for 6+ years, with a few of his noted projects being the Walt Disney Family Museum, San Carlos Medical Center, and Cavallo Point.

If you’ve been keeping up with our work you may have noticed an influx of projects added to our On The Boards page. Two projects in Los Altos Hills and Portola Valley respectively, Floating Bar House (top left) and Pan’Orama  (top right) broke ground last year and are continuing construction into 2019. The Pavilions (bottom left) in Atherton are nearly finished and the team is looking to wrap up at the end of April. Finally, Surf House (bottom right) down in Santa Cruz has been making great progress and has provided a wonderful opportunity for our marketing team to play with their new drone.

Started close to three years ago, one of our Pro-Bono projects is set to finish this coming May! The Playworks office near Jack London Square is a playful and whimsical space, reflective of the clients and their unique brand of recreation. Keep an eye out for this month’s issue of Registry SF for a behind the scenes look at how this project evolved and came together.

Finally, we’re happy to share that Sophia Beavis returned from maternity leave in early February and our designers participated in an in-house baby photo guessing game to celebrate. As you can see, everyone was quite amused with the results.

We have a handful of photo shoots coming up this spring and we’re excited to share new work with you all in the coming months. Stay tuned for a publication announcement next week… we’ll give you a hint, we’ve been on the cover once before!

– Feldman Architecture


An Interview with David Toews of BayWest Builders

By Serena Brown

A few months back I was given the opportunity to tag along on a site meeting to Los Altos Hills. My purpose was to interview David Toews, BayWest Builder’s superintendent on site at the Round House. I’ve been interested in this project since I started at Feldman Architecture due to its unique circular shape, and the innovative ways the various teams have tackled the challenges that come with a perfectly round form; notably David’s creation ‘The Tool’.

For the first hour or so I had free reign to explore the home, snapping photos and admiring the views. Once the meetings had finished and the walk-through was complete, David was happy to sit down with me and discuss his background in construction, as well as his excitement for this particular project. Despite his current construction expertise, David grew up in a musical family. His father was a brilliant composer who started the Cabrillo College Music Festival, though for reasons unknown encouraged David away from the musical path. David joked that he “wasn’t sure if it was due to the difficulty of the business or [his] lack of musical talent!”

At age six he was given his first tool set, which he promptly got taken away by his mother after sawing through a support beam on his front porch. During his early teen years he attended an alternative high school / college and turned his attentions toward the medical industry. He decided at 17 that medicine wasn’t for him after dropping out of college to pursue other interests. At 19 he entered his first carpentry job, but wasn’t yet thinking of it as a trade. Shortly after, he was taken under the wing of Ed Powell as a carpenters apprentice and his career in construction really began.  From Ed he learned not only the hands-on skills associated with construction, but also the values behind his way of business. As a child he had spent time with his uncle learning how to build architectural models, paint with watercolors, and generally learning how to problem solve. The time with his uncle had a huge influence on his later life, and his time with Ed reminded him of those experiences.

Following his tenure with Ed Powell, David went on to work at Pressman Construction where he learned about business management but felt the company didn’t extol the same values he’d admired in Ed. In 1986 he started his own company, built on core tenants he believed in, and ran it for 30 years. He proudly kept his clients happy but admits that despite being a good builder, he wasn’t a very good businessman. Thus, his company closed in 2016. For the past three years he’s worked under the leadership of Derek Gray, which he happily says allows him to focus on what he loves most—building.

The Round House is situated up in Los Altos Hills with views of the Bay from the kitchen and living room. The clients fell in love with this quirky circular home and later made the decision to remodel. Since the house is a perfect circle, David stressed that geometry and strict calculations were important from the get-go. He felt from the beginning that the house needed a compass to guide its construction. He told me that when he’s planning out a job, he views the building in layers, starting from the foundation all the way through framing and steel work. Getting each layer done right is what causes a project to succeed. After seeing the plans for the Round House, long before starting the project, he had a dream about the Sundial Bridge in Redding and in the morning the idea for the perfect tool dawned on him. Derek approved of his plan and after telling the owners, architects, and subs, told him he’d better build it!

