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Sea Ranch Nostalgia

Last month, I went to the Sea Ranch exhibit at SF MOMA and it was like going back in time for me (metaphorically–the laugh lines remain!). I’ve stayed at the Charles Moore condo –its full size mock up is in the show—a number of times during my years as a Master graduate student of Architecture at UC Berkeley.  But I couldn’t tell where my nostalgia was grounded: was it for a longing for my youth or a desire for a revival of modest and lyrical architecture?

For those of you who know me and my architectural tendencies, you might find it surprising for me to rave about the architecture of Sea Ranch. It is not exactly super modern, crafted of steel and glass­­ and exacting in its detailing. If Sea Ranch is anything, it is of that coast, of that topography, of that climate, an unparalleled spot.

And in that spot sits something simple, uncomplicated, rustic and maybe even a little bite crude. Modern architecture demands that it be the life of the party—but what of the guests that surround it? Sea Ranch. What a breath of fresh air, what an uncontrived set of buildings.

And it’s not just Sea Ranch Condominium 1 that is so striking, it is also the Moonraker Athletic Center and the other condo projects that were never completed.

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They still sit, as if waiting for one last planning department meeting. The monochromatic wooden exterior of the Moonraker building is in sharp contrast to the colorful interior with the superb super graphics done by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. These simple details, as if to say that what matters in a building is the lives lived inside.

 

And the Chapel? A reminder of a woven basket–or a hat? Somehow perfectly in tune with its environment.

sea ranch chapel

I feel humbled by this architecture. Because while modernism is in my blood, I aspire to do as good to a site as they have done to theirs. It is an enormous gift to be able to build something that is so right, so true and so timeless. Brava!

It is time for our museum to show renewed interest in architecture, the environment and help foster a constructive dialogue about our changing city and its older and newer residents.

 

Further Reading:

“You can view The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism” through another prism — as the embodiment of how SFMOMA no longer has much interest in the intersection of architecture with our contemporary world and the concerns that cloud our lives.”  (John King, SF Chronicle)

‘Paradise at the end of the world’: An oral history of the Sea Ranch (Part I) (Curbed)

 

Notre Dame and me

I’ve split my life between France and the United States, but with my business established in San Francisco and decades in California under my belt,  people inevitably ask me “do you feel more American or more French?” I invariably answer I feel I am both equally.

But that sort of 50/50 split is a convenience of conversation, not a reality. The truth is: it depends.

I had just arrived in Paris that afternoon, April 15th, when Notre Dame burst into flames, at that moment every French fiber in my body was awakened. You never feel more a part of your country as when it is threatened or when something catastrophic happens.

Most of my life in Paris was spent a 12-minute walk from Notre Dame and now, the air filled with smoke. I walked with my 85-year-old aunt to the edge of the Seine. We saw the roof collapse. The sun set, the fire raged on and we walked home, I read her Twitter updates. It really looked like it was going to collapse, especially seeing it with my own eyes. We kept the news on until midnight—when it finally became clear the cathedral could be saved.

The cathedral is still standing and it will be fixed. But the damage done to my national identity,  the fear and fragility I— we all felt—standing in the streets of Paris watching that towering inferno has stuck in the air.

looking at Notre Dame from the Pont Royal

It’s easy to feel more American on the days I am dealing with clients in Ohio and getting a burger at the Ferry Building. I forgot how fragile my world identity and sense of order is. It never occurred to me that Notre Dame and I were so intertwined. I took her for granted.  I would glance at her quickly as I walked by and my visits were always hurried (usually taking my mother to mass or showing a friend around). I never lingered. I thought she would be there long after I had passed, that there would always be another chance.

When she was on fire, I realized that if Notre Dame fell I would never feel quite the same. It would leave a hole in my heart. Even now, walking near the hulled out darken stone, I feel a sadness that is hard to understand. Tourists take pictures and without Notre Dame to envelop them, there is always standstill foot and car traffic.

