For a virtual springtime addition of our Third Thursday series, we were happy to hear from urbanist, environmentalist, and UC Berkeley and CCA Lecturer John Bela about his many accomplishments and realizations surrounding the ways in which we interact with public and urban spaces. Currently, he serves as a Partner & Director at Gehl Studios, but prior to that, he co-founded Rebar Group during his time at Berkeley, and in a studio space in the Mission birthed a handful of ideas that we have become quite familiar with today, many of which have become increasingly important due to COVID social distancing.
Bela expressed his interest in the intersection between the formal and informal construction of urban spaces, framing examples as centralized and decentralized hierarchies, touching upon how we humanize skyscrapers and big cities. Where these things overlap create a true ecosystem – like the metrocables connecting the city center to mountainous villages in Medellin, and the half-abandoned Luxury tower in Caracas, now occupied by informal settlements. Not glorifying the informality, but finding the sweet spot between strategic and tactile, Bela introduced us to his ideas of urbanism, and the mindset that fostered his experiments.
Rebar produced a series of thought provoking ideas – including Bushwaffles, or soft, bright pink, inflatable wearable buffers between wearers and the hard urban landscape.
“Sold to the public via a vending machine, it is a piece of modular inflatable urban furniture – a pillow to sit on, float on, tie and wrap around you. Through strings it can be connected to other Bushwaffles. Two could form a mattress, three could be a sofa, and more could become a great seating area for a party in the park with friends.”
Interested by flexible urban spaces, Bela along with Rebar investigated an idea based around the shortest-term lease money can buy in a city – metered parking spaces. In the spirit of “user-generated urbanism”, Bela and his colleagues created some of the first parklets in metered parking spaces in San Francisco’s Mission District – introducing a completely new urban space into the typology. Working with Third Thursday favorite Reuben Margolin, Rebar created mobile parklets that traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, parking spot to parking spot, loaning temporary green spaces to city blocks.
What started as a social experiment has taken a new meaning in a public health crisis – parklets in 2020 have provided reprieve from COVID social distancing protocols, restaurant closures, and feelings of isolation. The Parklet is now a permittable urban space, and has bridged an urgent need, as well as changed the fabric of cities globally.
In 2005, Rebar started Park(ing) Day – a global, public, participatory art and design activism project. It is a day where people across the globe temporarily repurpose street parking spaces and convert them to tiny parks and places for art, play, and activism. Park(ing) Day is Friday, September 17, 2021.
Kelly Finley, Founder and Principal Designer at Joy Street Design, started her design career on an unusual path – in the court room. After 6 years as a practicing attorney in a corporate law firm, she began to realize that law wasn’t for her and enrolled in night classes through UC Berkeley extension, while still excelling at her law practice. In 2011, Finley started her own interior design practice – Joy Street Design, named after her first San Francisco home on Joy Street in Bernal Heights.
Today, Joy Street Design, headquartered in Oakland, is recognized as one of the top interior design firms in the East Bay, with 6 employees doing both residential and commercial interior design. Finley has a strong design vision, finding “joy in color,” firmly abiding by the rule “no white kitchens” – avoiding cliché muted color palettes. The use of color in her work is exciting and warm, integrating unexpected patterns and bright tones into home renovations and office designs (her work was even showcased on Property Brothers).
Finley found inspiration in her grandmother’s Chicago home where she grew up – “every wall was a different color and I felt like was being enveloped in a hug of nonsense” she told FA staff during our latest Third Thursday presentation. Despite some controversial color selections, her childhood home showed her how color can be used as an expression of life and joy.
As a part of the Joy Street Design family – Finley founded the nonprofit, Joy Street Initiative (JSI), in 2018 which donates time, money and design services to women’s shelters in the Bay Area. Not only does Finley use her own time on pro bono projects for organizations like Oakland Elizabeth House, but 10% of profits from Joy Street Design fund JSI projects. The JSI renovations are done with dignity and at a high level –without relying on hand-me-downs or second-hand furnishings and paying their contractors in full. Since the pandemic, Finley and the Joy Street Design team hosted a bedroom renovation giveaway to a COVID frontline worker – a nurse in the D.C. area, named Memuna, won the contest.
Throughout her career at Joy Street, Finley has thoughtfully cultivated a community of black designers and creatives in a predominately white space. From a longstanding relationship with her cabinet maker, to serving as an active member of the Black Artists and Designers Guild, Finley described how she hires employees and maintains collaborative relationships and networks among underrepresented groups in the design space.
We are looking forward to working with Kelly Finley and the Joy Street Design team in the future and are proud supporters of JSI. Donate to the Joy Street Initiative here.
To kick off a fun, productive, and creative summer, the team at Feldman Architecture was lucky enough to be invited into Reuben Margolin’s private studio in Emeryville, CA. Reuben, a truly gifted kinetic sculpture artist, is a longtime friend of FA, and even created a kinetic sculpture piece that’s featured in our Telegraph Hill house.