‘The Tool’, a cross between a trammel arm and compass, is 16ft tall with a 45ft long boom. Its function was to properly measure the circumference of the house during the construction of its foundation and walls. It helped the team keep track of the vectors in plan and make sure each wall lined up with its counterpart. The name for ‘The Tool’ was inspired by a Russian carpenter who worked for David many years ago. He put together a complex piece of furniture without any fasteners; the through dovetail mortise and tenon connections were locked in place using a small block of wood that tapped the parts into position.  He said if you were to take it apart, save the ‘TOOL’, which he had written on the piece of wood. David laughed when he said the name stuck with him and thought he’d pay homage to the work ethic of the man who thought of it. And of course, he still has the ¼ x ¼ x 4” ‘TOOL.’  David said that while he was building it his “heart said it’ll work but [his] mind was still questioning it.” Finally though, “it just took flight.”

Now that the project is past framing, the team no longer has use for ‘The Tool’. David likened it to a “dragon friend in Game of Thrones” and was sad to take it down. He hopes that he won’t have to dismantle it, and is looking at donating it to somewhere like a children’s museum. If anyone knows a good place to display it, please let us know!

When asked about the challenges he faced in this project, David had only positives to share. He mentioned how exciting it is to work on this type of job, and how he’s constantly excited to jump out of bed in the morning and come to work. You can tell that David is truly following his passion, and that problem solving is in his nature. He believes in constantly learning, adapting, and holds the view that ‘information doesn’t just fall from the sky, [he] was very fortunate to have mentors to pass on knowledge that had in turn been passed on to them.”

I want to extend a huge thank you to David for taking the time to speak with me and share his story regarding this fascinating project, and his storied career path and passions. Make sure to check back On the Boards for updates as construction on the Round House should be finishing up later this year!

Staff Spotlight: Jeremy Alden

Q: Where are you from?

I was grew up on a farm outside of Albany, Oregon, in the self-proclaimed grass seed capital of the world. We had sheep, cows and chickens, which was a lot of work when I was growing up. I spent the good portion of my childhood on the business end of a shovel.  I lived in the same house for most of my childhood, but we eventually bought the bigger house next door and moved in there.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I did my fresh year at the University of San Francisco and then finished my undergrad at the University of Oregon. For my Masters, I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

At USF I majored in advertising design while at U of Oregon I pursued fine arts with a concentration in photography as well as landscape architecture. I worked as press photographer in college and really enjoyed that medium. However, I didn’t want to be a press photographer my whole life and found landscape arch compelling. At Pratt I studied industrial design with a focus on furniture and ceramics.

Q: Who is in your family?

I have a brother and a sister, both younger. My wife, Simran, and I have a three year old named Caden. Siman is a real estate agent for Vanguard and Caden is a Senior Vice President at Twitter (well not really – he goes to preschool).

My brother is a mechanical engineer and my sister is a physical therapist. They live in Eugene and Portland. Fun fact: my mom and dad were on the amazing race, season 19. They went far, but didn’t win. If you ever want a traumatic experience, watch you parents bodybuilding on national television.

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

From a young age, I was fascinated with building things.

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

I like balancing bold creative visions with high client expectations and working with contractors and subcontractors that are highly knowledgeable.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

Just over a month.

Q: What makes our office unique?

It’s very different from my former office. It’s full of light and air and collaborative design conversations.

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

I’m at a point right now where I’m learning about the firm, its processes, and developing relationships with colleagues; all of which I enjoy.

Q: Do you have a professional role model?


Q: What’s your design process like?

Lots of ideation to begin. Followed by practical assessment and refinement.

Q: When was the last time you did something for the first time? What was it?

I rode a camel for the first time in November because my son wanted to. This was in the UAE. It was short and sweet. Much like this interview.

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?

Yes, I was Mr. San Francisco Movember 2009. Movember happens in November and is a fundraiser for prostate cancer research. To participate, you grow a mustache and attend a party. At the party there’s a costume contest and I rocked it!

Staff Spotlight: Anjali Iyer

Q: Where are you from?

I am from Bombay, India (or Mumbai as they now call it!). After working out of there for a few years, I moved to Bangalore to work with this awesome studio. This was a fresh start into small scale architecture; refreshing different from the developer-driven architecture that dominates big cities like Bombay. Bangalore was great and I met my husband there.

After five years, we moved to Prague, Czech Republic. A vacation in Prague, made me realize how much I was looking for a change, to expanding my horizons as an architect. During this trip, we both fell in love with this enchanting city – that straddled the past and present with such ease. We decided to move. For three years in Prague, we explored many parts of East Europe, made a ton of new friends, learned a new language (Czech!). Immersed in the culture of these places, as a local – we gained a new appreciation for our own roots – something one tends to take for granted in one’s native habitat.

