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!
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!
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!
By Liza Karimova
When we first walked into TWO, our eyes were drawn to it: a soft paisley seat, four prancing legs, and a whirl of curves on its back. A short, tiny metal chair; a challenge, we recognized. A challenge that we ended up taking on.
Late last June, a few members from Feldman Architecture decided to participate in the annual “Chairity” event, spearheaded by TWO Furnish. Every year, “Chairity” invites designers from all disciplines to deconstruct, re-upholster and reinvent a used or forgotten chair, which is then auctioned off to raise money for charity. This year, the money was raised for Project Color corps, an organization that creates change by painting inner city neighborhoods, and Raphael House, which helps low-income families find stable housing and financial independence. Feldman Architecture were excited to participate in a design project that benefitted local organizations, and brought together a multitude of local designers.
Hence, a team of five – Johnny, Mike, Nick, Chris Kay and I (Liza) – showed up at the TWO showroom one evening to pick out their chair. Being the last to pick in the white-elephant style draw, the team ended up with the short, tiny metal chair; a challenge. Encouraged by the originality of the pick, and the fact that it was the only metal chair in the show, they decided to procrastinate for another many months, before finally attempting the transformation.
When the time came, the team started out by holding a few informal design charrettes. The common desire was to treat this project like an experiment, where there would be not successes and failures, just variations on a hypothesis.
Because of the nature of the raw material, which was not easy to work with given the lack of tools, the team agreed to focus on the seat of the chair after it was given a new powder coat. They took the paisley fabric, and decided that they would try to replicate this piece with different materials. Johnny etched the pattern on a wooden top, while the others cast concrete into fabric. The result was named “Sculptchair”.
The team used a combination of nylon and spandex, which was stretched between wood sheets to create the formwork. Fishing line and wire was tied underneath to create a mesh that would to push and pull on the fabric. Quick Crete was then poured into the resulting concave and convex form, and was left for a few days to set. The process was repeated with different fabrics and meshes.
At the chair auction, the description stated:
“Sculptchair” is an experimental exploration of the cushioned seat, which features interchangeable chair tops as a playful ode to our interaction with the sitting surface. While molding concrete into fabric, and engraving the original upholstery pattern into the seat, we have literally and figuratively pushed and pulled at the limits of comfort, treating the seat as an object in itself.
Although the chair did not win any prizes, the team had a lot of fun experimenting with wood and fabric-formed concrete. We tried to stay true to the materials and aesthetic that we use in our designs – humble and lasting.
Who knows, maybe we will participate again next year! We want to thank the rest of the members at Feldman Architecture for their encouragement, witty critiques, and their support!
By Chris Kay
As architects and designers, part of our job is helping our clients pick quality materials for their homes. When it comes to furniture, it pays to put our hands on the products so we can feel the quality of the materials firsthand. When we suggest a chair for a home, the hope is that that chair will not only blend seamlessly into our design but will also stand up to the tests of time – or the tests of your labradoodle thinking they deserve a place at the table.
A few months back before I made my way to Feldman, I came across one of these chairs. Just a stone’s throw away in the heart of the mission is a company that exuberates these qualities. I found Fyrn while searching through job listings. In researching the company, I was immediately drawn to their website and its immaculate portrayal of the line of furniture they are producing. There “Stemn” line is a modern rendition of the classic American Hitchcock chair, retaining the simplicity of the original chair but completely rethought to meet the demands of today’s production needs. Though totally unqualified for their “CNC Programmer/Machinist” listing, I reached out to Fyrn in hope of learning more. To my surprise, the two head honchos responded in kind and we set up a time to meet. I met Ros and Dave at Sightglass, which seemed to be a precautionary vetting location to make sure I wasn’t a patent spy with ill intentions. Whatever I said instilled enough trust in them to walk me over to the workshop – or toy store, depending who you ask. All I can say is that my tour of the space forever changed the way I think about furniture production and how I can strive for the same values that Fyrn instills in their furniture in my own work.
Fast forward a few months and I find my way to Feldman. When I heard about our Third Thursday program I jumped at the opportunity to share what I had been shown in the Fyrn laboratory.