Reuben has been creating his fascinating, mathematic, ever-changing sculptures for the last twenty years, “seeking to combine the sensuousness of nature with the logic of math.” After studying English and Math at Harvard, and travelling and studying around the world, Reuben created his first series of kinetic sculptures, lovingly named the Caterpillars (which reminded us of our own work…). These enchanting creations made of thousands of pieces of wood, string, and pulleys, draw upon mathematical and natural inspiration to crawl along the floor; the piece is powered by physics, and some extra-large batteries. We watched one of his caterpillars (shown below) scooch along the floor of his warehouse, perplexing even our most seasoned architects with its complex design and artistic curvature.
From caterpillars, Reuben departed in an explosion of different artistic directions, drawing inspiration from the natural world around him, such as the sea and the wind. We asked countless questions and closely inspected and admired Reuben’s wave creations- beautiful dangling webs of string and wood that smoothly glide through complicated systems of thousands of pulleys. These structures, suspended in air, break away “from the stubbornness of the ground” and allow for a smoother motion and more possibility in terms of lateral movement.
While enjoying some beers and snacks in Reuben’s studio, Reuben patiently answered a steady line of questioning from our designers (and Tai’s kids) covering a range of topics: design, transportation, logistics, and artistic inspiration. Reuben described projects that hotels, offices, private homes, and even one dance company commissioned, outlining the sometimes comical task of commodifying his art.
We all left in a state of awe, deeply impressed by Reuben’s mathematical mind and artistic creativity- feeling inspired to bring some of what we learned into our own work (both conceptually and literally). Please find more of Reuben’s work here, and reach out if you have any questions about what you see, or would like to connect with him directly!
For our first Third Thursday of 2019, we decided to mix it up and keep it in-house. Our three newest staff members were invited to present on their backgrounds and previous work from schooling or companies they’d been a part of before joining our firm. Each came from different locations with unique focuses, skills, and talents. Jeremy presented on a few of his residential endeavors, as well as his own fine arts projects. Kateryna had us explore some of her graduate work and gave us an insider perspective on what it takes to build skyscrapers around the world. Laura spoke about various buildings she worked on while living in Boston, and how they compare to the projects here at our firm.
Each wrote a quick summary of their presentations which you can read below!
While at a previous architecture firm, I completed a house just outside of Montecito. The 9,000 square foot house has a commanding presence on Padaro Beach, highlighted by 40’ wide pocket doors beneath a 14’ cantilever. The exterior materials are reclaimed teak from Thailand, board formed concrete wainscot, standing seam titanium roof, and steel windows and doors. The interior finishes include rift sawn white oak ceilings, plaster walls and custom concrete pavers on the floor. The house features dual master suites on the second floor with panoramic views (one for the clients and one for their son who lives in LA). The owners recently moved in and I flew down to welcome them, happy to complete such an awesome project with stellar clients.
For my Third Thursday presentation I described my experience designing large-scale residential developments in Boston. One of the projects I highlighted was 345 Harrison; a 12-story, 585 unit project in South Boston which included ground floor retail and restaurant spaces, elevated private parks for tenants, an indoor gym, an exterior pool and lounge, and many more tenant amenities. Working on 345 Harrison gave me a great sense of accomplishment as a designer – it was an honor to contribute to such a landmark development in my home city.
Residential projects here at Feldman are, of course, much smaller in scale, but offer a much more personal design experience and a more focused vision, on a faster schedule – It’s a great change in pace! I can’t say how thankful I am to be a part of the team here at FA.
Several weeks ago I had pleasure to share a brief overview of my design work from the Master Degree that I received at IAAC, in Barcelona, as well as a variety of projects from my previous work experience at SOM and Morphosis. Academic projects covered my interest in temporary architecture, wind energy harvesting and clay tile making inspired by a visit to a renowned Catalan ceramics factory. This work resulted from the numerous discourses that were held at the school, and looked at ways to challenge energy wasteful living, while growing social awareness on the issue.
The Nubular lightweight structure, is an exploration into an injection-based architecture. A homogenous building material, in this case perforated pvc skin, is used to create tubes of custom lengths and angles, which are then filled with one’s material of choice depending on the chosen tube’s position within the overall structure. Given that the material filling is a key parameter in the behavior of the structure, several tests were carried out to identify the optimal fillings and member lengths to avoid buckling. It was decided to fill the bottom most members with soil and sawdust mixture, while the top is composed of lighter foam balls. Each tube length is split into 3 with a maximum part length of around 800mm, and allowing for 50mm flat connection gaps in between and at the ends of each tube.
The overall shape was designed in grasshopper using hoopsnake plugin. An original tetrahedron shape is drawn, and hence follows the path of an arched curve, turning and repositioning itself in the process from the start of the path to the end. After this process, the geometry was manually pulled to the ground plane and specific 3-piece curves were extracted and drawn to ensure they stay under the 800mm limit. Each of the curves was separated as a layer and with lengths fed into another definition to directly produce laser cut files which included labels and welding line engravings.
The fabrication process took about 3 full days. 78 custom lengths were laser cut, welded, filled, and holed at the junctions for connections with zip-ties. Construction took around 10 hours.
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!
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