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Close to Home: The Napa Earthquake

 

Being a homeowner requires a lot of vigilance, there’s insurance and a mortgage, monthly payments and upkeep. And in California, sometimes it can also require picking up broken pieces of plates and glass at 3:30am after a 6.0 earthquake hits.

Over the weekend, my social media feeds were full of commentary on the massive earthquake that happened in California: the biggest one in 25 years.

It was a reminder that we can’t control mother nature and that there are downsides to living on the Best Coast. For everyone in the area, the shake hit close to home.

But for some a little closer than others. That night, I had been at my home in Napa where I would discover we lived across the street (70 feet) away from a fault line. A fault line that had been conveniently inactive for 1.5 million years. They don’t list those kinds of things in a real estate ad.

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The red star is our home — see how we’re along the red fault line?

 

I make light of the event because, in actuality, it was terrifying. The house felt like it was crumbling. Outside, it looked like there were fireworks or lightning when it fact it was electrical lines hitting each other and shorting out. We were jolted out of our bed by a deep rumbling sound and a feeling that our house was being torn apart (we later found the earth moved as much as 2 feet). Dogs for miles couldn’t stop barking. The earthquake only lasted 20 seconds but as all us “earthquakers” know it seemed like an eternity. By the time the shaking stopped, the lights had gone out and I struggled to open the bedroom door. Entering the living room kitchen, we were almost expecting to find half the room gone. In fact, there was lots of broken wine glasses and a whole container of salsa emptied all over the room. (Note to self; put the salsa in an airtight container.)

Luckily, we had our wine stored in small refrigerators.

And it wasn’t only exciting/terrifying for us; we had some poor souls visiting us that weekend. Our good friend, Gwen, who is every bit the New Yorker and friends from Chicago staying in an RV because they were on their way to Burning Man.

After the quake, Gwen couldn’t sleep and as my partner Mark and I attempted to calm our nerves, we could hear her pacing and fidgeting. It was too much excitement even for a New Yorker. In the morning, our RV-relegated friends would say they were convinced it was going to tip over, that they would find themselves sideways before getting to Burning Man. By a miracle, they had parked their RV in the direction of the fault so it stayed up.

 

We were lucky, though. Despite the ten-mile line crack in the ground from the fault (see attached photos) our property was spared. And really, the dog seemed more traumatized than the guests.

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More information:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/1400824-earthquakes-usgs-napa-california-faults-science/

 

http://space.io9.com/geology-of-the-napa-valley-earthquake-1626288018

 

Just a few minutes of your time…

What happened to the days where you had to earn the right to complain? You could have a miserable trip on United, come home whining about the terrible flight, the food, the delays and the general attitude of the airline and when you’d have finally calmed down enough, you would then spend many hours and many phone calls trying to find who to complain to and finally—FINALLY—you’d find the address and send off a pithy and disgruntled letter. Few highs were as satisfying as when you would get an answer back, a form-style apology and a couple of thousand Frequent flyer miles for good measure.

Now, complaining isn’t satisfying, it’s a nuisance! You can barely go to the bathroom at the airport without being asked to fill out of survey asking you: “How was the service? Toilet clean enough? Toilet paper soft enough? Did you love the new scented soap? How about the automated hand drier? Take our survey. It will only take a few minutes of your time.”

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The Advantages of Being a Woman in Architecture

When I first thought of this blog post, I was excited. I figured, “why not! There must be a ton of reasons. Right?” I mean, there are missing women in the field but there’s also an emergence of recognition for women in architecture (and the missing ones!). People are claiming the proverbial the glass ceiling is shattered! I could find a positive spin too, couldn’t I?

I decided to sit in a quiet room and really think this one through. Actually, I’m on hold with Orange (the equivalent of ATT in France), so I have tons of time. I pick up my pen. I pause.

Are there any advantages at all?

In fact, it took me a long while to come up with a narrative for this blog. I wanted to stay away from the simplistic notions, like women are better at interior design and kitchen design or that women care more about program so they are better at planning.

