Summer’s greetings from the Feldman Architecture team. We are so excited to share some updates with you – especially our very own Surf House featured in this month’s issue of Architectural Digest! We are wishing you a safe, healthy, and relaxing summer. Please find our entire summer newsletter here, and a few updates below.
“But beyond any piece of art or pedigreed object, the true spirit of the house resides in the Monterey cypress that lines its walls, doors, and cabinetry. ‘It feels like we’re living inside a fine piece of furniture, crafted by artisans at the top of their field. I love to lie on the couch and just let my eye trace all the details,’ the husband raves. His wife has the final word: ‘We don’t think about the house as a place. It’s an experience. It’s peace. It feeds our souls.'”
We are elated that Surf House is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of Architectural Digest! We are so proud to share this spread with our collaborators Commune, Ground Studio, Arborica, Tucci Lighting, among many others – and very thankful for the thoughtful words from Mayer Rus and stunning images from Stephen Kent Johnson. Read the piece online here, in print here, enjoy the project on our website, look for the issue on newsstands, and find one of our favorite quotes from the homeowners above.
This quarter, we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, discussing, and planning. Below, find a statement and a series of commitments from our team inspired by recent activism fighting for racial justice. We want to share these truths and commitments with our community to start our path towards reconciliation.
Feldman Architecture stands in vigorous opposition to racism in all its forms and is committing to actionable steps towards addressing structural, societal, and implicit biases, starting with those baked into the architecture and design industries. As a firm that names both sustainability and transparency as core values, we must acknowledge the lack of both in our industry at large when it comes to racial justice.
First and foremost, we must acknowledge the truth – our country and our industry specifically are structured to uphold systems of racism. With our studio’s focus on residential design serving very wealthy clients, we also must acknowledge our privilege and complicity within this system. With only 2% of all architects currently registered in the United States being Black, we must commit to actively working to increase accessibility and to offering support and reconciliation to Black architects, students, and members of our community.
Within our firm, we have formed an antiracism focus group, which has been brainstorming actionable items we can take collectively to address areas identified as needing improvement. We aim to assemble meaningful commitments with care and integrity, and to consistently and continually hold ourselves accountable and improve upon said commitments.
Feldman Architecture will firstly address racism internally at our firm, exploring tangible ways in which implicit bias affects our lives and the lives of those around us, specifically focusing on strategies to hold ourselves accountable and strive towards antiracism. These discussions will work to empower staff to start the journey of self-reflection and support and uplift Black community members, designers, and loved ones.
In order to address the lack of Black professionals in our industry, we will work to expand our recruiting and educational outreach. We commit to making our internship program more robust – Feldman Architecture will work with organizations like NOMA to offer internships to aspiring BIPOC architects, performing outreach and building relationships with high school and college students in our community.
We believe that specifically exposing marginalized and disenfranchised students at a younger age to architectural and design opportunities can begin to address and break down the systemic barriers that have historically kept the industry homogeneous. We must take intentional action to break this cycle and work with organizations performing educational outreach in Black communities and form pathways and relationships to do so.
We will scrutinize our hiring process. Currently, Feldman Architect has zero Black employees. We aim to change that to reflect the demographics of our broader community, and therefore will commit to actively recruiting Black architects and encouraging others in our industry to do the same. We will establish relationships with HBCUs and expand and diversify our hiring process via organizational partnerships, job boards, and community outreach.
We will prioritize pro bono efforts which provide design services and consultations to organizations and nonprofits that are working towards racial justice and/or that specifically benefit Black communities. Our entire pro bono effort will be focused more closely and intentionally on serving underrepresented and minority communities.
We will aim to increase the diversity of our collaborator and consultant pool, specifically seeking out Black owned and led companies to work with and promote.
We will invite conversation and discussion. Please feel free to engage us with suggestions, ideas, or criticisms. We are dedicated to making this work a permanent part of our firm’s processes and will have blog posts updating our community on our progress as we work towards making our commitments as concrete and specific as possible within the next six months.
We are committed and open. There is much work to do and much for us to learn. Black lives matter, and always will.
Our sustainability committee is off to a productive and eventful 2020! Last week, FA Associate Ben Welty attended the Carbon Positive ’20 conference in LA, organized by Architect Magazine and Architecture 2030, meeting with some of the top studios and professionals in the nation to discuss reducing and offsetting carbon in the design world. Below, find some nuggets of wisdom from Ben – who made sure to keep us updated back in San Francisco on lessons learned.