I look away, walking out of my way, avoiding her. I feel guilt, as if I have neglected my own French identity by not being more careful when I had the chance.

Who knows where my national identity will go next week. All I know is, right now, I can’t say I am half American and half French. I feel a hundred percent French: grumpy, intellectual, cynical and very sentimental all at the same time.

A New Years resolution that will last a lifetime!

Like everyone else, January brings a set of New Year full of promise and good intentions. But six weeks into the new year and 80% of us have likely ditched their diet or stopped going to the gym. I’m here to tell you I’m still going strong on mine! More on that in a minute.

Restrictions on foods seem to come from those who love food the most. I was having lunch with a self-described foodie who then proceeded to tell me everything they could not eat. Another fruit-loving-friend told me she was going keto and had to give up bananas—fruit—all together! Ketosis, it’s a good thing? It sounds contagious.

Living in California, I  can’t avoid reminders about the latest diet fad! There is the Whole 30, the Zone, the Paleo, the Raw Food diet, the Boiled Egg Diet, the Volumetric diet , the Master Cleanse diet, the Grapefruit , the Vegan Diet, the Macrobiotic Diet.

It’s not that I blame anyone for wanting a fresh start or to take control of their diet, it just seems like we’re going about it the wrong way in America. Diets create some many rules and we have so little time to apply them. Are they all designed to fail? Probably. Not my new diet!

I just got back from France, where it is sacrilege to not start every morning with a croissant, a pain au raisin or a warm slice of baguette slathered in buerre and jam. Sometimes all three! There is no guilt here, no questioning of one’s food choices (the baker will never question if you ask for five croissants to go). The food isn’t somehow substituted, no attempts to trick your mind or body, it is just pure pleasure.

I hate to admit that with a pain au chocolate in my mouth, I was thinking about my diet, too. I was thinking about what would be something I could stick to and stay on for as long as possible. I call it the Kilo diet. In the Kilo Diet, a large slide of French bread with a lovely hunk of butter are daily requirements (pastries are acceptable substitutions too). A rich glass of red wine and a chunk of cheese are rightly considered heaven on earth. And pâté, pâté, pâté.

In truth, I am tired of letting food and restrictions from a new hype diet permeate my brain. The Kilo Diet is really just to let food be food. It’s an acknowledgement of simple pleasures: you eat the things that make you happy, that give you pleasure and that can satiate you physically and emotionally (like my kid who demands a strawberry tart every time she comes home to visit). And you know what? Kilos be damned. Who cares! Carpe diem, not carpe diet.

Anyway, I have got to go! I am on a mission to find chestnut ice cream. Yes, there is such a thing, it is has sugar glazed chestnuts and more fat in one tbsp than some food regimens recommend for a week! Ah, only the French could invent something so perfect for my Kilo Diet.

 

 

 

 

A Frenchwoman walks into The Market

Two months ago, a client offered me the opportunity to attend a furniture exposition in North Carolina. They set up registration and I thought with one months notice, I could handle my accommodations.

I soon discovered, every hotel, motel and airbnb in the area was completely full. After days of searching, I managed to get the last reservation in a 6-room boutique hotel. A last minute cancellation, no-doubt.

I had flown across the country to attend The Market. For one weekend, every April and October in High Point, North Carolina, there is the world’s biggest furniture exposition. With over 80,000 attendees, it nearly doubles the towns population and brings in over 5 billion dollars in revenue. The largest showroom is astonishing, stretching city blocks, topping out at over 10,000,000 square feet.

I’ve lived in the US for nearly 40 years, I’ve been to most states, served on juries in remote areas but the breadth of this country never ceases to amaze. Interior design is not a far jump to architecture, how could I have not known about The Market!

