Staff Spotlight: Chris Kurrle

Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in the Old-Line State, for you Pacific Coaster’s, that would be the Great State of Maryland, our seventh state. Home of the Chesapeake Bay, Blue Crabs, Fort McHenry, Annapolis, the birthplace of Babe Ruth and the Baltimore Orioles.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I grew up in a small rural community in central Maryland. I went to Francis Scott Key HS, affectionately known as “Corn Field High” by all our rivals. I went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Majoring in both Building Science & Architecture, with a Minor in Geology. One would think that after 5 years at such a school, I’d be able to spell Rensselaer, but I did just look it up… again.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mother was born in Chile and came to the United States with her parents and younger brother while her father completed his residency at Johns Hopkins. While here, Salvador Allende was elected, assassinated, and the country had a coup. What was intended to be a two-year trip, turned in to 11 years. My mother finished high school, met my father while in college, got married, had me, and ended up staying in the US after her parents and brother returned.

Q: What makes our office unique?
One of our best attributes is our office culture. The way we work as teams, our mentorship, the in-house activities we support both socially and professionally, the celebration of our individual strengths, and the willingness to acknowledge our weaknesses. It humanizes us all, creating a studio that is passionate, professional, and team focused.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I honestly don’t watch that much TV, but I’ve been an F1 fan for a long time, and Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” follows the racing series over the course of the season, and I’ve really enjoyed watching that. I think mostly because almost all the people that I’ve been trying to get to watch F1 for the past decade are now hooked and text me before sunrise on Sundays!

Q: Which hobby are you most fervently pursuing at the moment?
Hobby? Singular? Really? Ha, I think I’m the hobby king of the office. In spring and summer, it’s bike riding (road bikes mostly), and archery. I love bicycles, the places they take you, the memories and friendships they foster, the culture(s) they support. Bows are the most complex tool I’ve ever played with – powerful, meditative, precision that is ridiculously satisfying.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I really enjoy the range of work more than a particular kind of project.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?
Personally and professionally, I think it’s really important that we’re always learning. Solving problems as a team, no matter the scale of the problem, always reveals multiple ways to approach, tackle, and solve issues. Our team structure, both at the project and leadership levels really provides structure for this. Maybe that was already best said by Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its part.”

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
Bernal Heights, shhhhh

Q: What superpower do you wish you had?
The FORCE, like Yoda.

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

  • Minimum 1250 acres, varying terrain of oaks, arable land, riparian corridors and a 150-acre pond.
  • Hobby barn/garage, big one
  • Outdoor cooking/entertainment area (w/60” Santa Maria Grill and Gas grill, Pellet and Wood Smokers, Clay Oven)
  • Equestrian Facility/Stables (for Horses/Llamas)
  • Modest single story main residence (3 bedroom) with wonderful natural light, indoor/outdoor living, great for entertaining. 3 Guest Cabins

Women of FA: Heera Basi

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I first became interested in architecture when I was in high school. I loved both math and art classes (our high school had amazing art program and my favorites were ceramics and glass blowing). Also, when I was in high school my parents remodeled our home, so I got to experience the design process firsthand at a young age. However, I didn’t go straight into an undergrad program in architecture – I started as a Molecular Biology major, but soon realized it was not my passion. I remembered my exposure to architecture, and it seemed like the perfect combination of the creativity I enjoyed with art and the problem solving that I loved in math. So, I changed my major to Urban Studies and Planning and applied to grad school to pursue a Master of Architecture degree!

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
There are many parts of the design process that I love. I really enjoy the early stages of design when you can dream big and be the most creative and open to different possibilities. I also appreciate the problem-solving aspects of the process – whether that’s trying to resolve a tricky detail or coming up with a new solution to something that isn’t working as well as it could be.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?
I have been practicing architecture for about 12 years now. Time flies! When I first started, I thought 90% of architecture was pure design work. But in reality, there are so many other aspects that go into building a home and managing a project. One of the most important qualities of an architect is their people skills – fostering relationships and building trust is such an important part of the profession. Whether with clients, contractors, consultants, or colleagues, a successful project truly comes from a great team where everyone is working together toward the same goal of creating something inspiring and meaningful.

