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The Big Problem

After eight years away, my daughter moved back to San Francisco in early 2015. College had taken her to the Midwest and later on, a job moved her to the East Coast. When she moved back, a little over a year ago, she was exhilarated. The plan had always been to come back to California.

She called me the second or third week she was back. She was uneasy—while the restaurant and food culture still flourished, her city felt unfamiliar. I thought she would comment on the influx of techies, the unavoidable mark Silicon Valley had made on the city once again. No, she was unnerved by a city that was expanding rapidly without fixing its foundation. The problems she had seen in the city growing up had been amplified.

While San Francisco’s small 7×7 dimensions expand, to include new high rises, new apartment complexes, new headquarters, the streets become smaller. . There is so much that is new in the city but we seem to have forgone fixing the problems of old.

Traffic is a part of the city’s infrastructure and anyone commuting between 4:30-7:30pm knows this. The MUNI continues to run irregularly and its aboveground system prevents public transportation from being impervious to traffic. BART still shuts down amidst overuse and electrical problems

But worse yet and what is most troubling is the homelessness population. My daughter had recently lived in Boston, Chicago and New York and couldn’t believe the difference. Our streets are not only littered with trash but with people: unconscious or just asleep. Ending an evening commute at Civic Center means enduring an onslaught of displaced peoples, some who are just trying to right their lives and others who have given up entirely.

It’s hard for me not to give up too.

After over 30 years in the Bay Area, I’ve somewhat adjusted to our nomadic population. It is a sad reality of living in any major city. However, in the last decade, the problem has grown exponentially. People are not receiving any mental or health care, the systems in place to help them are broken and broke. I have been attacked outside of a Safeway 300 feet from my house, I have been punched in the back while walking my dog along mission. I have had friends followed for blocks, lunged at with knives and seen too many needles to count as I walk through my city. I avoid walking if I know it will take me along certain stretches of Market Street or Mission.

Now a days, every San Franciscan has endured a (recent) commute in which someone that is unstable launches into a tirade. In these moments, you are afraid for your own safety but also for them. There is no way of determining if this is another lost soul, one who society has cast aside or if this is a true risk. There is no way to know if this outburst stems from anger, lack of health care or is induced by drugs. This ambiguity creates further hostility between people lacking resources and the people who have them, because there is an ever-present threat. A threat between safety and home, a threat between freedom and society.

Something has to be done. Because it is intolerable for both parties: we deserve to feel safe and cared for. No one should feel fear walking in the middle of the day in their city.

Why we need to bring back the Draft

Architectural drafting, that is.

In recent headlines, there has been mention of adding women to the Draft. It reminded me of a blog post I’ve long been planning to write. Why I want to bring back the draft—that is, the architectural kind.

There is something riveting about Revit, the way in which the structure comes alive. We can view and manipulate it at any angle. And how SketchUp gives us a sense of space. But now a days, I frequently encounter younger architects who can’t even remember the last time they drew something by hand (other than a doodle!).

Buildings, at the end of the day, are still built by our hands and once they are finished, they will be filled with people. Without a relationship between your hands, eyes and your idea, you remove an element of humanity. You forget the shoes that scruff, fingers that leave smudge marks. The space will never remain stark and its users will all be imperfect. This is an important element to understanding your structure and how it must exist.

Also, there’s a lingering memory with drawing by hand that cannot be replicated on a computer. I can visualize the first steps of all of my buildings, the thick black lines that would eventually lay out a new home or headquarters. Like on a computer, drafting by hand occurs through layers. Translucent sheets of paper laid across each other as they begin to weave a structure. In these early stages, we innately pick an angle, a focal point for our building. We are not yet connected to its three-dimensionality but rather its personality. What draws the eye? How does it fit into its site?

A computer can always solve the problems of a site, of a building. But it is rarely–if ever–an elegant solution. It is a cold and calculated one and usually ends up being inconvenient for the people who will share the space. Whenever I encounter the starkness of a building, inconvenient banisters, I can see an architect who has distanced themselves from the humanity of the building.



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