Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

 

What makes an architect or building good? Even great?

What is great architecture? What makes a building “good?”

As a woman, my buildings are immediately a political statement, a statement on my gender. I am often described as a “female architect” rather than just “architect.” But rather than let the politics of the system control my work: politics and aesthetics inspire and innovate me.

I don’t think great architecture comes from architects who dedicate themselves to one kind of project. After awhile, those two dozen office headquarters you’ve designed start to look alike. But good architecture isn’t just about vision either, it’s about a personal mission and a philosophy. Deciding what architecture meant to me and what creating a building meant—what it represented—was a seminal decision in my career and in my style.

In all of my projects, I try to imbue what I describe as humane modernism: buildings that are well built, that foster connections, and inspire their inhabitants, are an ethical responsibility. And this is a challenge.

Often times, the projects I take on have a moral and environmental dilemma to face; tight sites, tight budgets, modern but environmentally conscious design that can echo the voice of the clients. How can a Planned Parenthood clinic be both warm, opening but secure? How can a residence on a cliff (with a 200 foot drop) look romantic, modern but still fit on its rural site? And all while working with clients with their very own opinions.

I have designed health centers and multi-family residences. I have designed headquarters and homes, some from scratch and others were given to me with bones. In each project, I consider and apply my philosophy.

But your vision or mission doesn’t need to be morally or politically oriented like mine. Gehry’s façades play with perspective and his interiors with space. He challenges what a building can be. Hadid looked towards angularity that is still fluid. She compromised nothing

Discovering what philosophy motivates your creation—that is good architecture.

 

 

Four or Five things I (and you) really do not need for 2016

We started this last year and frankly, it is a great idea so here we are hoping to inspire you to go lean in 2016

  1. We said this last year and we need to say it again since a lot of you did not listen to us: Stay away from selfie sticks! In fact: More people have died from selfies than shark attacks this year! Falling off cliffs, being hit by trains or walking into traffic. Look, you’re beautiful but that camera accessory is dangerous equipment! So use at your own risk. Or even better re-gift to your least favorite relative.
  2. A watch that looks like a watch, acts like a watch and really is just a watch except it has an internal hard drive. Sometimes, just because something feels more convenient, doesn’t mean it is. Don’t let the hype trick you! Keep you Timex for now and save a few hundred dollars. (This does not mean you can now afford a selfie stick).
  3. Another six months of Donald Trump. How many times can you look at the face and hear him say “I love you” and know he doesn’t mean it? Reminds me of my first boyfriend.
  4. Kale. I need a new trend. Broccolini? Cucamelon? A new vegetable, really anything to replace kale. When did the curly headless cabbage” or “chou frisé non-pommé” become the only great green vegetable? You know a trend is tired when McDonalds starts making Kale salads.
  5.  Another social media platform. My daughter is in her 20s and keeps me updated, one week it’s Vine, then ‘Ello and now Peach? I just want some peach and quiet on my Facebook.

Architecture With A Social Agenda

Designing the Kapor Center for Social Impact is about working towards the future. The Center will work to improve access to opportunity, participation and influence in the United States for historically underrepresented communities through investments in information technology.

Read more

When More is Really Less

The tendency in architecture these days is to go bombastic: think big hair beehives in the 60’s, not to be missed, in your face, flashy and maybe a little tacky….and all under the guise of modernity.

Frank Gehry’s Louis Vitton Foundation

Just like mentioned in the Devil Wears Prada, economics doesn’t trickle down but style does. So when there’s this tendency for grandiose object making architecture by brilliant architects, the aesthetic trickles down to the more common, but the buildings become more desperate. Without the knowledge and context of a season architect, it becomes a hodge-podge of copy and paste. If you can have wood sliding, wood panels, metal and copper, why not add metal screens, glass, tile and stucco?

The facades become only skin-deep, full of materials and not much else. But the good news is, no matter how horrifically a building is, someone will deem it worthy of publication, 15 seconds of fame on the Internet.

Humor aside, it isn’t just the lack of weight and meaning behind the facades. It really is what this represents. The thing here is that these buildings are supposedly modern in form but really there are post-modern in their exterior expression—an attempt to resolve the architecture of the new with the appreciation of the old. The ornamentalism and contradictions of post-modernism cannot co-exist without much education, thought and deliberation. Post-modernism is a beast of rule breaking and remaking. This is the ultimate revenge of post modernism (ugly post modernism, at that), which got shunted by modernism in the 90’s. It has insinuated itself back–behind the scenes– reemerging in the hands of the modernist who are desperately trying to differentiate themselves.

