AIA at FA: “The Resilient Practice”

By Rebecca Gilbert

A few weeks ago, Feldman Architecture hosted a panel of successful women architects to discuss “The Resilient Practice” which was part of  the 15th annual Architecture + the City festival co-presented by the AIA San Francisco and Center for Architecture + Design. The architects discussed resiliency in two cases, first as architects who are meeting the challenges of a constantly evolving design and build process, and second as women who are succeeding in a historically male-dominated profession.

In the first case, the panelists described resiliency as the ability to adapt and find one’s career path in the context of an environment which is increasingly demanding architects to step outside of the comfort zone of pure design and into adjacent disciplines.  In this case, we understand their career paths as mirroring the heightened complexity of constructing or re-purposing structures in our increasingly urbanized existence.  The success of our careers requires us to meet this challenge – the growth of cities demands it.  The panelist discussed everyday examples of this concept.  Offices are expanding shared work spaces to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, embracing diverse educational backgrounds, and investing in technology to meet a faster design and construction cadence.

In the second case, the panelists understand that resiliency in the practice of architecture will require more equitable representation of women.  As our panelists astutely observed, while enrollment in architecture programs is increasing, growth in licensed female architects is lacking.  In some cases, technology, like remote working, is creating opportunities that did not previously exist.  In other cases as our panelist have shown, the path to workplace equality is knowing one’s worth and having the will and initiative to realize it. For these panelists, evolving with the increasing complexity of architecture has been a defining feature of their success.

Its encouraging that AIA SF has created a platform for women to discuss these issues and move the dialogue forward. I left that evening feeling inspired and lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive and progressive architectural community.

Staff Spotlight: Johnny Lemoine

Q: Where are you from?

I’m from a small city right outside of beautiful Boston, Massachusetts. I’d move back to Boston in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the excruciatingly cold and ruthless winters. I don’t have an accent, but I can definitely do a pretty stellar one when I have a beer or two, or when I’m around my family. Go Sox, guy.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I went to Massachusetts College of Art + Design in downtown Boston for architecture. I met some of the most incredibly talented people there, and some of my best friends. It’s truly a special place that fosters pure, unimpeded creativity, and was definitely a place that let me discover myself. I loved my time there, until it was time to see the rest of the world. I then made a huge leap across the country for the first time in my life and attended the University of Oregon in Eugene (without ever visiting, like most of my travel decisions). It was the best decision I had ever made. It was a huge culture shock and change, but in a really lovely way. I picked up my first of many road bicycles. Now, if you ask anybody that knows me, you’ll find that pretty much everywhere I go I have a bike by my side. Eugene and the whole of the Pacific Northwest is an incredible and weird place to live.

I moved to San Francisco (ahem… actually Oakland, which I still live in and completely adore) in 2014, after spending a year working in England. I was living and working southeast of London in Kent. Our architecture office was small—only five folks, and I met some of my favorite people there as well. I definitely miss the city and its culture, and the fact that there was something going on every single day and night. If you look at any of my sketches, you can probably guess why I love that city so much. In any corner you could find something so old, beautifully stunning, and completely filled with juicy and captivating stories behind it. Never a dull moment in old Londontown.

Q: Who is in your family?

I have three sisters and two brothers—there are six of us total and I’m in the upper middle. I loved growing up in a huge family. Lots and lots of fights, but lots and lots of love as well. Our ages range a lot, almost 20 years! My mom used to be an ultrasonographer but she just went back to school for nutritional health, so now when I head home to visit I’m drinking gallons of homemade elderberry syrup and strange healthy concoctions. Go mom! My stepfather is an electrician, and my father is a carpenter, and they both run their own businesses.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

I grew up around craftsmen and table saws. My father was a carpenter and his father before him was a craftsman as well. Everyone was always making things around me and that led me to wonder things like “how does this toy work, how does this bike work, how does this building work, how does this city work, and so on?!” I became obsessed with design and the mechanics of things without knowing when or where it happened, it was just who I was. There was never really a LEGO moment or go to a big city moment like other designers have, the feeling was just always there.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

I would say the ones where I’m able to actually have a big role in conceptual design, all the way to detailing and seeing the project be built throughout. I’ve done some murals for projects before, and graphic design and other art throughout. I like the projects where I get the most experience from the entire project and I love to push every ounce of creativity into them. I like to get my hands dirty in every role, whether that be architecture or art, I don’t really see a difference.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

One year!

