Neutra VDL House

Background: Richard & Dionne Neutra built this house in 1937 after receiving funding from Van Der Leuwen, for whom the house is named.  Richard and his son Dion ran their firm out of the back of the house & often held events in the front. After a fire in 1963, Dion, rebuilt the structure, this time with the benefit of having lived there for many years and with careful attention to the climactic forces.

50 years after the renovation, the house is still very inspirational.  The experience of being in the house is powerful and conveys much more than the images.  The strongest impression is how well the Neutras blurred the distinction between outdoor and indoor.  The breezeway on the second floor opens up entirely on both sides, and while covered overhead, feels like being in a tree house.  Through screens and louvers, the Neutras clearly mastered control of the local air currents and solar aspect, to provide maximum ventilation and light control in all areas of the house.

Also very evident is the craft and care in details to support the mundane, perfunctory functions of life–the corner cabinet between kitchen and dining, the flush wood panel doors at the bedrooms, and the built in toothbrush/cup holder at the vanity. And the lovely vintage tiles showcase the craft of materials from the time.


Tools of the Trade – Part 2

As our office moves almost entirely to Revit where we are building a complex 3D Model for each project, we find ourselves relying on new and old tools to more efficiently convey design ideas. Recently, we compared notes on methods for sketching.  Sketching by hand gets us away from the computer for a bit and lets the hand, head and drawing all connect.  The energy and feeling that comes across in a sketch is also key and difficult to produce with a computer model.

Sketch by Kevin Barden

Many of us rely on the old methods of trace and pen or pencil to create layers of options on top of a base drawing and watch how an idea unfolds and develops.  We find that our clients respond well to the openness of a sketch where we can commit to paper the key components that we know but leave unanswered questions open. It is also effective to pair these sketches with evocative precedent images which help to fill in some of the blanks. Finally, many of us sketch in axonometric in order to figure out exactly how a construction detail is going to come together.

Sketch by Matthew Laughlin

Sketch by Matthew Laughlin

Jonathan brought to the table two iPad programs which are easy to use and offer a lot of options for sketching while on the go or in those few minutes between meetings.  Both offer the ability to create multiple versions of a drawing and to send them out to a project team quickly by email.  Jonathan recommends both programs and finds it sometimes helpful to begin a sketch in the app called ‘Paper’ which allows a loose drawing and then import that sketch into ‘Sketchbook Pro’ where you can get finer lines. Below is a break down of these two programs.  We’re now all itching to get our Feldman iPads and start sketching!

Paper by FiftyThree

Free app which comes with a set number of pen, pencil, and watercolor styles.
Additional pen styles are available for about $.99/each
Six colors in an appealing palette
Ability to export a page by email as jpeg, or post to FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
Easy to rewind the drawing backwards when you make a choice you don’t like
Takes some learning how the app responds to a finger or stylus since you are not always drawing exactly where the stylus lands and the lines are not super fine.
Recommend the purchase of a stylus (approximately $14)

Sketch by Jonathan Feldman

Sketchbook Pro by Autodesk

Inexpensive app for the iPad
Works much like Photoshop or Illustrator
Ability to import and export files via File Share, DropBox, iPad camera or Photo Library.
Layers and the ability to adjust or hide them makes it possible to create many iterations using the same base layer(s)
Template layers available with perspective and grid lines
Lots of different marking tools (pens, line tool, pencils, airbrush, etc.)
Many colors available with an RGB wheel

Sketch by Jonathan Feldman

Finding Inspiration

Near my desk I display a small collection of found natural objects from places that inspire me. These objects include a small piece of white marble, a bit of basalt, a stick bleached from the sun and redwood bark ground smooth by the waves. I also have a quote by Rudolph Schindler, an early California modernist architect I admire: Schindler describes one of his projects as fulfilling: “the basic requirements for a camper’s shelter: a protected back, an open front, a fireplace, and a roof.”

Though many of Feldman Architecture’s projects are by necessity more complex than that, I’ve found that the most successful spaces we create have the simplicity in forms, materials and details found in a “camper’s shelter”. To me this nature-inspired minimalism facilitates an appreciation for both the built and the natural world.

