Process Case Study: Round House

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


CONSTRUCTION AND TECHNICAL EXECUTION

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

 

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


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


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

CRAFT: Brit Kleinman and AVO

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women of FA: Kateryna Rogynska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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!

Project Collaboration With BIM 360

By Laura Knight

Recently a few of our design teams have begun utilizing a useful Revit tool known as BIM 360 for project collaboration. You may ask yourself, what is BIM 360?

This exciting and powerful software enables our architectural models to be accessed via a remote server, meaning consultants can access project files directly from their offices to incorporate their own work! In my previous studios I’ve personally used BIM 360 for large-scale commercial design to streamline coordination with structural engineers.

BIM 360 also has a companion application on Android and IOS, meaning team members and collaborators can access up-to-date plans and project documents anywhere, at any time.

How will this software be utilized by our firm in the future? As Feldman Architects inevitably leads and contributes to more commercial design projects, and to more residential projects outside our native San Francisco, BIM 360 will become a key tool in effective project coordination. Effective project management and beautiful design are born of powerful instruments!

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!