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Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Five things You (and I) Really Don’t Need for Christmas This Year

 

Selfie Stick1. The Selfie Stick: I have nothing against selfies but this just seems excessive. I guess it’s easier to use a selfies stick to share your face with Instagram followers than be slightly embarrassed to asking a stranger to take your picture?

 

2. A roommate who winds up starting the new Facebook and suddenly has nothing to do with themselves and the next thing you know, they buy a major American publication and institution, like The New Republic, and run it into the ground.

 

3. A movie about the podcast SERIAL or these backdoor knock offs. Even I can see the meta-charm in there being dozens of podcasts about the podcast but leave it to the producers of This American Life to be the pinnacles of storytelling, not you. (My daughter once attended a talk by Ira Glass who said the biggest problem in storytelling was that “people didn’t actually know where the real story was.”)

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Architects and Optimism: Harmony or Horror?

The other night, I was up late, watching yet another British crime-mystery show. I would call myself a fan of good wine and cheese but only an addict to one thing: this sub-genre of television. I have now resorted to online subscriptions to English web sites so I can stream the most obscure shows. Anyway, in the climax of another whodunit plot, the corrupt business-type “perp” (I like to use context-appropriate jargon) is finally coming clean. In a long, pessimistic, diatribe he describes the world as a cesspool and that only greed is a value worth considering.

Pessimist is a word I am used to and if you sat it at a dinner party with most architects, you can get a sense of negativity. I think a lot of people would describe architects as pessimists; we’re certainly tempestuous enough. But while we architects are often a bitchy, mournful lot, forever complaining about the complexities of our jobs, our poor financial compensation and the trouble of trying to make good architecture in a profit driven world, we are really a bunch of optimists.

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Ray and Charles Eames

My daughter and I had a debate this morning on the telephone. The previous night, I had sent her an interview of Charles and Ray Eames done by Arlene Francis for the Arlene Francis Home Show in 1956.

See video below Ray Eames shows up 1:38 minutes into a 4.25 minute video.

I went off how the video was the epitome of sexism in American society of the 1950’s. That there was something patronizing and pejorative by calling her the “interesting and able woman behind the man.” Eames looks to the floor, seemingly embarrassed. And Arlene Francis doesn’t seem to know how to balance the interview; at times completely ignoring Ray and then diverting attention back to her.

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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.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

 

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.

ham

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.

 

 

 

Little Firm, Big World (in 3 Parts)

Little Firm, Big Building

Part I: The Project

If you didn’t already know, the Downtown and Embarcadero of San Francisco have been—and will continue—to go through some major changes. Namely, a wide spread project called The Transbay Project to improve infrastructure, provide transportation and create housing. It will include 10 new buildings and Fougeron Architecture, along with SOM, will be designing Transbay 9.

The blocks for these new buildings are owned by by the OCII (Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure) which held team competitions for the projects, featuring teams of developers and architectures. After Transbay 9 was announced, I got a lot of questions about working with such a powerhouse in architecture.

Part II: The History

First, it’s imperative to understand the landscape of the world of architecture (pun intended). Within the architecture world, women and minorities are severely underrepresented still. White male privilege reigns supreme and when you take a look at major firms or architectural organizations, boards are often times comprised of one very overrepresented demographic. (Organizations like Women’s Initiative, have made moves towards leveling out skews in the workplace and correcting societal biases.

Having worked in architecture since 1980, having owned my own firm since 1987, and having served on multiple boards taught me that as many changes as I make in my own business and as many personal victories I may have, change must also be an institutionalized decision. In 1998, San Francisco created a series of charters aimed to overcome societal biases for minorities, women and small business owners. In an effort for city growth but also to help prevent existing discrimination they enacted the MBE/WBE/LBE charter (Minority Business Enterprise, Women Business Enterprise, Local Business Enterprise).

These charters allows women and minority owned businesses (as well as small businesses, or all of the above) opportunities to pursue contracts they previously couldn’t, by setting aside micro programs only for small businesses, offering incentives for larger companies to work with smaller companies or taking advantage of an increase availability in subcontracts. Essentially, the city of San Francisco offers opportunity where it would not have previously been. The OCII owns all the land for the Transbay projects and therefore follows the city charter regarding LBE/MBE/WBE participation.

Part III: Little Firm Meet Big Firm

The opportunity to work with a large firm like SOM on the Transbay project was also thanks in part to the Transbay buildings sites being a large, linked project tackled by multiple firms rather than simply one firm taking all ten buildings. The move by the city of San Francisco was imperative for architecture and small businesses to thrive in an all encompassing way. But thanks to the MBE/LBE/WBE charter, another change has emerged.

In architecture, you are almost always up someone else. The existence of your art–your work is contingent on “winning.” It means that everything can be reduced to the haves and have nots. By my getting a job, it means someone else did not. This creates a competitive atmosphere that has its benefices: you are always striving to be better, smarter and cheaper, and cons: you are distrustful, reserved, and collaborations are infrequent.

As Fougeron Architecture works with SOM to build Transbay 9, I am finding that when collaboration is made to be intrinsic to a project, you can find a true example of the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. Because what makes a smaller firm more desirable is balanced with what a larger firm can offer. A larger firm offers you resources in scale: arrays of experiences, materials, people. While a smaller firm can provide greater attention to detail, client interactions and more time spent with the principal architect rather than staff.

What I have found in the Transbay 9 project is that the dialogue is no longer about competition but cooperation. And because any senior architects on the project are equals, you also find a refreshing honesty. Buildings, especially city buildings, can be made better and smarter. And that value is immeasurable.

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