Q: What makes our office unique?

I definitely learn something from everyone every single day, which is inspiring. Everyone seems to love what they’re doing and that just pushes our designs further and makes them a little more progressive and beautiful each day. Everyone is very detail oriented, which is excellent. Also we work in a cool building with fire poles and some killer light.

Fun story– I started at Feldman when this office was still under construction. My first interview was supposed to be here at the new office, but instead I went to the old one (thanks, Google). I biked up from Mountain View from a project I was working on and thought I was going to arrive with time to spare and so I could cool down. But I ended up biking across the city as quickly as I possibly could have and showed up dripping sweat because I biked so hard to get here. But I got the job! Kudos to the FA team for dealing with a profusely sweating candidate.

Q: What are some of your nicknames?

Johnny is my nickname, my real name is John. Some people call me Malcolm, which is my middle name. Ever seen “Malcolm in the Middle?” Growing up until college, some people called me Johnny Man for some reason… I don’t know why.

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

Since I live in Oakland, taking the ferry and biking every day is pretty incredible. I see gorgeous views on my way here. Showing up to a light filled office is also nice. I would say having a great project to work on every day is pretty incredible as well. Sometimes I’ll be on Pinterest looking for inspiration images, and then later realize that image was one of our projects here, so I guess I’m in the right place!

Q: Do you have a professional role model?

A lot of the professors I had in undergrad and grad school were beautiful souls. They were simply inspiring. Marshall Audin back at MassArt would often pull all-nighters with you because he truly cared about the next generation of architects. He had a huge heart. I still get beers with these people when I head home, so they’re certainly still my role models.

Q: What’s your design process like?

Hmmmm…explosive. It definitely starts with my hands and sketching. Lots and lots of sketching. Nothing linear about it. I’m a very visual person, so I think I’m a better communicator with ink than I am through speech. Getting as many sketches down on a piece(s) of paper as I possibly can is a must. After that I research and study a lot. I try to figure out the history of what it is I’m designing for, its context, its users, its environmental and social impact, and most importantly, its soul and why it wants to be there (or doesn’t). The fun part is bringing all that in and tying it all together into a concept. I’m a very three-dimensional designer and very conceptually driven.

Q: What’s the most useless superpower you can think of? (eg. You can throw a key at any lock and it will immediately go in, but you have to physically turn it to unlock it)

The most useless superpower I can think of would be:

The power to slightly moisten any inanimate object from a distance by just looking at it. Or the power to turn into an everything bagel. Or the power to sneeze cracked goose eggs. Or the power to clap with my eyelashes at events. Or the power to write down useless superpowers at any given moment.

Traveling the Iberian Peninsula

By Serena Brown

Initially we’d planned to go to Italy. I’d visited the country twice before, but my sister is studying abroad in Florence until mid-December and visiting her seemed like the perfect excuse to jet off to Europe at the end of the year. As the months went on however, I felt pulled in a different direction and decided to travel to places unknown rather than familiar.  My boyfriend Jeremy has never been to Europe, but Spain has been at the top of his travel bucket list for years. Together we decided to do 11 days in Portugal and Spain, embracing the warm weather, vivid culture, and delicious food the Iberian Peninsula has to offer.