I arrived late Wednesday night, even though the first official events weren’t until Friday. I would soon find that parking lots that were empty Thursday night would be overflowing on Friday, with new prices were slapped on signs. The government even subsidizes shuttles to get attendees from their hotels to the showrooms.  There are locals, like Wesley Hall, a brand specializing in bright, upholstered furniture and boutique lines like Sho Modern, which embraces the macrame kitsch thats very in with modern sensibilities.  There was an especially interesting emphasis on outdoor furniture, from Elk Group‘s outdoor lighting to Modway’s line of outdoor rugs. There were also impressive lectures and workshops—from building a brand and business (over mimosas, I love!) to understanding growing trends. I heard a lot about how weathered white is making a comeback (unsure who to contact about nixing that!).

Since the the beginning of the 20th century, High Point, NC has been focal point of furniture manufacturers and showrooms. The first official showroom was built in 1921 for an incredible $1 million dollars, which is no drop in the bucket nearly a hundred years later! And while this show is clearly the highlight of the industry, High Point hasn’t necessarily got all the benefits, yet.

The showrooms are impressive and modern, impeccably kept but a salient juxtaposition to the four minute drive in any other direction, which brings you to rows and rows of nearly all empty shops. The average median household income is nearly $20,000 lower in this city. And even the 3 story “World’s Largest Chest of Drawers” don’t help with the feeling that this city gives more than it gets.

Flying back out, through Greensboro Airport, we were greeted by banners welcoming attendees and mini-exhibits of furniture to expect at The Market, as well as a reminder of the October dates. And in case you were wondering, registration opens in July but all the hotels are already booked!

Midcentury modernism a midcentury later.

Midcentury Modernism.

Is it in? Out? I’m thinking a little of both. When Target introduced their Project 62 line, I knew the cat was out of the bag (more like the shag was out of the bag!). At least with this line, dedicated to all aesthetics midcentury, it’s a good looking bag. Target is selling shag rugs in pink, wooden furniture to your heart’s delight  and the chairs are more rectangular, all adorned with rounded wooden feet.

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All things midcentury modern are hot and now the style seems a part of the common vernacular. It’s a little dizzying for me! Remember all that stuff your aunt had that you hoped she would never give you? Brown dinnerware, copper lights and the olive green walls? If only we had known, we could be rich right now!

Brands like Heath Cermanics and DWR have long-known that midcentury is très in but with Target joining in on the aesthetic, the look becomes accessible to a whole new demographic. Besides, is it Heath ceramics or it Target? Only your wallet will know!

 

I love the idea of making this kind of design accessible to anyone. It’s fascinating to witness in what forms the past gets picked up. What appeals to the popular culture? What becomes the symbol for that era? Is it copper? Spindly light fixtures? Dark wood furniture or just the good old shag rug?

 

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When I visited Los Angeles earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about the unfussy, democratic nature of mid-century modern architecture. There’s something appealing about the strident lines and simple silhouettes.

 

 

 

But we can’t spend too much time looking backwards! The Project 62 line is about revisiting the past but not reinventing it. It can all end up being a little boring, frankly. My favorite pieces end up being the one that take on a mid-century shape but add in some modern colors (peacock blue) or fabrics.

I just hope that Target realizes there are things from the past we shouldn’t ever revisit (like post-modernist furniture or shoulder pads).

How I Fell Out of Love

It’s over and admittedly, this was not the first time. I’ve reached an age where inevitably a few relationships just didn’t work out along the way. Falling out of love is par for the course in anyone’s life. But this time? I thought this relationship would last forever—that it one would not disappoint and that we would grow old together happily, our lives intertwined.

It’s over, Apple.

Look, I’ve tried, really tried. I have tried to forgive the design flaws. The ugly camera lens that juts from the back of the iPhone and the weird white band on the back. There’s the terrible battery life which has me carting an extra battery pack (sometimes two) and don’t get me started on the countless vestigial cables that have less compatibility than oil and water.

(I will not even talk about the watch. Are they still making them?)

 

I’ve had an iPhone for ten years and I’ve been using Mac computers since the 1990s. Trouble had been brewing in paradise for awhile but it all went down hill with the earphone problem. In an effort to make a slimmer phone, the conical earbud port had to go. But I now need two pairs of ear phones: one for my phone and one for my computer. And there’s no adapter (I swear, look on amazon) to add a headphone jack!