San Francisco happened in 2011. I was ready to dive back into active practice after this sabbatical and move back to an English-speaking country. I’ve always been drawn to cities by the water and friends who had lived in SF made a strong case for it. We took a leap of faith and moved here! Eight years later, this is the longest that we’ve been in one place.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I did my schooling at St. Judes, a convent in one of the suburbs of Bombay.. Education was a huge priority for middle-class families in India. It was affordable and of reasonable quality. My parents made sure me and my siblings had access to education and a professional career of our choice. I ended up choosing architecture and went to Sir J.J.College of Architecture, the oldest architecture school in India.

The five year degree course at JJ was a big departure from the STEM focused education system of India. The course was challenging for most of us as it tries to inculcate a sensitivity; develop a sense of inquiry to navigate design decisions and an appreciation for what is aesthetic, what is beauty, why is it beautiful… All a big departure from the prescriptive nature of our early education. The scope of the course was broad – ranging from abstract principles of art, design, to scientific principles of construction through the sweeping lens of historic precedents. It took us a really long time to join the dots and make sense of the seemingly disparate aspects of the program. I do believe it takes all of those five years to understand how architecture influences, shapes and transforms everyday living.

Q: Tell me about your family

I am the youngest of three siblings. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 14. My two elder brothers have been father figures in my life since. My mom lives with my eldest brother and his family in Bombay. He is a banker, and now an entrepreneur. My other brother lives in Upstate NY and is a research scientist. Having these two brilliant siblings as role models in my childhood was a huge motivation to excel like they did. We are a tightly knitted family and we try to get together at least once a year.

Suresh and I have been married for 13 years. We met through a common circle of friends in Bangalore. We’ve both grown through our travels away from home and family. He was one of those kids that knew they wanted to work with computers from a really young age. He is a software engineer and a musician.

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

After getting into architecture school, I think. Indian cities, in their chaos and density, can be overwhelming. They lack the overt picturesque, curated quality of cities in the developed world. The patterns are harder to see unless one looks hard. The energy in these spaces was always evident, but it was hard to understand what made them tick, what made one feel a certain way in a public space; a temple, a small park, or the sense of refuge behind the doors of one’s own home. Architecture school gave us the tools and the vocabulary to dissect, and articulate the experience of being in a particular space. Once one knew where to look, design was all around – manifest in forms small and big. I was mostly blind to it, prior to this formal training.

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

I tend to gravitate towards residential projects. Considering how I’ve been doing this for a long while and how I still enjoy it, it must say something about the satisfaction I get out of that typology. There is something truly gratifying about designing for a known set of people who will live out their lives in an environment that you create for them. It is this home that gives them solitude and shelter from the outside world. You nurture and sustain a relationship with the owners through the entire process. Residential design is the best kind of collaboration, – not just with consultants and the construction team but with the end users, more so than any other building typology.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

I started here in October 2014 so I guess around 4 years and 4 months.

Q: What makes our office unique?

I really appreciate the diversity of people and personalities in the office. I also cherish the lack of hierarchy, for the most part, which nurtures a strong sense of collaboration and lets people have their own voice. That makes for a great variety of projects that are unique and non-templated.

Q: Whats your favorite part about coming to work?

Getting cracking on the list of items I’ve jotted down in my head for that day.

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

There is one person that I keep going back to, whenever I hit a roadblock and I try to imagine how he would tackle it. I worked with Edgar Demello for five years during my time in Bangalore. Edgar exemplified what it meant to be an architect- a renaissance man engaged in art, music, literature, politics – all with immense thoughtfulness, backed by a wry sense of humor. A small studio that did high quality work with a strong ethical backbone. We are best friends despite being generations apart. I aspire to be like Edgar – always engaged, always passionate.

Q: Are you a sunset or sunrise type person?

I think I’m a sunset type of person. Literally because I’m not a morning person. I still feel the possibilities at sunset even as you see the sun go down, the day doesn’t stop there.

Q: Whats your design process like?

If I had to choose  a word – contemplative, tentative. It starts with a collage of early impressions… of the site, the clients, their aspirations… Words that linger or impressions that stay when I’m recalling the site. Visuals… doodles. There is a sense of ponderous excitement before one touches pen to paper. Furious iterations. Eventually, it leads to something more free flowing and lucid .

It’s an iterative process…  zooming in and out… being really fuzzy; about letting yourself dream about what a project wants to be, darting going closer and getting excited about individual possibilities, and looking at them anew from a distance.

Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?