For our most recent Third Thursday, the Feldman team headed over to the mission with cheese and beer in hand to meet the makers at Fyrn. Upon arrival we were greeted by their team in a newly remodeled space lined with examples of each and every piece of their furniture line. Our designers quickly took to testing as we gathered around, sitting on each version of the Stemn line. As everyone got settled, partners Ros and Dave began to tell us about the line and how it came to be. At the heart of their work is a desire to bring people together through a system that changes the relationship between people and the objects they choose for their homes. The thing about Fyrn’s furniture is not that it is flat packable, but that the entire system is modulus and uses minimal connections across the line. This makes the it easy to put together but also easy to replace an individual part if something were to ever break – which is unlikely due to the shear quality in the materials they use. The Stemn line was designed with this intention and hopes of, “moving people away from a disposable culture by creating a sense of connection between people, place and materials”. This is a mentality that most architects can agree with.
We continued our tour through to the workshop where the real operations take place. As we walked around the space, Ros and Dave walked us through the everyday processes of creating their product. Their organization quickly became apparent as they explained their operations from one step to the next. In San Francisco, space is sparce. To deal with this, Fyrn’s shop is in a constant state of flux as heavy machinery, equipment, and material move through the space to accommodate each process of the production. The lack of space partly influences the design of the products themselves. Flat packable furniture comes with the perks of being flat storable as well. So each small piece of the Stemn system has its place in a custom storage solution further displaying the ingenuity of the designers at Fyrn.
What sets Fyrn apart in my eyes is their attention and patience in designing a piece of furniture that meets today’s needs for fast paced production while maintaining the quality of a handmade chair built to last through generations. These heirlooms allow people to connect with one another through the familiarity of an uncommon object – not dissimilar to the intentions of an architect and their building.
Thank you Fyrn for allowing us to see your process. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
If you would like to learn more about Fyrn, you can go to their website or follow them on Instagram @fyrn_sf
By Nick Polansky
This year I was invited to speak at the 2018 Furniture Society Conference, a 4-day event including presentations from furniture makers and artists from across the nation. This year’s theme was Nexus, which looks at the intersection of technology and art as it relates to the evolving field of furniture making. It took place at Dogpatch Studios on June 13-16. There talks ranged from Women in Technology, to a girl’s project-based learning school, Project H Design in Oakland where underserved communities are given access to technology and the built environment. Other talks honored the great Wendelle Castle and the keynote Speaker Allan Wexler gave a talk presenting his new book “Absurd thinking between Art and Design.” I felt right at home.
My own talk was about my work that began during my Artist Residency at Autodesk in 2015. It was a simple talk about cutting wood. I was nervous, knowing I was not a trained furniture maker but my experience with digital tooling and material exploration allowed me to tell a compelling story. At first I shared basic milling patterns from rift sawn, plain sawn, and quarter sawn and described the properties of each resulting grain type. I then shared my work cutting planks of wood with a table saw and band saw, two analogue tools found in most wood working shops. The wood was cut with thin kerfs allowing it to flex and expand, changing the properties of hard wood to a “soft wood”. I wanted to transfer this operation to a tool with capabilities that these conventional tools did not have and one foreign to wood working.
While at Autodesk I had access a 55,000 psi waterjet cutter. The interesting advantage to this tool besides being able to cut through 5” of stainless steel or stone, was that it could pierce in the center of the material with no lead in or lead out. I used the tool to cut a series of kerf patterns into varies sizes and types of wood. I then steamed the wood and jacked the forms open with wedges and threaded rods. The result were large accordions that could take a 2×8 and expand into a 2×16 with beautiful bent patterns. I created a screen, a column, and a bench. They bridge the threshold of function and art.
The images and diagrams were presented in simple and clear drawings and black and white photographs. The vocabulary was kept simple and straight forward and resulted in a lively discussion following the talk. The majority of the room was interested in the process and potentials. For instance, could an entire log be cut on a waterjet? What types of joints could you make? Could you do this without a waterjet? The keynote speaker for the conference, Allan Wexler, was in the audience and he was impressed by the work and encouraged me to continue exploring. He thought the process and presentation was both technologically precise and brutally analogue, the balance I continue to achieve in my work. He said they represented a limit beyond which they would no longer exist, as if frozen moments of destruction.
The conference gave me great confidence to continue sharing and creating more work. On October 11 I will be showing alongside Cathy Liu at Matarozzi & Pelisnger Builders. I look forward to sharing the unique work with artists and architects, builders, and clients as I continue my art practice of finding balance.