On September 15th we touched down in Lisbon—exhausted, excited, and on my part, moderately queasy thanks to a questionable airplane meal.  Portugal was surprisingly easy to navigate due to the legality of Uber and the fact that most people we encountered spoke English. Our AirBnB was positioned up in the hills of Alfama, one of the city’s oldest districts, home to twisting cobbled streets and hidden artisan shops. Just up the hill from our apartment was a beautiful Mirador, or lookout point. Our driver made a point to take us there first to “understand the beauty of the city you have just arrived in.”

Lisbon is sometimes referred to as the ‘San Francisco of Europe’ though perhaps it should be the opposite due to their dates of conception. Regardless, I quickly noticed the similarities. Both cities are built on various hills, have a famous red bridge, and Lisbon’s Tram 28 is strikingly similar to San Francisco’s cable car. We learned later that Lisbon’s iconic red bridge was not built by the same architect as our own Golden Gate, but rather by the same firm that built the neighboring Bay Bridge.

The next few days were spent exploring the city; getting lost down its small streets, and eating amazingly delicious Portuguese food, paired with wine of course. On our second day we took a day trip to the nearby city of Sintra, known for its abundant palaces and gorgeous hilltop views. We were able to visit three landmarks during our day trip: The National Palace, Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace. The latter two were the most impressive, boasting well preserved walls and turrets, breathtaking views, and in the case of Pena Palace, more colors and tiles than I’m used to seeing in estates back home. Since all the palaces are positioned up in the hills above the old town, there’s a handy tourist bus for getting around. That’s not to say we didn’t walk our fair share of stairs and hills before heading back to Lisbon for dinner.

As Flamenco is to Seville, Fado is to Lisbon. Restaurants with performances of the traditional Portuguese melancholy ballads can be found throughout the old town. Jeremy and I had made reservations at Senor Vino’s and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the show. The restaurant’s intimate setting paired with a fabulous meal and hauntingly beautiful music made for a wonderful night. The following day was our last full day in Lisbon so we took advantage of the numerous free walking tours and learned some history. Free walking tours can be found throughout most major cities in Europe, with the guides requesting tips as compensation at the end. Our tour lasted about 3hrs and took us all over the neighborhoods of Alfama and the lesser known Mouraria, with our guide giving us an extensive but enjoyable lesson on the city’s history. A highlight of the tour was trying the city’s famous Ginja, a cherry liquor, at a local laundromat.

Leaving Lisbon we flew to Spain, landing in Seville where we spent about four hours visiting the Cathedral and Giralda Tower before hopping on a train to Granada. Our time in Granada was largely spent walking and eating. The first day we visited the famous Alhambra, getting happily lost in its expansive gardens and beautiful palaces. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get tickets to the Nasrid Palaces for the same day, but instead found an evening tour for the following one. If anyone is planning to visit Granada anytime soon, I recommend buying all tickets in advance! That evening we instead sought out a tapas bar recommend by a few girls in our hostel. The wait was long but the food was worth it. Plus, we made a detour for takeaway churros on our way back home.

Day two found us seeking out graffiti in the district of Realejo. There we saw many murals by the famous local spray-paint artist Raul Ruiz, also known as ‘El Niño’.  At around 5pm we found ourselves on yet another walking tour which took us up into the hills behind the city to the old town of Sacramonte. This neighborhood used to be home to the Gypsys and still holds reminders of its past. Vagabonds, drifters, and artists still live in some of the old cave dwellings in the hills, having outfitted them with solar panels, water tanks, and occasionally walls and floors as well. We were lucky enough to visit one such cave due to the owner’s relationship with our tour guide. It was definitely a trek to make it to his home, high in the hills above Granada’s city center. Afterwards, our group was able to catch the sunset from the steps of a nearby church, watching the last rays of the day hit the roofs of the city and walls of the Alhambra before drifting down behind the mountains.

