Staff Spotlight: Eric Willits...

 

Q: Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Irvine, California where I spent pretty much all of my time outdoors. During the summer time it was the neighborhood swim team and bike tag and during the winter time it was soccer and baseball team. I loved playing sports- and the year round sun allowed me to play as many as possible – and it’s probably the thing I miss most about home. When I got to high school, I decided to focus on soccer competitively, but I picked up surfing – I couldn’t stay out of the water completely. For 4 years, my neighbors and I spent the weekends at surf camps, and the weeknights at the neighborhood watering hole (boba joint). The only other home I had growing up was the farmhouse my mom and her siblings grew up in.  Every summer for a couple of weeks we visited the family vineyard making homemade lasagna and picking grapes, my favorite family tradition.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I moved up to the Bay Area when I started at Berkeley. I studied Economics, focused on Environmental Policy and Renewable Energy. I’ve always been super passionate about the environment and loved math- so the program ended up being the perfect fit.

Q: What was your favorite class in college?

I took a lot of amazing classes that taught me about Environmental and Energy Economics, but I was really excited to have room to take Italian as an elective.  My extended family is Italian, and I’ve always wanted to become fluent in another language.

Q: Tell me about your family.

Some of my favorite family memories are the countless road trips we took while growing up.  Every year we went skiing at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. My two sisters and I got very close on these long car rides.  My mom used to take us on RV trips through America’s national parks, I love how adventurous my family is when it comes to exploring new places. I was lucky enough to follow my older sister, Giortia, to Berkeley and we spent 2 years there together before she graduated and moved to San Francisco, where she now works at Lyft.  My younger sister, Helena, started her second year at CalPoly Slo where she’s studying Mechanical Engineering.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?

My favorite aspect of architecture is how quickly and easily it takes you to a different time period.  No matter where I go, the thing that influences my experience the most is the architecture of my surroundings.  I can picture what society was like at the time when a building was designed, a time when people looked up at it and considered it contemporary. Working at a modern architecture firm makes me so much more aware of architecture’s evolving nature and my interest in design.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

I just passed the 2 month mark!

Q: What makes our office unique?

I think our office is unique in that everyone is so different. Our workforce has a noticeable diversity of background and thought, yet at the same time everyone clicks to form a larger identity that is Feldman Architecture.

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

My favorite part about coming to work is being around so many motivated people. Everyone at Feldman is here because they love what they are doing and understand that it’s important. This group mentality is a really great environment to be in every day and is what keeps our office culture fresh.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – one of my new favorites!

Q: Do you have any fun plans coming up?

Saving up to do some traveling!  I haven’t been, but I know my next destination is South America.

Staff Spotlight: Serena Brown...

Q: Where are you from?

I grew up in San Jose and lived in the same house for all of my childhood. Our neighborhood was a great one for playing outdoors – in the front yard or in the street. It was one of those neighborhoods that seemed to have hordes of kids my age, which made for memorable summers. My family would come up to San Francisco some weekends and when we had visitors from out of town. I remember driving around, hitting all the popular spots, and riding the cable car. Despite my experience being largely related to the ‘touristy areas’, those trips are what made me want to move up here.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I went to Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo and studied Communications with a focus on Intercultural Communications. I chose that my major because I was told that it was basically English with more job options. That, and I love writing, speaking, and all things interpersonal.  I was especially interested in Intercultural Communications because I love to travel and the professor I had for that specific class in college was extremely inspiring. He made the subject matter engaging and interesting even for those who weren’t in the major.  My interest was furthered by my time studying abroad. I went to London for a semester my third year and traveled around as much as I could. Due to that experience, I ended up doing my senior project on reverse culture shock in expats.

Q: Tell me about your family

My mom and dad live in San Jose and I try to visit at least once a month.  My mom chose to become a stay-at-home mom when I was born and my dad stopped working when I was in 2nd grade when he got sick. They were both around at home for my entire childhood, which was a blessing and a curse! But mostly a blessing.

My sister, who is three years younger than me, is graduating from Chapman University in May. She’s adorable and currently looking for her first ever big girl job.  She studied communications and marketing as well but her interest leans more toward PR.  She’s really graphically minded and I’m the wordsmith so we’re opposites in that regard. She and I get along well, though she jokes that I “became a great big sister once I left the house.” I enjoy helping her with school projects and now job hunting. In return, she’s recently started to help facilitate my plant addiction.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?

Hmmm… There are a few interesting aspects that come to mind. One thing that I never took notice of before working here is the crazy difference of opinion that so many people have about architecture. I always thought that there was traditional, modern, and something in between but have since learned that architecture is much more faceted than I ever gave it credit for.

In the past I’d been interested in cultural differences when it came to architecture and how those differences can translate across borders. I’ve always been very appreciative of beautiful buildings when I travel.  Whenever I take photos, they are always of people, and buildings…and food.  Actually I guess that covers everything.

One thing that I would consider a new development is my understanding of architecture as trendy. I’d never thought of it that way before, but after following so many architecture influencers on Instagram… I’ve changed my mind!

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

I’ve worked here for roughly one year and one month and I’m the last Staff Spotlight!

Q: What makes our office unique?

Oh man, well, I’ll just regurgitate what everyone else has said first and then give my own opinion.  The people of course. I had the best coworkers in the world at my last job and I never thought I could top that. Then I found a whole new group of people in this job and thought ‘oh, I can find awesome people even outside of Japan’!  The amount that everyone talks to each other every day is fabulous.  Everyone is always walking across the office and stopping at different desks, it’s surprising any of us get anything done! I’m pretty sure I exchange words with nearly every designer every day, even if they are just asking me where to find a specific supply in the storage room.

Q: What were you doing in Japan before joining Feldman?

I was teaching English in a small commuter city called Matsudo.  It’s in the Chiba prefecture about an hour northeast of Tokyo. I was teaching at what’s called an eikaiwa or English conversation school. My students ranged from age 3 all the way to 73, so the whole range of human existence really. I lived and worked there for a year and loved every minute.

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

I like that I have a routine but also that every day is different.  I like seeing and talking to people that I am fond of.  I also like the office itself.  It’s beautiful, there’s a lot of light, it’s comfortable, and I have a big desk. I enjoy the many responsibilities that my position is in charge of, and that I get to make everyone else’s days a little bit easier.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?

Queer Eye season three.  I recently took a weekend up to Guerneville with my boyfriend, Jeremy and we took some time to just relax in the evenings and binge Queer Eye after hiking, eating and exploring during the day.  We cry almost every episode. It’s a great bonding experience.

Q: Do you have any fun plans coming up?

I have a lot of plans! I’m 100% a planner. This weekend is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown which I absolutely have to attend. I also have plans to go to Peru in June with my mom and sister.  We were going to do a four-day trek to Machu Picchu but now my mom’s knees aren’t doing too well so we are probably going to take the train.  I also have tickets to three music events in June, July and August.  And that’s just so far! Hopefully I can go abroad again in the fall, Jeremy and I are thinking about Iceland, South East Asia, or New Zealand.

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.

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?

Nope

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!

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.

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