- The original goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 is too late. If we don’t zero out our carbon emissions by 2040 and avoid a 1.5C increase in average global temperatures, we will experience a climate change that is irreversible.
- Everybody here knows we can accomplish our goals. And we’re intent to go back to our communities with this shared knowledge and make a difference. Fortunately, the design and construction industry still has the power to affect change. We drive policy decisions, advancements in technology, and public awareness.
- The production of Cement (the binding agent in concrete) accounts for 8% of total global emissions. Steel production accounts for 7%. China has poured more concrete in the last four years than the U.S. did in the 20th century. Alternative production methods will be key to us reaching our goals.
- While we’re trying to eliminate fossil fuel use in the building industry-we’re still using fossil fuel-based products (rigid insulation) to reduce our reliance on coal and natural gas. Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is essentially the same material we legislated out of the food packaging industry 30 years ago.
- Hemp seems poised to play a big part in reducing our CO2 emissions moving forward as states continue to loosen hemp regulations.
- Women accounted for roughly 40% of newly licensed architects in 2019. 50% of this conference’s speakers are women, and by my estimation at least 50% of the attendees are women. So while still
underrepresented in the field their contributions in battling the global climate crisis outweighs their male counterparts.
On another note, it’s been 3 years since Feldman Architecture first committed to the 2030Challenge– joining more than 1,000 firms across the nation in a pledge to create only carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. This January, our firm was the first to report our annual progress on carbon neutrality to the AIA 2030 Commitment Design Data Exchange (DDx), enabling others to learn from our work. We hope that in sharing our processes and challenges, we can encourage transparency and prioritize leadership in reducing our carbon footprint. Stay tuned for our annual detailed report on our 2030 Action Plan, to be published soon!
By Serena Brown
A few months back I was given the opportunity to tag along on a site meeting to Los Altos Hills. My purpose was to interview David Toews, BayWest Builder’s superintendent on site at the Round House. I’ve been interested in this project since I started at Feldman Architecture due to its unique circular shape, and the innovative ways the various teams have tackled the challenges that come with a perfectly round form; notably David’s creation ‘The Tool’.
For the first hour or so I had free reign to explore the home, snapping photos and admiring the views. Once the meetings had finished and the walk-through was complete, David was happy to sit down with me and discuss his background in construction, as well as his excitement for this particular project. Despite his current construction expertise, David grew up in a musical family. His father was a brilliant composer who started the Cabrillo College Music Festival, though for reasons unknown encouraged David away from the musical path. David joked that he “wasn’t sure if it was due to the difficulty of the business or [his] lack of musical talent!”
At age six he was given his first tool set, which he promptly got taken away by his mother after sawing through a support beam on his front porch. During his early teen years he attended an alternative high school / college and turned his attentions toward the medical industry. He decided at 17 that medicine wasn’t for him after dropping out of college to pursue other interests. At 19 he entered his first carpentry job, but wasn’t yet thinking of it as a trade. Shortly after, he was taken under the wing of Ed Powell as a carpenters apprentice and his career in construction really began. From Ed he learned not only the hands-on skills associated with construction, but also the values behind his way of business. As a child he had spent time with his uncle learning how to build architectural models, paint with watercolors, and generally learning how to problem solve. The time with his uncle had a huge influence on his later life, and his time with Ed reminded him of those experiences.
Following his tenure with Ed Powell, David went on to work at Pressman Construction where he learned about business management but felt the company didn’t extol the same values he’d admired in Ed. In 1986 he started his own company, built on core tenants he believed in, and ran it for 30 years. He proudly kept his clients happy but admits that despite being a good builder, he wasn’t a very good businessman. Thus, his company closed in 2016. For the past three years he’s worked under the leadership of Derek Gray, which he happily says allows him to focus on what he loves most—building.
The Round House is situated up in Los Altos Hills with views of the Bay from the kitchen and living room. The clients fell in love with this quirky circular home and later made the decision to remodel. Since the house is a perfect circle, David stressed that geometry and strict calculations were important from the get-go. He felt from the beginning that the house needed a compass to guide its construction. He told me that when he’s planning out a job, he views the building in layers, starting from the foundation all the way through framing and steel work. Getting each layer done right is what causes a project to succeed. After seeing the plans for the Round House, long before starting the project, he had a dream about the Sundial Bridge in Redding and in the morning the idea for the perfect tool dawned on him. Derek approved of his plan and after telling the owners, architects, and subs, told him he’d better build it!