As I’d mentioned before, we had secured a night tour of the Nasrid Palaces for that evening, so we essentially had to book it down the ‘mountain’ (I’m reluctant to say hill because it felt so high), across the city, and up once more to the Alhambra, all in about an hour. We made it, but our legs paid the price the following day. I’m happy though, that we made the effort, because the palaces were as absolutely breathtaking as everyone had claimed. The detailing of the walls, tiles, and floors were so exquisitely made. The ceilings looked as if they were carved out of soap, rather than stone, and the colors shone even more vividly in the surrounding darkness. Even through our exhaustion we were able to appreciate the immense care and devotion that went into creating the beautiful space and I would have loved to visit once more to see it in the daytime as well.

The next day we left Granada and headed back to Seville. Our limited schedule meant that we really only had one day to see the sights in the city, so we fought through the heat and our tiredness to visit Real Alcazar. Even after seeing the beauty of the Nasrid Palaces in Granada, I was still blown away by the craftsmanship of this palace. I was especially excited to walk around the gardens since they were a filming location for the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones.  Of course that evening we had to see a Flamenco show, being in Seville, and partake in some local dishes before getting a good night’s rest for the next long day ahead.

For our final full day in Spain, we took a day trip to the small village Sentenil de las bodegas and the town of Ronda. One of the eight Pueblos Blancos (white villages) of the northern part of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga in southern Spain, Sentenil de las bodegas is worth a trip all its own. Named after its once flourishing wineries (bodegas) the village is uniquely built into the rock faces that surround it, having been hollowed out by the river years and years ago. Many of the small shops are carved into the hillside, creating streets of cave-like structures. The two main roads, Cave of Sun and Cave of Shadows, are lined with tapas bars, bakeries, and bars. This specific town has been on my travel bucket list for some time now, and I was happy to finally see it in person.

After leaving the Pueblos Blancos, we drove to the mountaintop city of Ronda, famous for its placement above a deep gorge. The gorge splits the city between its old town and new town, with the two connected by a large stone bridge called Puente Nuevo. The first thing we did upon arrival was hike down into the gorge, just far enough to get a view of the bridge from below. We also saw people rappelling down the waterfall beneath it—notes for next time! Walking around the city led us to many gorgeous viewpoints overlooking the impressive gorge and surrounding valleys. Since we’d stopped here for lunch we popped into a local tapas bar to sample some of the fare. I wish we’d had more time to explore the city, as well as more energy, since before we knew it, it was time to head back to Seville.

The final days of our trip were spent flying back to Lisbon and onward to San Francisco. The trip felt both exceedingly short and quite long, as we’d packed many cities and activities into just over a week. Generally when I travel I try to see as much as I can and this trip was no different. It was a welcome respite from the day-to-day routine of work and play, but I definitely felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation upon returning home. If anyone is interested in seeing further photos from my trip, I invite you to visit my VSCO page for my chosen favorites. As always, leaving the country always gives me the travel bug so my next trip is already on the books—I’ll be trekking to Machu Pichu with my mother and sister next June! Stay tuned!

Third Thursday October 2018: Westerfeld House

By Serena Brown

What better place to spend our October Third Thursday than San Francisco’s own ‘House of Legends’? The iconic Westerfeld House in Alamo Square is shrouded in lore and legends. Once home to Russian diplomats, various communes, and the founder of the Satanic Church himself, the home has seen its fair share of uncommon dealings. We were lucky enough to score a private tour with the home’s current owner, Jim Siegel, who purchased the house back in 1986. We arrived on a windy Thursday evening, wine and cheese in hand, with varying expectations as to what was in store. Upon entering the home we were all blown away by the gorgeous work Mr. Siegel has done to restore the house to its original beauty, classic Victorian wallpaper and all.

After depositing our offerings in the dining room, Jim began our tour with an informed recap of the unique history of his home. Commissioned back in 1889 by a German confectioner by the name of William Westerfeld, the house has changed hands numerous times throughout its history. Jon Mahoney, a famous San Francisco contractor, bought the house after Westerfeld’s death in 1895. He and his brother Jeremiah are most well-known for their restoration efforts after the great fire, as well as for building the Palace Hotel, St. Francis Hotel, and Berkeley’s Greek Theater.  The Mahoney Brother were also large fans of entertaining, inviting honored guests such as Guglielmo Marconi and Harry Houdini to attend and perform at their dinner parties.