I decided I would make this a personal perspective about why architecture suits me as a women and a human being.

  1. I do not have to go play racket ball with my male client as they never ask. Same goes for golf and poker games.  This is all good since I’m not much for team sport or activities.
  2. Being one of the few women architects who owns her own business in Northern California confers respect and means I am a slighter bigger fish in a huge pond.
  3. I have learned a ton (pun intended) about structures and construction and yet, like many of my male architects friends, I’ve never felt the need to pick up a hammer and put that knowledge to use.  I’m happy to have the contractors do that.
  4. In the same vein, I can easily impress any contractors when I start to talk about construction technologies.
  5. Architecture is a multi facetted endeavor that fits many personality types. For me thinking outside the box is an essential part of what and how I operate and architecture is a good fit.  Architecture also moves at a snail’s pace while I move at the speed of a bullet train. It’s good for me to work on something that slows me down.
  6. Architecture involves a lot of multi tasking, which is really just a euphemism for having to juggle about ten balls up in the air all at once. But I love juggling.
  7. My feminist social values have always been at the forefront of my architectural thinking.  It is my commitement to women reproductive rights, right to abortions and affordable health care, that led me to work for Planned Parenthood, Feeling social injustice is a big motivator and I feel proud using my career as a tool to help make an active difference in health care design.
  8. 8. And finally I have enjoyed the camaraderie with other female architects. Nothing like being a minority to make you stick together. Us women architects really know what it means to be in the trench and it has made us closer and willing to share experiences expertise and just a good stiff drink.

 

France vs. US: Round One

The World Cup has brought out my duality. On one hand, I root for the French whole-heartedly but on the other, I feel an attraction to the ever under-dog American team (perhaps because in athletics, we infrequently are). Maybe it’s because I just got back from Paris, maybe it’s the unseasonable warm actual-summer San Francisco weather, but I am feeling torn.

Somehow comparing the two countries is a national sport in America. But I never feel that kind of zeal. The only way to reconcile these kinds of feelings is through careful comparison and observation. But where do I begin? Education? Health Insurance? Politics? No, the only way to truly do this is through food.

Which stacks up better? Where does France reign supreme? I am going to tell you the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the truly important differences between the two cultures.

The butter is better in France. I do not care what fabulous organic creamery lost in the hills of Vermont or the green fields of California made your butter, the average French butter, bought at your corner store, tastes better. I personally recommend Président.

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I should note that there is a savory alternative to Président: Echirié. A butter so smooth, sprinkled with a little sea salt from the Camargue. Mon dieu, as we like to say.

With the butter there is another essential ingredient: the ham. And the ham is better in France. I know you trekked thirty-seven miles to buy that incredible organic ham, which is wrought from a herdof 15 porks. Or you found a butcher who exists in a cave in Wisconsin.  In France, you could go to your local French butcher and have gotten the best ham of your life. No trekking or cave involved.  The butcher might seem like an antiquated profession but trust me: you want someone in your life that knows how to slice leg of lamb, how to carve a cow and how to best present a duck breast.

And finally there is the bread. I don’t know what it is in France but even my daughter, who lives in New York, complains of never being able to find quality bread. It could be the water or the flour in France, or maybe the fact that thousands of bakeries are all competing for your business, but the bread is better here. Should I also note that the French people do not seem to be decimated by gluten allergies? Go figure.

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Of course, there are some metaphors in these. The quality of food on a basic level is just better in France.

But best of all–these three ingredients? They combine to make the best sandwich, un jambon beurre on a baguette. Who needs all the fuss all the food trucks all the crazy ingredients, in France these thee basic elements are the holy trinity.

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Fougeron Architecture in Vogue!

Fougeron Architecture’s Fall House was recently featured in a photoshoot for Vogue.

 

The photoshoot was titled Beauty and the Beast and surrounded the trend of “earth tones, suede and high-laced boots are more than just Bohemian throwbacks–they’re essential pieces for a night on the prowl.”