– Brett

Object Lessons: Design Across Disciplines

Recently, we undertook a re-branding of our graphic identity at Feldman Architecture, a process led by graphic designer Anjel Van Slyke.  Sitting in the seat of client and being guided through the design process by Anjel gave us a chance to reflect on our own process.  Like a short architectural project, the trajectory of the graphic design followed a familiar path, including outlining a scope, budget and schedule; gathering research, precedents, and materials; brainstorming; refining the details; and production/construction.

Recently while watching the documentary, Objectified, which chronicles several Industrial Designers and major corporations known for design, I was struck by a section of the film in which Dieter Rams, Former Design Director of Braun, brings to light his philosophy on good design.   Herr Rams eschews the idea that a designer is an artist, noting that industrial designers spend much of their time working with business people, engineers and clients.  Herr Rams goes on to elaborate on the values of good design:

Good design should be innovative.
Good design should make a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic design.
Good design will make a product understandable.
Good design is honest.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is long-lived.
Good design is consistent in every detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.

Undergoing the re-brand process had our team elucidating the principles we stand for and thinking inspirationally about the image we wish to publicly project.  Dieter Rams ‘manifesto’ is a great reminder of some of the goals we tend towards for our architectural projects.  But one could argue, contrary to his statement that designers are not artists, that there is actually an art to the decisions which are made and lead to what appears to be as little design as possible. Simply put – this is hard to do simply.

We were immediately drawn to the logo you see now on our website, but we were even more fascinated as Angel described where she had chosen to tip the edges of the letters and why certain sketches were not eliminated.  She led us through her sketchbook of cast-aways and final cuts.  In the end, we feel we have an amazing fit to our firm’s work with a simple elegance that does not appear fussy or labored over, but expresses lots of ideas and complexity with minimal moves. – Hannah

What’s Behind the Door?

When choosing doors to improve indoor-outdoor connections, we always consider a number of competing objectives and challenges. Among the important considerations are how large do we want individual panels to be, how large of a clear opening are we trying to create, the style of the house, the weather exposure, and the need for insect protection. – Jonathan

House Ocho: 4-panel sliders
Here we used two operable and two fixed doors to get a wide opening to the patio. We extended the score lines of the concrete floor inside the house to the outside creating planting strips to emphasize the indoor-outdoor connection.

Henry House: 4-Panel Sliders 
This attic conversion in San Francisco used similar sliding doors to connect to a new roof deck.Henry-Doors

Buena Vista: Custom Pivot Doors
Custom pivot doors create a nice modern punch in this San Francisco Victorian. We like the way that, when open, the doors provide a directionality that draws one out to the spectacular view beyond.

Old Bernal: Two Large Lift and Slide Doors
This oversized lift and slide door is made of two operable panels that provide large openings and flexibility.Old-Bernal-Doors

Open Box 2: Slide-Fold Doors
These multi-panel doors have a limitation in terms of how wide each door panel can be, but they make up for it in providing a clear, unobstructed opening when the doors are pushed to the side.


What’s In a Cabinet?

Walls don’t have to be the only physical separation between rooms or spaces.  At Feldman Architecture, we often use cabinetry to define boundaries.  Cabinetry adds variation to a room’s palette through the use of different materials, like wood and glass.  It also has the benefit of transparency, which isn’t as easily achieved with framed walls.  Open shelving and transparent or translucent materials keep a visual connection between rooms, but still help define space.  Plus, cabinetry is very useful for storage!  Here are a few examples of how we’ve used cabinetry. – Lindsey

Below: A combination of etched glass panels and stained wood cabinetry act as a buffet for the Dining Room on one side and a media center for the Family Room on the other side.

Below: Transparency plays a big role in making this kitchen cabinetry useful but still keeping a strong visual connection between rooms.

Below Left: The mixture of materials in this work station keeps the palette interesting.  The combination of open shelves and translucent panels provides natural light and give a sense of openness, while still providing necessary storage.
Below Right: The use of kitchen cabinetry provides useful function, while maintaining a strong visual connection to the Dining Room.

Left: A continuous low cabinet runs the length of the house and even outside, tying the rooms together.  Inside it is Kitchen cabinetry, a Dining Room buffet, and Family Room storage.  Outside, it becomes the BBQ and food prep station.