My Iphone. It’s my window the world. I really am not a gadget person so that is saying a lot. Being a consummate multitasker, the phone helps me stay on top of work and what’s happening outside of work, practice on the new language I am learning. I’m a power user. I used to read a lot more books before phones became prevalent, took notes the old-fashioned way. Now it’s all on my phone!

Third Thursday January 2019: New Staff

For our first Third Thursday of 2019, we decided to mix it up and keep it in-house. Our three newest staff members were invited to present on their backgrounds and previous work from schooling or companies they’d been a part of before joining our firm. Each came from different locations with unique focuses, skills, and talents. Jeremy presented on a few of his residential endeavors, as well as his own fine arts projects. Kateryna had us explore some of her graduate work and gave us an insider perspective on what it takes to build skyscrapers around the world. Laura spoke about various buildings she worked on while living in Boston, and how they compare to the projects here at our firm.

Each wrote a quick summary of their presentations which you can read below!



While at a previous architecture firm, I completed a house just outside of Montecito.  The 9,000 square foot house has a commanding presence on Padaro Beach, highlighted by 40’ wide pocket doors beneath a 14’ cantilever.  The exterior materials are reclaimed teak from Thailand, board formed concrete wainscot, standing seam titanium roof, and steel windows and doors.  The interior finishes include rift sawn white oak ceilings, plaster walls and custom concrete pavers on the floor.  The house features dual master suites on the second floor with panoramic views (one for the clients and one for their son who lives in LA). The owners recently moved in and I flew down to welcome them, happy to complete such an awesome project with stellar clients.



For my Third Thursday presentation I described my experience designing large-scale residential developments in Boston. One of the projects I highlighted was 345 Harrison; a 12-story, 585 unit project in South Boston which included ground floor retail and restaurant spaces, elevated private parks for tenants, an indoor gym, an exterior pool and lounge, and many more tenant amenities. Working on 345 Harrison gave me a great sense of accomplishment as a designer – it was an honor to contribute to such a landmark development in my home city.

Residential projects here at Feldman are, of course, much smaller in scale, but offer a much more personal design experience and a more focused vision, on a faster schedule – It’s a great change in pace! I can’t say how thankful I am to be a part of the team here at FA.



Several weeks ago I had pleasure to share a brief overview of my design work from the Master Degree that I received at IAAC, in Barcelona, as well as a variety of projects from my previous work experience at SOM and Morphosis. Academic projects covered my interest in temporary architecture, wind energy harvesting and clay tile making inspired by a visit to a renowned Catalan ceramics factory. This work resulted from the numerous discourses that were held at the school, and looked at ways to challenge energy wasteful living, while growing social awareness on the issue.

The Nubular lightweight structure, is an exploration into an injection-based architecture. A homogenous building material, in this case perforated pvc skin, is used to create tubes of custom lengths and angles, which are then filled with one’s material of choice depending on the chosen tube’s position within the overall structure. Given that the material filling is a key parameter in the behavior of the structure, several tests were carried out to identify the optimal fillings and member lengths to avoid buckling. It was decided to fill the bottom most members with soil and sawdust mixture, while the top is composed of lighter foam balls. Each tube length is split into 3 with a maximum part length of around 800mm, and allowing for 50mm flat connection gaps in between and at the ends of each tube.

The overall shape was designed in grasshopper using hoopsnake plugin. An original tetrahedron shape is drawn, and hence follows the path of an arched curve, turning and repositioning itself in the process from the start of the path to the end. After this process, the geometry was manually pulled to the ground plane and specific 3-piece curves were extracted and drawn to ensure they stay under the 800mm limit. Each of the curves was separated as a layer and with lengths fed into another definition to directly produce laser cut files which included labels and welding line engravings.

The fabrication process took about 3 full days. 78 custom lengths were laser cut, welded, filled, and holed at the junctions for connections with zip-ties. Construction took around 10 hours.

Staff Spotlight: Kateryna Rogynska

Q: Where are you from?

I was born in Ukraine and later moved to Montreal for the second half of my teenage years. I am from the fourth largest city in Ukraine—Dnipropetrovsk, or the short version Dniper. My parents live in Ukraine, but my older brother now resides in San Francisco.

Q: Where did you go to school?

My Bachelor’s degree is from McGill University in Montreal. I did my Masters in Barcelona at a tiny little school that’s on offshoot of MIT called IaaC. The degree in Spain provided an off-the-hook experience that did not focus on the same content as my internships, but instead challenged another way of thinking about architecture and urban planning. What I found when I arrived was that the school was structured around a super fun media lab, where we got to play with 3D printing and Kuka robots. It was basically a warehouse filled with grown-up architecture toys.

