The Troglodytes of the Loire Valley...

Driving on the back roads of the Loire in France, you can’t help but notice the caves throughout the Valley – many of which have windows, doors, shutters, awnings, courtyards, etc.. Dating back to the 11th century, the soft white limestone, tufa or tuffeau, of the area was quarried extensively leaving deep clefts and caves in the hillsides. These caves or troglodytes represent one of the most dramatic forms of adaptive reuse that I’ve witnessed as they have been converted into homes, stables, storage units and even abbeys, hotels, restaurants, and churches. The abandoned quarries and caves were recognized by the inhabitants of the area for their potential as low-cost dwellings and also in darker times for their defensive potential. Several of the caves are said to have been used by the Resistance during World War II to hide those fleeing from the Nazis to unoccupied, southern France.

I had the pleasure of staying in one of the troglodytes for a few nights last month.  The property where we stayed was formerly part of the neighboring castle’s grounds, and the caves were part of the castle’s farm providing storage and stables.  The property included two large troglodytes where two sides of the buildings are honed from the rock that was quarried from the hillside long ago.  Walls, windows, floors and roofs were all added and the castle’s stable has now been converted into a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home.  Two additional caves also exist on the site and are currently used for storage and laundry, but have been plumbed for future use as guestrooms.  Without intervention, the caves maintain throughout the year a steady temperature of 12° Celsius or about 54°Fahrenheit which for the Loire means that the caves are also used extensively for wine making.  Adding to the charm of the caves, you can sometimes see fossils in the walls and remnants of some of the former uses, such as a trough from the former farm which runs the length of one room and now acts as a ledge.  For me, I couldn’t help but wonder about the 1000 years of inhabitants who have occupied the space and think of the stories and history they have seen.   – Hannah

For more information, see this Smithsonian article on the Troglodytes.

Wedding in Sea Ranch...

Three summers ago, I stopped at The Sea Ranch on my way to San Francisco to visit my future husband. I sketched the small chapel and wondered if and when I got married, if I could limit my guest list to the 8-10 people that could be seated in the chapel.

When the time came, as an architect-and-bride-to-be, I did my due diligence researching wedding venues, but my husband to be had a feeling The Sea Ranch Lodge would be the place. What The Sea Ranch offered was not only Modern Architecture (yes, capitalized) blending with a beautiful landscape – but authenticity. When I took my fiancé to visit, we were reminded of our childhood homes in different ways and felt calm and connected to nature.


Our reactions to this place were no accident. The Sea Ranch was designed as a vacation community in the 1960-1970’s by the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and several architects including William Turnbull, Jr., Joseph Esherick, and Charles Moore. The lodge, community buildings and 10 miles of vacation homes have been built since in strict accordance to an architectural style based on local barns that date to the late 19thcentury. There is something very unique and effective about the results.

I was unable to limit my guest list to fit into the chapel I had sketched years before – the one dramatic exception to the design guidelines. Instead, family, friends and friends who are also co-workers filled a tent flanked on two sides by the lodge’s guest rooms and wood walk ways. It rained, which was wonderful. Suddenly, everything was spontaneous and somehow better than what I had meticulously planned. Photos occurred in all the right places and a glowing sunset drew a crowd out of the tent just before dessert. – Camille

Breathing Life into City Streets...

What could be more green, (and more fun) than a lively city street that makes walking and biking more enjoyable than driving?

Throughout San Francisco, locals and visitors are enjoying a new urban intervention: the parking-space-sized public lounge spaces or ‘parklet’.  The program is part of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program that was launched in 2009 and it’s been a huge success.

On Valencia between 14th and 15th outside Four Barrel, a parklet with bike storage by Boor Bridges Architecture.
Click here to check out a map of all parklets in SF.

City residents began looking for ways to reclaim pavement as car-free public space and in 2005, thanks to the designers at Rebar, the movement got its first moment of success with Park(ing) Day.  Since then the movement has spread beyond San Francisco to cities across the globe.  (Did you know that Park(ing) Day is now an international event with over 150 cities participating? Nice job San Francisco!)

Another conceptual project for the Bay Area proposes repurposing the 2.2 miles of highway of the East Span Bay Bridge in anticipation of the opening of the new bridge in 2013.  Fletcher Studio proposes the radical retrofit of the bridge to harvest water, wind and sun to cool a data server farm on the lower deck and to water and grow a medicinal marijuana farm on the upper deck.  The two high grossing, non-public uses would generate enough income to pay off the retrofit expense within one year and then continue to generate income for public use throughout the Bay Area.

From miles long to the size of a bench; both temporary and permanent, other cities are finding their own way to reclaim their streets.  Here are a few of our favorites:

The Highline Project, New York, New York by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with James Corner’s Field Operations allows pedestrians to walk 1.45 miles without stopping for a single car.

Crater Lake by 24° Studio in Kobe, Japan was developed to integrate leisure and play space into the cityscape.

The ‘Minhocão’ (giant worm) highway in Sao Paulo is closed to traffic on Sundays, becoming a pedestrian-only recreational space. – Bridgett

Travel Photos: Ann Arbor...

I recently took a quick trip back to my home town of Ann Arbor Michigan.  Even though I was on vacation, I couldn’t help but snap a few shots of the architecture in the city.  Ann Arbor is composed of nice old university buildings as well as a lot of contemporary architecture.

Ann Arbor Images

From top to bottom the buildings are: Angell HallNickles ArcadeUniversity of Michigan Museum of Art, & The Ann Arbor District Library Traverwood Branch.  For more information on any of the buildings click the links above.


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