‘The Tool’, a cross between a trammel arm and compass, is 16ft tall with a 45ft long boom. Its function was to properly measure the circumference of the house during the construction of its foundation and walls. It helped the team keep track of the vectors in plan and make sure each wall lined up with its counterpart. The name for ‘The Tool’ was inspired by a Russian carpenter who worked for David many years ago. He put together a complex piece of furniture without any fasteners; the through dovetail mortise and tenon connections were locked in place using a small block of wood that tapped the parts into position. He said if you were to take it apart, save the ‘TOOL’, which he had written on the piece of wood. David laughed when he said the name stuck with him and thought he’d pay homage to the work ethic of the man who thought of it. And of course, he still has the ¼ x ¼ x 4” ‘TOOL.’ David said that while he was building it his “heart said it’ll work but [his] mind was still questioning it.” Finally though, “it just took flight.”
Now that the project is past framing, the team no longer has use for ‘The Tool’. David likened it to a “dragon friend in Game of Thrones” and was sad to take it down. He hopes that he won’t have to dismantle it, and is looking at donating it to somewhere like a children’s museum. If anyone knows a good place to display it, please let us know!
When asked about the challenges he faced in this project, David had only positives to share. He mentioned how exciting it is to work on this type of job, and how he’s constantly excited to jump out of bed in the morning and come to work. You can tell that David is truly following his passion, and that problem solving is in his nature. He believes in constantly learning, adapting, and holds the view that ‘information doesn’t just fall from the sky, [he] was very fortunate to have mentors to pass on knowledge that had in turn been passed on to them.”
I want to extend a huge thank you to David for taking the time to speak with me and share his story regarding this fascinating project, and his storied career path and passions. Make sure to check back On the Boards for updates as construction on the Round House should be finishing up later this year!
By Ben Welty & Jess Stuenkel
Over the years the folks here at Feldman Architecture have participated in many rewarding pro-bono experiences, primarily brought to the attention of the office by an individual with a desire to lend a hand within the community. We have participated in CANstruction, Rebuilding Together, AFSF Student Mentorship, and The LEAP Sandcastle Contest. But in 2017 we decided to create a dedicated budget for our pro-bono work and look for non-profit organizations that were in need of architectural services. We look to the 1+ Program for insights into setting up our budget and getting us connected. It didn’t take long until we were set up to work with two amazing non-profit organizations that needed space upgrades. Playworks, who works to bring out the best in kids through play, and CUESA whose mission is to cultivate a healthy food system through community & education.
For over two decades now Playworks has been assisting schools and youth programs make the most of recess by providing resources to promote safety, engagement and empowerment while demonstrating the power of “Play.” Our partnership with Playworks began in 2016 after we connected with them via 1+, an organization that connects non-profits with architects offering pro-bono work. Headquartered in Oakland, CA, Playworks had outgrown their 9,000+ square foot national office and were in need of a larger space, with a caveat being that they had a strong desire to remain in their Jack London Square neighborhood. Knowing that it would take an indefinite amount of time to find a new space, it was decided that we’d first focus on improving the quality and efficiency of their current space by replacing their dated cubicles with sit/stand workstations that provided additional capacity while promoting more social interaction throughout the workplace. However, this would only be a temporary fix as the search continued for a new home.
Over the course of the next year and a half we assisted in the assessment of potential office locations, eventually landing on a 16,000 square foot collection of former warehouse spaces a mere three blocks away from their current digs. On a strict budget but with the need to compete with tech and other local industries to attract talented and qualified employees, we kicked off the project in late 2017 with the goal to provide a workplace that honored their culture and values and, as Playworks describes it, a place to “experience play as a professional.” Scheduled to open in early 2019, their new headquarters will offer just that – open office spaces with high ceilings, exposed roof structure and skylights; casual “living rooms” to serve as informal breakout spaces; a mesh “area” with bleacher seating for all-office gatherings and a glass rollup garage door opening onto an interior courtyard; and a large assembly space for training their coaches and holding other Playworks and community events. What began as picking out desks and chairs has turned into what will be the firm’s largest office project to date. And one of the most rewarding as well!