 

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Considering the Show “Catch a Contractor”

Architecture and television isn’t anything new. Between HGTV broadcasting a smorgasbord of realty TV shows 24 hours a day (Love it Or List It, Flip This House, The Property Brothers) along with the manipulatively tear-jerking Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Americans really love watching remodels. At least, when they’re only 21 minutes long.

There are countless articles (link, link) out there about the unrealistic scenarios these shows project. Often times, labor is excluded from the price listed for renovations and don’t get me started on the timelines. Most of these homes are preassembled. Paint takes time to dry, so does sheet rock mud and concrete isn’t completely set until 30 days after being poured so it can be fully loaded until then. Really–how you finish a house in less than 30 days?

I’m looking at you, Ty Pennington.

But Adam Carolla’s To Catch a Contractor appealed to me. It’s a different approach—showing the dark side of failed renovations—but with the same reality TV happy-ending pay off. Carolla finds homes in the middle of renovation that were abandoned by contractors.

The only experience I had with Adam Carolla before watching Catch a Contractor was with his radio station, Love Line, which my daughter used to listen to. I am, admittedly, not the biggest fan of his and his pop-culture steeped humor or his misogynistic tendencies. But I am interested in the smarter side of television and architecture.

In his show, Carolla goes through the home with the family and comments on the damage. And I must admit, Adam Carolla really knows his stuff—his commentary on masonry, pressure-treated lumber, electrical outfitting and the use of proper materials impressed me. He also offers sage (albeit cookie-cutter) wisdom, like “never give the contractor more than 50% of the money” and “always ask for accounting.”

There are two scenarios Carolla offers the family. Either they will attempt to find the contractor and make him do the work and do it right. OR if they can’t find him, Carolla’s team will take over renovations and help the family in question take legal action.

In true reality television indulgence, once the contractor is found (and he always is), he is publicly humiliated in a confrontation. Present are the clients, Carolla and his personal contractor (who resembles someone that might crush plaster into dust with his bare hands).

The contractor is then brought through his abomination of a project. Under the watchful and critical eye of Carolla and his contractor, the original contractor must fix his mess. About three television minutes later, we cut to the happy family seeing the finished renovation.

As an architect, I maintain a precarious relationship with contractors. You find a lot of bad ones—overpriced, always behind schedule; they skimp on materials or fine details (I cannot count the amount of misaligned windows I have caught) and some even abandon the job half finished… But, when I find a good one, I hang on tightly as I can (like Thomas George Construction, who worked with me on The Fall House).  Their watchful eye, skills and knowledge are intrinsic to my project getting done. I can’t be present at a site 10 hours a day and I must fully trust the person I am handing the design and money too.

Plus, a little public shaming to those who give contractors a bad name can’t hurt, right? And it is really good after a frustrating days dealing with a not so good contractor, beer in hand.

 

 

 

Resorting

Under a mountain of unending fog and chilled by the news reports of record breaking snowfall on the East coast, I took a vacation to The Big Island (or Kona), Hawaii last week.  I stayed at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, a resort hotel built by SOM in the 1960s. Did you think I was going to talk about those Mai Tais I enjoyed? This is an architecture blog, after all!

The Mauna Kea is very much tied to its decade without looking dated. There is no outside or inside in the common hotel areas, simply roofs without walls or walls without roofs. Every space is expansive–with incredibly high ceilings, concrete as far as the eye can see.

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  And the use of color is delightful–the bright tiles (which are blue on some floors and red on others), the amazing Hawaiian art is what punctuates a mostly sparse space.

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A back stairwell

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Rooms flanking either side

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A view from the 5th floor to the 8th

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Another lovely stairwell

In fact, the whole structure is rather modest for a resort. Rooms aren’t spread out across various buildings, you won’t find the various restaurants or bars in different zip codes. There is one main building an an addition of new rooms (built in the 1980s). You could easily walk from one end of the hotel to the other in ten minutes.

