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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 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!

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.

 

 

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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.

urban_agriculture_530

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I March(ed)

 

On January 21st, I went to Washington D.C. and protested the anti-feminist policies of our Commander-in-Cheeto. I brought my daughter because I knew she had to experience it too.

The experience was invigorating as it was overwhelming. You’ve never seen so many people in your life. Being one of the many doesn’t make you feel hopeless but the exact opposite: hopeful. The fighting spirit, the smiles and chants were the first thing that had brought my blood pressure down in months.

Everything I had been doing felt like it was falling on deaf ears. I donated money, I read the papers and magazines and used Twitter as my up-to-date news. But it all didn’t feel like much.

I felt deflated in the face of the incumbent administration. I realized at this march, surrounded by every gender, race and creed, that actions continue to speak louder than words. It’s easy to think you’re contributing from behind a screen but Washington showed me that we must show up.

But a million of us can’t march every day. But we can send letters, make phone calls and plan the next march. For today, check out 5calls, which shows you which issues are most at stake and which representatives and officials you can call to make yourself heard. No action is too small, if it is action.

 

Sexism in Architecture

Since I began my career in architecture, I have faced sexism. I’ve been ignored in meetings and belittled. I’ve had contractors not take my word and watched jury after jury of all male panelists. The behaviors bothered me. I never tolerated them but I was also just one architect.

As my career has grown, I have grown more and more tired of the same trite sexist structures I see in architecture. Audiences of only white men, award ceremonies where not a single woman is nominated. Other than Zaha Hadid, most can’t name a contemporary female architect.

A portion of this is our own invisibility. While more than 50% of architecture students are female, only about 18% are practicing in some form. The lack of spotlight on females in architecture and our own shrinking or narrowing are clearly an issue.

I like to discuss how being a woman and being an architect are—at times—set up as diametrically opposed. How does how we perceive women (or how women are told to act) impact their potential careers as architects? How do existing patriarchal structures undermine women interested in engineering or more math-driven work? How can we work within a community and without a community to begin implementing solutions?

Earlier this week, I spoke at an AIA event in Dallas, Texas. I discussed sexism in architecture and the lack of diversity in the most celebrated architects and work of architecture. I was humbled by the amount of people who came up to me after the event or who sent emails and thanked me for addressing inequality in.

However, every one was not so happy. One man wrote a response to me citing that I had completely ignored “gender strengths” as a confounding factor.

“[Anne] conveniently ignored gender strengths such a show men are spatial thinkers whereas women are stronger visualizing color and sympathy. She also ignored how Architecture is a strong draw for introverted types – much more prone to men; whereas, women are much stronger with client and people relationships.”

What our (white male) writer fails to recognize is how these characteristics of gender are completely based on stereotypes. Are men truly more introverted or is it that males are conditioned to not share their emotions? Are women better with relationships inherently or is it because the idea of mothering and tending to emotions is impressed upon females from a very young age?

Discussing this kind of inherent sexism is similar to discussing white privilege, micro-aggressions or other biases and how they reflect in various industries. It’s about looking at current societal constructs and hierarchies–it’s about recognizing the imbalance and making efforts to rectify them.

 

 

 

 

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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