Q: Tell me about your family.

My dad is a jack of all trades. He has worked in the financial industry, construction and metal part production, as well as helped managing a TV show in Ukraine. My mom is an engineer by education, but she ended up working in the beauty industry and has a passion for making women look and feel great.

My brother also is a jack of all trades; he started his career in sales and then soon after diverted into the technical side of that position, which led him to founding his own startup at a very young age. Now he runs a business in SF and calls Silicon Valley his home. His company develops software that helps run sales engineering teams more efficiently and increases sales revenue.

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

My attachment to architecture stemmed first from an interest in interior spaces. When my parents bought a new apartment in one of the high rises that my dad help develop some years ago, we commissioned a talented young architect to co-design the interior. Experiencing the space for the first time was very powerful to me, because I saw the immediate effect of his work on my family’s life. Parallel to that, I have always had a strong affinity for the fine arts. During middle school, I also enrolled in an art school, which entailed numerous hours of sketching, painting and sculpture per week. That experience helped to direct my life towards a career that involved combining my love for special design with the technical skills I developed during art school.

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

I, by method of deduction, have learned that while skyscrapers and large commercial projects are interesting to work on in regards to your ego and sheer complexity of the problem solving to be done, I find myself truly reveling in designing tiny parts and pieces of projects that come together in a clever way.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

About a month!

Q: Know any SF hidden gems?

The water organ in the Marina is pretty great. I also really like Lands End beach. My boyfriend recently showed it to me during a low tide, and we went star fish watching!! When waves recede, the beach becomes entirely exposed. There are massive rocks that the star fish attach to, so when the tide is low you can spot hundreds of them!

In terms of restaurants, I am a Souvla junkie. My favorite going out spot recently has been Phonobar, which is owned by one of my friends. It has a really nice loungy atmosphere and great drinks. Plus I get to DJ there.

Q: What makes our office unique?

I am yet to discover all the unique features, but what struck me from the beginning was how close-knit the team is. The leadership puts so much care towards cultivating very strong office culture. The overall successful feeling of the interior of the office was definitely an attention grabber when I came by for my first interview.

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

Right now it’s learning and feeling like I can always get constructive feedback on what I am doing. It’s very encouraging, and makes me want to work and learn even more!

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

I am not the type of person who has one role model for life, but there is a French architecture studio, called StudioKO, that I came across about a year ago. They do work predominantly in Morocco while being based in Paris. They successfully manage to mesh ever so refined classical Parisian design elegance with the rough and colorful Moroccan terrains. The final product is really cool—you should definitely check it out!

Q: What’s your design process like?

My process starts with trying to understand the problem as much as I can by collecting all the pieces of information available. My mind constantly oscillates between analytical and messy artistic, so I tend to need to gather as much as I can to be able to start the process.  Later on, it’s about the big ideas. I like to write them down. Then, identify the moves and proceed into sketching/modeling, or whichever media makes the most sense at the moment.

Q: What is the strangest/most unique food you have ever eaten?

First off, I can tell you about the threshold I was not able to cross- which is fried crickets served on mole in Mexico City. My friends eagerly dove into the plate and enjoyed the crackling sound of crushing cricket skins, while I was curious, but also slightly disturbed.

I did try frog legs which were pretty okay. I would say the grossest thing that I am supposed to like since I am Ukrainian, but don’t, is raw pig fat. The dish consists of very dense pig fat that’s been marinated, smoked and salted but not cooked in the traditional way. It is definitely a relic of the past that I cannot imagine enjoying now.

Jess & Heera’s Japan Adventures

Last year, two of our designers had the chance to travel to the Land of Rising Sun. Jess visited with her husband Chris in September, while Heera and Ben made the trek at the end of October. While both couples had differing itineraries, they all chose to visit Tokyo and Kyoto during their respective whirlwind tours. Jess and Heera then chose their favorite aspects of each city and crafted a beautiful snapshot of their unique adventures in Japan.

Tokyo – Heera Basi

One of my favorite experiences traveling in Tokyo was visiting the Inner Garden at the Meiji-jingū, or Meiji Shrine. This garden was a tranquil and peaceful oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Originally built in 1920, the Meiji Shrine is one of Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrines. The grounds are extensive, occupying roughly 170 acres in the middle of the city. The entry into the shrine grounds is impressive as you pass through 40 foot tall Tori gates made out of cedar marking the transition between the city and the shrine. As you walk along the tree lined pathway that leads to the shrine, the garden is off of a small side path that would be easy to overlook. The Emperor Meiji designed an Iris Garden here for the Empress Shoken. Once inside the garden there are a variety of smaller pathways to meander through. Along with the Iris garden, there is a beautiful tea house, a pond with koi fish, Kyomasa’s well, and several little pavilions where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. The garden attracts far fewer tourists than the shrine itself so it is a great place to tuck away for a relaxing stroll and a peaceful break from the city!