In the 1930’s, the house ended up in the possession of a group of Czarist Russian immigrants, who opened a night club in the ballroom called “Dark Eyes.” It was during this time that the house earned the nickname ‘The Russian Embassy’, which is still prevalent today. Jim told us that a Russian colonel was allegedly murdered in one of the house’s many rooms, supposedly during a fight over a woman. In the 1940’s and 50’s, the space was converted into a boardinghouse that attracted many jazz musicians from around the city. John Handy, Art Lewis and Jimmy Lovelace were all said to have been boarders at the house during this time, though John Handy later claimed this was false.

Leading up to the 1960’s and 70’s, a series of communes came to call the house home. Jim mentioned that in his younger years he had a large fascination with the Woodstock era and has since dedicated one room in the house to the communes that once lived and played between its walls. During the commune years, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger came to live at the house and filmed a number of his cult classics. Featured in the films was Bobby Beausoleil, a Manson family sympathizer who is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, as well as Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. During our walkthrough, Jim eagerly pointed out a photo he had of LaVey and his pet lion sitting calmly in the upstairs library. The final commune to occupy the house was a 50 member collective called Family Dog, who held concerts and shows at the Avalon Ballroom and invited musicians such as the Grateful Dead to hang out with their members.

Jim recounted during his explanation that he always knew he would one day purchase the house. When he was boy he likened the exterior to that of the Adam’s Family House and since then has harbored a dream to own it. When he was only 19 he began buying and restoring old Victorian homes throughout the city. His first house he bought for $10,000 in Dogpatch and has since then purchased, restored, and scavenged tons of homes throughout San Francisco and beyond. He told us about a barn he has up north full of Victorian molding, doorframes, doorknobs, furniture, and more. He bought the Westerfeld house for $750,000, an enormous sum of money back in the 1980s, much to the chagrin of his father. Since then he’s spent thousands of hours fixing up the 25 rooms.

As we wandered the house all of us were in awe of the care put into each and every room, as each had its own character. Personally I was struck with the thought of the potential for hauntings, but Jim informed us that one of the first things he did upon purchasing the property was have it blessed by Buddhist monks, putting that thought to rest. One of the most impressive rooms by far was the upper tower, where one can experience views of the San Francisco skyline. Jim mentioned that he’s watched the skyline change over the years, and misses the days when he could see clear across the bay.

The house is full of stories, even in places we can’t see. Evidently there’s a satanic pentagram carved into the floor of the tower, and you can find teeth marks from LaVey’s pet lion on the occasional doorframe. In the kitchen there are paintings by Janet Joplin’s lead guitarist, and quirky furniture, such as a coffin coffee table, in every room. The last few hours of our visit were spent talking over wine and charcuterie about Jim’s outstanding work, and our similarities and differences as “modern architects.” Despite our firm having more modernist sensibilities, all of us can appreciate and love the traditional beauty of San Francisco Victorian mansions like Jim’s.

Although not open to public tours, there are various ways in which one might be able to take a peek inside the Westerfeld House. Jim occasionally opens his home up to various events, such as the Gallery Girls Haunted Mansion on October 27th.  A few of us took advantage of the opportunity to see it once again and attended this past weekend. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Westerfeld House, I encourage you to visit The House of Legends, a website dedicated to a documentary coming out in November about the house’s eclectic history.

We’d like to extend an enormous thank you to Jim for taking off from work early to show us his masterpiece.  Hopefully we can all visit again soon!

Halloween 2k18!

Our office quite enjoys Halloween. Or at least our social coordinator does. This year, we celebrated the spooky holiday with decorations, pumpkin carving, and a costume contest. Take a look!