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
Fortunately, the industry is evolving and there are more female architects and industry professionals. But there are still times where I show up on a job site and people don’t expect me to the be project manager or architect in charge.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
So many! I really admire Julia Morgan and what she achieved in the industry at the time, and I appreciate how she brought a real local California vibe to some of her projects. I also love the work of Rossana Hu. We saw her speak and present her firm’s work at the Monterey Design Conference in 2019. I had just visited Shanghai earlier that year and was inspired by the celebration of the historic architecture and traditional style, while adding a modern twist to blend the two together.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
All my projects are interesting in their own way, but the project I’m most excited about at the moment is Staglin Family Vineyard East Residence, which is currently under construction. It’s for a family in the wine industry and is located on their vineyard. Not only is the setting incredible, but it’s always a really fulfilling experience to see our design work come to life. This is also a project that we’ve really been able to execute details at a high level – we’re fortunate to have a talented, collaborative team where everyone is working together to create a beautiful and unique home.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
When I’m not in the office I love being outside and spending time with my family and friends – hiking, exploring, cooking, getting out of the city to soak in some sun. Not sure how creative that is on its own, but it certainly helps me recharge and get the creative juices flowing at work!

Staff Spotlight: Maria Bermudez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Spotlight: Norman Wong

Q: Where are you from?
I was born in Hong Kong. My family immigrated to San Francisco when I was a year old.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I attended elementary and high school in San Francisco and architecture school in Southern California – Cal Poly Pomona and SciArc.

Q: Tell me about your family.
My parents live nearby which is a huge benefit as they are aging and I don’t need to wait until major holidays to visit them. I have three sisters and two daughters, so I’ve always been surrounded by girls and women who have taught me a great deal of humility and respect.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
Aside from the overall impact of the visual beauty of all forms of great architecture, the aspect of architecture I appreciate most is materiality, whether it’s roughhewn timber, stone, or finely finished woodwork, plaster or metals. The choice of materials and finishes can be so powerful. When one sees a beautiful material or finish and feels compelled to reach out and touch it, that’s a sign that the architecture has engaged and captivated. Tactility is often overlooked as a crucial aspect of the experience of architecture.

Q: What are your creative outlets outside of work?
My main creative outlet outside of architecture is advanced origami. I also love to tinker with bicycles – although not really a creative outlet – but I am fascinated with the mechanical nature of all the components necessary for human-powered transportation.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
My favorite project type is custom residential although wineries are a close second. I appreciate the high level of detail, quality, and execution that these projects demand that are not common in other project types.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in-person or virtually)
I love being in the office in person (when others are present) for the comradery and idle chit chat that has nothing to do with work.  Building personal bonds is so important to me and it’s difficult to accomplish that virtually.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
I’ve accomplished the top of my bucket list by purchasing a new home this year. I also strive to stay healthy and fit and to travel more. It has been many years since I’ve had a proper vacation.

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

  1. My dream home would be completely off the grid and self-sustaining.
  2. Energy efficiency and minimal mechanical heating or cooling to maintain comfort.
  3. A fully equipped and spacious kitchen with high end appliances (this may be contrary to the previous features, but one has to cook!).
  4. A great view of landscape and/or water.
  5. A good distance from neighbors so I can blast my Techno/Trance music, blazing guitar solos by Joe Satriani, and deep bass resonance of JS Bach’s cello suites without headphones.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
This is a tough one. My first choice is a food tour of Asia including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and others.  Not too much to ask for?

I would also love to do an extensive architecture tour of Europe. I did not have the opportunity in my younger years to travel much, but would love to see some of the architectural masterpieces I’ve only seen in books.

And last but not least I would like to visit and camp in Patagonia in South America. I love backpacking and would love to explore the otherworldly beauty of Patagonia on foot.