I do admit: I’m a hypocrite. I used to criticize Microsoft and its products, remarking on their ugly design, their intransigent rules and operation systems that functioned something like my way or the highway? Now, I need an IT specialist to figure out my iCloud everytime I sync my phone to my computer!

Apple, what happened? You were carefree, full of simple enthusiasm and easy to get along with. What happened to us? Where did we go wrong?

I miss you, Steve.

It is just too much baggage, Not emotional but physical: I go out I am carrying ten kilos worth of phone equipment and every time I have to go through the packing list:  battery pack? Check. Cord and charger? Check. Earphones for my iPhone? Earphones for my computer? Check, check. The ugly case I hate? Check. A valium and pain killer to get me through this technological hellscape? Check and check.

But the final straw? The new Apple HQ designed by Norman Foster. (This was coming: I’m an architect, what did you expect?) Maybe some of you think this is a marvelous piece architecture and don’t get me wrong, I strongly admire Norman Foster’s work but this headquarters is all wrong. It’s wrong on so many levels: anti-urban, anti-social, elitist, environmentally insensitive. And who has been spreading gossip that working millennials love open-concept spaces? You know what millennials love? Privacy.

Apple: you cannot be a forward-thinking company with backward thinking policy. I gave up Uber for Lyft and now I will have to give up Apple for Samsung. Sorry it has been grand but I just don’t love you anymore.

(except the AirPods, I’ll be keeping those)

 

 

 

Back to “Average”

I am a a fan of the exceptional: beautiful items of clothing, stunning meals of unusual ingredients, architecture that pushes the boundaries of physics. But the exceptional is only palpable if other things aren’t (exceptional, that is).
In an attempt to make every moment of our lives noteworthy, we seem to constantly want the exceptional. A kind of exceptionalism that seeps into all elements of our life: new headquarters meant to revolutionize working spaces, new makeup technology that will fight the signs of aging.

I went to a beautiful dinner a few weeks ago at a gastronomical hot-spot. The French chef imbues memory and heritage into every dish but in a ten course meal, nearly course was over-wrought and over-thought. Not only was each course only one small bite, every dish had something in it that was not edible. What! When did this become fashionable and the norm in high end restaurant?! Is this what I pay extra for?   And because each dish was a thesis unto itself, once the meal  was over I could hardly remember what the chef was trying to tell me and why it mattered. And you may think I’m being dramatic but even the great Heston Blumenthal agrees that molecular gastronomy is over.
Two nights later, while watching the Chef’s Table, I agonized as the lead chef assembled every dish with tweezers. Ingredients pulled from the Andes, caviar made of moss and nearly microscopic leaves. These exceptional meals are of course proving a kind of ethos, a representation of the self within food. But…have you ever noticed how exhausting it is? It’s not a sustainable life-force! In the episode, even the wife of the featured chef iadmitted some of the dishes did not taste good! So now each dish is composed of the edible food that tastes bad and non-edible elements that you cannot swallow.
Why does every newsworthy recipe now involve molecular gastronomy, a sous vide machine and in-depth understanding of umami, favor profiles and notes? Why can’t my dinner include six ingredients, not sixty seven? When did a ladle become a faux pas in the kitchen? As the ladle is replaced by the tweezer, common sense is being replaced by the preposterous.

This is over complication. Some things just need to be average so we can survive: so we can make it to the next step of whatever we’re going to do.
And look, average does  not mean mediocre or uninspiring.  It is just more approachable and appropriate, something we could all use in food design and—dare I say, even architecture.

The Idea of Excellence

In the last two years, I have begun a newfound obsession. A something ignited within me and I am now a basketball fan. A big basketball fan. Games had been in the background of the home I share with my partner, Mark, for years, but until the powerhouse Curry sent the team in a new era, I hadn’t paid much attention. And now, I can say I am a Golden State Warriors zealot. Friends know if plans are made around game time, we’ll likely be watching and my daughter googles their schedule to know when not to interrupt me at night (I’ll answer but only to quickly say “The game is on! I’ll call you back later!”).

