A year ago I traveled from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco to work as an Architectural Graduate. I had not been to America before but chose to live in one city for the duration of my stay because I hoped to experience an intimate sense of place and people in such a diverse and vast country. On a Saturday afternoon I emerged from the 24th Street Mission Bart Station into a vibrant world of color and music. What followed was an unforgettable 13 months immersed in new landscapes and communities with the opportunity to be part of an innovative and design-focused studio, Feldman Architecture. I learned so much from my colleagues, who became mentors, neighbors and lifelong friends.
In between exploring the hills of San Francisco I was lucky enough to visit ten states, but California with her redwood forests, endless coastline, lakes and mountains was home. My path quickly fell off the Lonely Planet page with the overwhelming hospitality of new friends and their families. I spent my first white Christmas listening to country in Yosemite, fished the shores of Tahoe on the Fourth of July, surfed the breaks of San Diego Thanksgiving morning and hunted for matzah in the Mission. It was great to be able to celebrate each holiday once and also to be in San Francisco to enjoy other occasions such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and title wins for the Giants and Warriors.
My friends taught me how to shoot, how to shuck an oyster and crack a crab, how fast to run from each wildlife species and the intricacies of football. How to go forward on a horse and backward on a kayak and to be more adventurous, confident and spontaneous. I learned of site, materiality, climate and craft. The intent of the pilot visa I was issued is to encourage cultural exchange between our countries. I could not have imagined how much I would learn and now carry with me from this experience. The photos I have included are of California but remind me of the people I shared the memories with. I would like to thank everyone at Feldman Architecture for their support, incredible generosity and for every opportunity and experience they gave me.
Kia ora is a Te reo Maori greeting also used to give thanks and feels fitting here.
Kia ora friends,
In November, we had the pleasure of welcoming Peter Yu of Yu Structural Engineers into our office for an engaging presentation about his past and current single-family residential, multi-unit residential, and commercial structures. Peter and Steven had collaborated extensively during Steven’s tenure at his prior firm, and it was great for the rest of the office to be introduced to Peter and his body of work.
While the projects that Steven and Peter had collaborated on were elegant, modern residences, the highlight of Peter’s presentation was more fantastical in nature: a treehouse home. The house, comprised of three separate structures, required Peter and his team to build a 60 ft artificial tree capable of supporting a fully-functional family home. Starting with clay models and working their way up to the life-sized final product, Peter’s team tackled the challenge of making their clients improbable dream home a reality. Thanks for sharing, Peter! We are so impressed.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles, during its first few weeks of opening. I suppose it is only in our youth that we consider actions that require us to leave the comfort of our beds, drive for six hours, and arrive in a city at 5:00 AM for the sole reason of visiting a museum.
With no tickets, our only recourse was to wait in line. We thought we had arrived early. We also thought it was autumn. We were wrong on both counts. People actually cheered when an attendant emerged from the building pushing a cart full of water bottles.
Standing outside, it struck me that the museum’s building will inevitably draw its context from the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall. The contrasts seem clearly intentional: containment vs accumulation, repetition vs fragmentation.
Within the museum, there is a very simple, but experientially, very strong differentiation between the lower and upper floors. I would liken it to the Titanic: the dark, subterranean underbelly of the engine room almost defies belief that just a few floors above, people are dancing in a sparkling, luminous ballroom.
In the lobby, the dark walls have been molded perfectly smooth. And within this polished surface, the gentle slopes and curves of the wall give way to a singular void, where people are swallowed whole to be led upward. It’s not merely a simple change in elevation; one quite literally emerges from the cave below into a place of light.
On the heels of our joint success at the 2015 LEAP Sandcastle Contest, where we joined forces with ZFA, PCH, and the students of Jefferson Elementary to build a Jabba the Hutt sand monstrosity, Stefan Thuilot visited our office to share some insight and images of some more elegant projects. Many of the projects Stefan shared were carefully crafted garden designs for private residences, and their understated aesthetics seemed both carefully planned and natural, engaging with the original site instead of supplanting it. Using fire and water as dynamic design components, Steven weaves disparate elements of each garden puzzle into a coherent whole to heighten the sensory experience it offers.
Stefan’s exploration of indoor-outdoor living spaces requires extensive collaboration with architects like FA itself, and it was interesting to take a peek at the opposite side of that back and forth.
This past weekend, a team of volunteers from the Congregation Emanu-El gathered to realize Jonathan’s sukkah design in the temple’s courtyard. Constructed for the Jewish festival of Sukkot, a sukkah is a temporary hut intended to replicate the wilderness dwellings built by the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land. Traditionally, a sukkah has three sides, branches for a roof, and serves as a space for eating, gathering, and sometimes sleeping during the holiday. Always, the roof should be thin enough that one can see the stars from within the dwelling.
Like traditionally simple sukkahs, Jonathan’s design celebrates the harvest with modesty. Twelve burlap panels are suspended in the temple’s courtyard, rising in height as they slope up around the fountain at the space’s center and towards the doors of the temple itself. Each constructed of four slender wooden beams creating a rectangular frame for the burlap, the panels billow and bend gracefully in the wind and leave bold, geometric shadows on the bricks below.
“We challenged a group of architects to design a sukkah using creative form and the whole courtyard,” Rabbi Jonathan Singer explained to me on Saturday, emphasizing his desire to expand upon the temple’s previous smaller, wooden structures and create a site open to the entire community. Even during its construction that afternoon, the suspended panel design proved inclusive; with direction from Jonathan and the other architects present, families stapled the burlap screens’ sides to the wooden beams and knelt to tuck uneven edges beneath the frame. A congregation member and his son had stopped to help on their way to a soccer game, another woman had dedicated her entire afternoon to the project, and a mother ran to pick up another staple gun with her son in tow. Rabbi Singer himself pulled a pair of scissors from his pocket to help the volunteers, saying “In the season of our joy, we remember with humility not to compartmentalize ourselves from nature.”
The sukkah will remain in place for the duration of the holiday, which ends on Sunday, October 4th. For more creative sukkah designs, check out this gallery of entrants in 2010’s Sukkah City competition, which selected 12 designs to be constructed and displayed in New York City’s Union Square Park: http://www.sukkahcity.com/
Update: The sukkah continues to welcome the community with great success throughout the holiday. Sunday evening, a crowd of people enjoyed fulfilling the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah, and the courtyard has since hosted preschool breakfasts, staff lunches, the congregation’s Youth Education family day, and Wednesday night’s Women’s Group gathering.