Tokyo – Jess Stuenkel

Tokyo is an amazing place where outside of every metro station looks to be its own metropolitan hub, eccentrically designed skyscrapers stand proud, and you are never far from the most delicious noodles. But after a few days feeling like tiny fish in the big city, we decided to venture an hour North just outside of Tokyo to Ōmiya. It was mid-week on a day with a gloomy sky endlessly threatening rain but the town was nevertheless a little oasis. Known as the Bonsai Village, Ōmiya was formed by a collection of professional bonsai growers who moved from Tokyo in 1925 in search of clean air and spacious land for their bonsai collections and life’s work. When the village was formed it had rules including that you had to own a minimum of 10 bonsai and open your bonsai garden up to the public. Although these rules no longer apply, the village maintains a sense of calm and greenery that is impressive. There are still around seven major Bonsai gardeners remaining with large garden shops, still practicing bonsai cultivation in the village. All of these gardens are open to the public to enjoy and even watch the bonsai masters at work. But perhaps the thing I found most impressive is the idea that to be a bonsai gardener transcends a lifetime. The oldest bonsai we saw was estimated to be 1000 years old, carefully cared for by generation after generation. Each bonsai is not the work of one gardener, but by an entire lineage of those dedicated to this ancient craft.

Kyoto – Heera Basi

Visiting Kyoto can be overwhelming as there are so many important and impressive temples to see. My favorite temple by far was the Genkoan Temple. Located in the foothills in the Northern part of the city, this small Buddhist temple was originally built in 1346. This temple is known for its “bloody ceilings”. The ceiling is comprised of wood floorboards that are stained in the blood of fallen samurai. In the 1600’s, these samurai were defending a castle that was under siege. Faced with overwhelming odds and impending defeat, the samurai committed ritual suicide rather than be taken by their enemies. The blood-stained floorboards from this castle were then installed as the ceilings in several temples, including the Genkoan Temple, as a way to honor and offer peace to the souls of the fallen samurai. You can still see the footprints of these soldiers on some of the boards. One of the other predominant architectural features here are the two main windows, one circular and one square. Located side-by-side, the rectangular window on the right is known as the “Window of Confusion” representing the suffering and passage humans go through in life. The circular window on the left is the “Window of Enlightenment” which represents the Zen concept of the universe and enlightenment beyond the suffering of mortality. The windows offer a view out to temple’s gardens, which were gorgeous in the fall with the leaves changing color. Visitors to the temple can sit on the floor and meditate in front of these windows. It is a bit of a trek to get up to this part of the city, and on the way to the temple we discovered Klore bakery which is just down the road. It is a small unassuming place, but the French-style pastries here were some of the best I’ve ever had! I highly recommend visiting this temple as it is less touristy and off the beaten path. Like the inner garden of the Meiji Shrine, it offers a peaceful experience and space for contemplation.

Kyoto – Jess Stuenkel

My favorite day in Kyoto was spent on the West side of town in the Arashiyama district. The tourism websites tout the experience of first hand encounters with snow monkeys, and photos within the tall groves of bamboo in the Arashiyama Bamboo forest. The monkeys were admittedly adorable, and the bamboo forest was indeed beautiful despite the gaggles of tourists with the same itinerary. But having completed these two activities we continued on to search out a shrine that looked to be a decent walk way, in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. We exited the far side of the bamboo forest, and after walking quickly away from the masses of people, our path became obvious. It was much less a street, and more a promenade that wove itself around the neighborhood, touching the entrances of temple after temple. In between, a picturesque residential area was dotted with small shops filled with handmade ceramics, tiny owl figurines, indigo wares, and yes, noodles. The residences, both large and small were complete with perfectly weathered woods, natural stone, and the most beautiful roofs. We walked slowly, making time to take in the colors, textures, sounds, and smells. We quietly debated which temples we had time to investigate beyond peering through the gates, or down their tree-lined entrance paths. We did pay visits to a couple of temples in the area and they did not disappoint. Each was completely unique, perfectly sited, and exquisitely crafted. The whole area melded the natural & man made into something completely harmonious and thoroughly enjoyable.