I’ve never been much into watching sports on television. I definitely have a competitive streak and love a close race. But I am drawn to The Golden State warriors in a similar way to studying the contours of a beautifully designed building. The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to ignore excellence when it’s placed directly in front of you.

We’ve seen plenty of examples before: watching with rapt attention an Olympic sport we had never heard of before, standing in long lines for one fantastic food croissant or life-altering falafel. We are drawn to excellence, to exceptionalism. It’s why in Barcelona, lines for Gaudi’s works are the longest, his parks and churches filled with tourists in awe of his bizarre genius. It’s why the Guggenheim is one of the most visited museums in New York City: it has phenomenal art but it’s curvaceous design is really what halts visitors in their step.

Watching Steph Curry maneuver on the court, you can see he is not only an exceptional athlete but a leader on the court as a communicator.  The team is a body and he is serving as the heart, helping the other pieces function, providing them with the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Steph Curry isn’t why I keep watching, though (or Durant!). My love of basketball is the fluid movements, teammates sacrificing their own opportunities for each other. You don’t always have the best shot, you aren’t always going to be open.

It isn’t about individual glory, it’s about how these players can move and work together as a nearly unbeatable unit.

Maybe it’s another example of how we are more than the sum of our parts. It’s somethings we can discuss in the future.

Just don’t call me during the playoffs, I’m busy.

Palm Springs: Modernism and Democracy

While I am a tried-and-true Northern Californian, my work often brings me to Los Angeles and the neighboring areas. And well, as an architect, I can’t help but notice what’s around me.

Modern architecture is often painted as elitist—as if efficient design can’t also be good design.

Buildings can be useful while still being beautiful.

 

 

Read more

The Rise of Urban Agriculture

Nearly a decade ago, the History Channel asked architects to imagine urban life in 100 years. As a part of the competition, firms were given eight days to reimagine San Francisco’s landscape. With a world population that will top 10 billion people, how will we address the strain on our resources? As cities grow larger and farms grow smaller, how does the agricultural model have to shift?

Our project thought vertically–literally. We united existing structures with what we deemed agricultural settings, we created a vision of agricultural co-habitation.

16_fougeron

A decade later, vertical farms are a very real thing.

In areas of the world struck by political, social and environmental turmoil, the new agricultural world is certainly much closer than anyone had anticipated.  Around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. Per the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population. Urban agriculture offers a partial solution to the world of hunger. This is something to applaud.

For example, in Gaza, a man is perfecting hydroponic gardening on his roof, using his own custom mix of natural ingredients to provide extra nutrients and fertilizers. As fertile land shrinks and water crisis deepens, Palestinians are searching for different ways to feed their families.

Fish farms are moving indoors and becoming healthier for the fish (and us). Many cities are moving towards interweaving agriculture within neighborhoods. Even on a smaller scale, companies like Sur la Table are offering affordable hydroponic machines. Industrialization allowed us access to any produce from around the world but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is always convenient or efficient. Having the opportunity to create your own food and foster your own plant-life offers some freedom.

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Surprisingly, the return to smaller-scale agriculture in a modern world is addressing inequalities. In parts of Africa, women have long struggled in the agricultural fight. The best available vacant land is typically given to men, while women’s plots are of lower quality and located further away from their homes. The greater the scarcity of land, the more discrimination women see in the agricultural world. Urban farming in these regions provides opportunities for women’s empowerment that rural agriculture never has. Women are more likely to pitch in to physical labor in urban farms because plots are smaller, and they are gaining more bargaining position within their households as dependency on female income increases.

Urban agriculture can play a huge role in feeding the poor and increasing food security across the continent. It also can provide much-needed resources and a sense of personal independence in politically unstable climates.

New urban farming is in some sense, what farming once was: a more intimate and small-scale operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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