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5BVhJIK5eA&feature=youtu.be
In addition to running three major farmers markets in the Bay Area, including the Ferry Building Farmers Market, CUESA has a cute teaching kitchen nestled behind large sliding doors in the south arcade of the Ferry Building. The small kitchen has a big presence as an informal space that brings together kids, communities, chefs and farmers. CUESA uses this space to teach kids about where their food comes from, and teaches them the glory of fresh fruits and vegetables. They provide a direct connection between farmers & the community and present high-class chef’s to anyone willing to gather around and listen. The kitchen space itself has been in use for many years, and is made up of donated equipment and love. In collaboration with NG Associates we have taken on the project to reimagine what this little kitchen space can be and how it can better serve its community. We are in the early stages of the project, but are very excited to begin!
This winter, CUSEA held their annual fundraising Gala which I was graciously able to attend with my partner Chris. I was overwhelmed by the support for CUESA and the amazing food prepared by some of the best chef’s in the Bay Area, all who donated their time. The excitement and commitment to the cause was palpable and the night was loads of fun. If you’re interested in learning more about CUESA, check out this short film about the kids’ food program, and keep your eyes peeled for any public events CUESA presents as they are bound to be delicious.
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMlEAy7VR58
By Serena Brown
A few weeks ago, our office made the journey across the Bay Bridge to visit a project nearly 10 years in the making. Four houses sit atop a large lot in the East Bay Hills, soon to be occupied by four siblings, along with their families. Originally the site of their childhood home, the lot was cleared and divided to accommodate the new individual structures. Inspired by the five sects of traditional Chinese medicine, each of the four houses embodies a different theme. From left to right, the elements assigned to each are metal, earth, water, and wood. The fifth element, fire, is represented by the fire pit in the shared backyard
We began our tour in the Water House and were immediately introduced to the embodiment of its name—a beautiful water feature running the length of the front door to the kitchen. Following the trough, the floor plan then opens up into the great room, designed with floor to ceiling glass walls and striking white cabinetry. Our designers were able to take their time exploring the house; opening cupboards, meandering through rooms, and enjoying the view. The palette of the Water House is minimalist and clean, with white walls, dark hardwood, and black railings throughout.
By contrast, the Wood House next door feels warmer, its palette consisting of lighter wood panels and honey-colored floors. Its namesake is obvious, a tall wooden wall running the length of the stairs, fitted with subtle strips of light. Adjacent to the wooden wall is a large glass panel spanning both floors, a beautiful detail our designers appreciated in more than one of the four houses. An interesting feature in the living room took a bit of explaining at first glance. The architect had designed a customized sliding mount which was fabricated as a frame for a future commissioned piece of art. By sliding the painting to the left, they’re able to entirely cover their television, transforming the wall into a unique statement piece.
During our tour, the owner of the Wood House explained the process by which they assigned lots to the four siblings. When the project first broke ground, her two year old son was given the task of pulling slips of paper labeled ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ out of hat and handing them to his aunts and uncles. Each slip was connected to a corresponding lot. Whatever letter they received was theirs to inhabit. It seemed like a random and fair system to me!
Next on our tour was the Earth House, aptly represented by a large boulder placed at the foot of the stair in the foyer. The stone was selected by one of the owners amongst the dozens of large boulders unearthed by the excavation for the new homes. He collaborated closely with our design team on many of the more artistic features, many of which are found in his house, the final stop on our tour.
Despite being assigned the element metal, the owner of the final house took inspiration from a different aspect of nature: the sky. Named Sky House, the structure boasts a beautiful floating meditation room, countless skylights, and a roof deck with phenomenal views of the bay. A custom light fixture in the main stairwell was created to represent the steps on the journey after death, the lights creating a path leading up into the heavens.In the meditation room, tucked away at the top of the stairs, two large glass panels replace a section of the floor, giving the illusion of hovering between the earth and the sky. A glass folding door opens up onto the upper deck, adding to the outdoor connection.
The four houses share a backyard, connected by a series of wooden decks and walkways. Behind the Water House sits a pool, surrounded by drainage troughs and newly planted greenery. The owners already have plans for family dinners and shared holidays on the outer deck. The owner of Sky House is especially excited to have the opportunity to watch his nephews grow right outside his door. The individual who seems most pleased by the four-house development is the sibling’s mother, who now has her children and grandchildren all within arm’s reach. During our tour I was inspired and reminded of the closeness of my own family, my mother being the oldest of five siblings. Like this family, we too make efforts each year to spend holidays together and to visit as we scatter further across California. It was wonderful to observe not only the beautiful houses this family has created, but also the close bond they so obviously share. I’m looking forward to seeing the houses fully complete within the next few months as punch lists are wrapped up and personal touches are added in. Special thanks to the family for allowing us to tour and for sharing their special story with us all!