To transform our normal office into a spooky firehouse, we placed webs around the fire pole, along the bookshelves, and up the staircase. Complete with plastic spiders of course.

Pumpkin carving was held during lunch. One of our designers (Luigi) carved a pumpkin for the very first time, while most of us relived childhood nostalgia. Faces were a big theme, and all but one of the office pumpkins got a makeover!

Seven and a half designers dressed up this year, a new record! The costumes ranged from the classic cat and dinosaur to the more out there Blue Angels and Budweiser stock boy. The two categories up for grabs were ‘Best Overall Costume’ and ‘Most Creative Costume.” Liza won Best Overall dressed as Luigi and after a tight race, took home Most Creative as well!

From all of us at Feldman Architecture, we hope you all had a spoOoOoOooky and enjoyable Halloween!

Staff Spotlight: Jess Stuenkel

Q: Where are you from?

I was born in Hawaii but grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My family actually lived in San Francisco for two years before moving to the Midwest. Growing up, I never truly felt Midwestern. We’d do things like eat avocados and papayas and my mom shopped at the local co-op, all things I equated to San Francisco and Hawaii as a kid. I think feeling like I was from here was what drew me back.

Q: Where did you go to school?

I went to Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan for undergrad and studied theatre arts with a focus on set design. I almost minored in biology and French—I was one class short for both of them. After living in SF for a couple of years, I decided to go to California College of the Arts to get my Masters of Architecture. In my mind it seemed like a natural progression. I saw the connection as being about creating a vision, spatial relationships, and design at a human scale. I also liked that I would be able to engage with ideas of sustainability through architecture.

Q: Who is in your family?

My two parents and one brother who is six years younger than me. My brother, who I convinced to move to San Francisco after college, lives a few blocks from me which is awesome. My parents recently moved to Doha, Qatar from Michigan. My dad is in the midst of creating the college of Health and Life Sciences at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

My partner Chris and I got married last September. He’s also an architect with a focus on school design. We met in architecture school but initially bonded over climbing.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in architecture?

I think I’ve always had an interest in architecture but it took me a while to think about it as a career. As a kid, I always loved traveling to the ‘big cities’ and oohing and ahhing at all the buildings. I can’t remember exactly when it started but I’ve always wanted to live in a warehouse. I think the idea first came to me when my family visited Cleveland and drive through the old industrial district. The old buildings had so much character and looked they had so much potential for new life!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?

I really enjoy the small buildings. I like small houses where I can really focus on how the design concepts carry throughout each aspect of the design and then nailing the details.

Q: How long have you worked at FA?

Since 2010. I worked at one other firm for about 3 months, and then came to FA, so I would say I’ve essentially gained most of my professional skills here.

Q: What makes our office unique?

I think the openness, collaboration, and ability to create your own path, and focus on things that are exciting to you, is unique. Also to be able & expected to work on every part of a project.

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

The people. J I think it’s a really good group of people and your coworkers can definitely make or break the workplace.

Q: What’s your design process like?

Iteration. I like the testing of ideas. Coming up with a concept or idea and tracking it through all the different parts and scales of the project, then refining or revising that same concept so that it’s even stronger. It’s a cyclical process.

Q: What is something that you don’t like that everyone else seems to enjoy?

Pop culture references. It’s not that I have a dislike for pop culture, it’s just that I don’t really care to follow it at all. In terms of celebrities and memes and all that stuff that literally everyone else knows—I’m usually in the dark.

Q: What kind of music would you choose for the soundtrack of your life?

I would say my childhood is the Rolling Stones, middle school & high school consisted of a lot of  90s alt rock radio. Later in  high school I became an emo / Indie kid which carried me through college. More recently I’ve been into the local garage rock scene like Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and King Tuff.  Of course as goes with all music, the scene is ever evolving and I’m excited to see what’s next. I guess that’s more of a history of the soundtrack to my life, but there you go.