Staff Spotlight: Malavika Mallik

Q: Where are you from?
I am from Bangalore (locally called Bengaluru), India. It is known by many names: the Garden City of India, The Silicon Valley of India, etc.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I earned my Master’s of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Prior to that, I went to M.S Ramaiah Institute of Technology for my Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I am the only child of my parents, so it’s safe to say that I am spoiled by my dad. My parents were neighbors, they fell in love at an early age and got married. My dad is a senior manager at a public utility company and my mom is a teacher for secondary and higher-grade kids. Teaching is her passion, and she would love to do it all her life. I have grown up around animals for most of my life – I have a rescued dog and cats, and I cannot imagine my life without them!

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
The first time I fell in love with architecture was when I participated in the Centre for Laurie Baker workshop, Kerala. Architecture is art that comes to life for people to experience and live in, and I am grateful to be one of the many creators of such art. I am drawn to ‘Tropical Modernism,’ especially by the buildings designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffery Bawa. I was truly lucky to have experienced Sri Lanka and Bawa’s architecture during my undergraduate years when I interned at a firm in Colombo for six months. My love for architecture has been growing ever since.

Q: What is the last show you binge-watched?
Broadchurch. A combination of small-town detective mystery AND David Tennant was too tempting to pass.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
My priority would be Residential, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the client’s interests and vision. There is always potential to envision extraordinary things when designing an ordinary seeming residence. The fact that our clients will be inhabiting and living in these spaces makes it very personal and intimate.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Slow travel in New Zealand and Vietnam, start a rescue animal shelter, and do a yoga headstand (haha).

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
I have won multiple awards for watercolor painting since I was in school, including a contest conducted by the Times of India (a national newspaper publication). I also take pride in mentioning that I was the youngest artist to exhibit at Chitrakala Parishath (a well-renowned art gallery in Bangalore) at the age of 16. I have continued to hold professional art exhibitions since then.

Q: What question would you not want to be asked in an interview?
“Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years from now” –  I like to think of myself as constantly evolving as a designer and as an architect, and the idea of limiting myself in the pursuit of a particular position/role does not appeal to me.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I love this question because I’m always planning beautiful things in my head for “my castle in the air”

  1. A huge green courtyard inside the house
  2. Lots of skylights and a terrace that can house a home garden for my plants and vegetables and of course a rainwater harvesting system
  3. Vernacular materials (yellow oxide and laterite stone and timber); wire-cut brick masonry with no plaster and some beton brut
  4. A room for messy artwork
  5. A lotus pond

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I am going to say this in my sleep too – it’s Japan. I am in love with the country. I have been learning things about Japanese culture and way of life, and saving money for a long time now so I can connect to the place better when I visit. I know in my heart that Japan is going to be a place I will remember for a lifetime.

Staff Spotlight: Jiayi Wang

Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Chengdu, China — The city of giant Panda and Hotpot.

Q: Where did you go to school?
Kansas State University. I started as an Engineering major and then switched to Art. Finally, I settled down with Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the only child in my family. My dad is a philosopher and a writer. He used to give lectures in college. Many times I found myself fall into endless discussions about the intangibility of existence with my dad. My mom has been retired for quite a while – she used to be a commercial manager. Luckily, both of my parents are very good chefs. Going to the market, cooking, and discovering new food with them taught me quite a lot about life, nature, and balance.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
That’s a hard question. The way I understand architecture keeps changing. Maybe the dialog between architecture and the consistently changing world attracts me. Also, I find the intimate connection of space between experience and senses interesting.

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the people in our office.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I learned to skateboard!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I like projects that give me the chance to challenge traditional thought.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in person or virtually)
After WFH for a looooong time, I really have been enjoy coming to the office and taking a walk around the neighborhood during my lunch break with my 28mm camera.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Attend a concert in Pompeii, go diving in Carriacou, and visit my family when Covid finally calms down.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A gracious outdoor space, a city view, a music studio, plants, and a nice full bar is a must.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?