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Kona is an expansive island which actually makes exploring it difficult. It can easily take four hours to drive from one end to the other. But I embraced this mentality and did my best to discover the immediate surrounding areas. It was to my benefit, in fact, as I got to check out (and compare) other  hotels in the area.

When I was told some of the best food on the Island could be found at the Four Seasons resort, about a 15 minute drive away, I knew I had to visit .

In contrast with the Mauna Kea, The Four Seasons is enormous. No, it is gigantic. You enter one building to register and then your room could be so far away, you’ll need a golf cart to get there.

Hualalai Golf Aerial

When we arrived for dinner,  we got lost walking to the restaurant twice! It was a ten minute walk through poorly lit alleys. Despite its airs, the whole resort is rather vernacular. It seems disassociated from its surroundings, resembling any other resort you might find somewhere else tropical. It screams Pirates of the Caribbean but without any of the fun.

Not a single material there is native to Kona.

Not a single material there is native to Kona.

It is (despite a lengthy Wikipedia article that disagrees) a sort of copy and paste job. And you can see it because the architects chose to build something that “represented” Hawaii than something that belonged in Hawaii.

It is worth noting two things about The Four Seasons. Firstly, we had slow-cooked boar there and it was delicious and second is that, and I do feel this is important, very few people who were born or raised in Hawaii worked at the resort. Very unlike the Mauna Kea, where you found lifelong Hawaiians not only in staff, but as customers at the spa and salon too!

Of course, the beautiful beachfront access doesn’t hurt my adoration for the Mauna Kea but in all, it is a spectacular modern hotel for one reason alone: respect. The SOM team not only worked on respecting the space, but the environment itself. You get a sense that the hotel is nestled into the Island, having found an appropriate (and small!) space for itself. Its modesty suits its modernity. Instead of making a guest forget they are in Hawaii, they feel more a part of the Island.

OUTRAGE: On Moma

Does anyone remember the Outrage/Delight sections of The Architectural Review? We should bring that back.

In case you missed it, the New York MOMA is planning on tearing down a 12 year old building. The building in question, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, housed the American Folk Art Museum. After going bankrupt, MOMA bought the Williams/Tsien property which was adjacent.

I have a lot of feelings on this decision and none of them are positive.

From a strictly reason perspective, this seems like a waste. This building isn’t even a teenager, and now, in a time in which we lament the economy, we’ve decided that it should be torn down. It is expensive to design and build something. There are hundreds of jobs, thousands of hours and millions of dollars that go into a project of this magnitude.

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Hercule Poirot and Modernism

So who says you can’t learn something from TV?

I have been continuing my marathon of “Poirot” episodes and movies. I can’t seem to resist the weird Belgian detective of Agatha Christie fame. But, in my defense, it was raining this weekend. (If you missed my last post on Poirot, you should check it out now)

One of the best things about the series, which I did not touch on in my last post, is the great locations where the episodes are shot.  I don’t often look to television for architectural inspiration but Poirot’s apartment alone is a gem: a great deco, mid-rise with a bathroom you could have sworn was built in 2002 and not 1922.

The houses in the series are always owned by the wealthy English families. And we’re talking about a time in which homes are the ultimate emblems of success and heritage. Yet, we find something so refreshing about the modern architecture. It’s a statement! You don’t need to be an earl and live in Downton Abbey!

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The phenomena of signature buildings without a signature.

New Year, same blog and more complaining!

Maybe when you get old, you just get cranky and think everything is worse than before and it isn’t! Maybe one day I will look back at this rant and realize I was wrong!

The issue is that  I find myself looking at a lot of architecture, all over the world, and I can’t say I am impressed. The irony of the urge to rant using phrases like “in my day” is not lost on me.

I’ve talked before about signatures (whether it be in jeans, in food, in fashion) – greatness comes from an appreciation of the rules and then an ability to break them. The same, of course, goes for architecture.  It was only a few months ago that I was complaining about the dwell light phenomena!

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