All the glass facades have begun look alike. How many variations on mullions, glass colors and module layout can you do? Is the issue education? How young architects sometimes seem oblivious to any “modern” architecture before 2000? History is a subject no longer taught or in fashion in architectural education. So the newbies to the industry design with panache, unaware that it has all been done before. Worse yet, they design without much reference to the successful buildings of the past. But it’s a hard to slay a beast if you don’t know why you’re fighting it in the first place.

The Amazon by Acronyms

I just came back from a phenomenal trip to Brazil, visiting some of the world’s most unbelievable architecture. But nothing truly compared to the Amazon: fantastic sites, unbelievable nature and no cell-phone reception! But we don’t all have the luxury of wistfully dreaming of the Amazon (or reading someone’s 1,000 word blog post), so I bring you the abridged version.

ICYMI: It’s amazing. It’s awesome.

The Amazon covers 40% of South America (including 8 different countries), it’s 20km across at its widest and it’s been around for over 10 million years.

FYI: There aren’t many animals and there are a lot of hiding places.

Don’t go to the Amazon for exotic wildlife. Movie depictions tend to romanticize this area, which is more overgrown with monkeys and bird populations than jaguars and anacondas.

OMG: It hasn’t always been the green heart of the world.

Scientists have now found evidence that humans occupied this area for thousands of years till the 15th century (the Amazon was previously considered “unlivable” by scientists). Estimates show that there were over 15 million people living in the Amazon at one time. And human cultivationthat’s what made the land so fertile. The astounding conclusion is that it is a man-made product.

IMG_4102BTW: It’s not one climate.

It’s easy to imagine the Amazon as humid, unbearably hot and wet. In truth, there’s a dry and wet season for the Amazon and the amount of rainfall varies from location. There’s a lot more rainfall in areas closer to Peru while Manaus in Brazil is known for its dry season.

P.S. Ever heard of El Tunchi?

He’s known as an evil spirit that haunts the jungle, terrorizing (and eventually hypnotizing) humans who disrespect the environment. He lures people with an eerie whistling sound. Legend is, if you hear the whistling, do everything in your power to not respond to his whistle—or it will be the last thing you do.

IMG_4012

TFB

Due to the sensitive nature of this piece, we’ve redacted certain language. This blog post is not suitable for children and probably chauvinists while we’re at it. To read the uncensored piece, click the read more link.

This past Sunday was International Women’s Day, for over 80 years, March 8th has been a day to █████ women, to celebrate how far we’ve come and acknowledge how much farther we ████████. My daughter, who is now 25, had a ██████ with me about the word “███████████,” how when she was younger she felt it was harsh and stigmatized, how she didn’t like to ██████████ herself a feminist until her 20s.

It made me think of college, where we slung the term “feminist” around like people do “dude.” We were all feminists and loudly, proudly so. My daughter’s previous ███████ at “feminist” also reminded me of my college moniker, “█████ ████████ ████████” (TFB). A lot of people may find the name rude or inappropriate, but I find it as apt and accurate in 2015 as it was in 1975. I am French and yes, I am a ███████, well a ███████in the patriarchal interpretation of the word. Understand that the name was given to me at ████████████ and that my friends were well aware of the ironies. They called me TFB because I was an honest friend, open about my opinions (even if they were unpopular) and perhaps a bit ███████████.

As ███████, we fear that which is “harsh” (I think we often conflate strength and resolve for grittiness), the identities or adjectives that separate us from our ██████████. I don’t mind TFB because I am one and proudly so. I am not only unwilling to accept sub par work and I will tell you it is sub par. I will not let my ███████ colleagues talk over me in a meeting. I have little patience for ████████ or laziness. And, as any woman can tell you, these traits in a man would have him lauded for excellent leadership: a clear and honest communicator, a confident ██████████████ and a hard worker with exceptionally high standards.

But I am a █████, and therefore in order to be everything a male counterpart is, I must be a “███████.”

I will not allow the boring (patriarchal) laws of “female decency” to █████ my personality. I am proud of the work I have accomplished, I am proud of the firm I have built and I am proud of the ██████ that I am. And if that makes me a ███████, then so be it.

Read more

Going Off Season

This November, I went on an architectural tour of Italy and Southeastern France. It included Venice, then La Tourette by Le Corbusier and astounding mines of Ronchamp.

This tour was first real off-season vacation I’ve ever taken and after it, I’ve decided the off-season is the only season! Especially you’re a bit of a seasoned and cynical traveller like me.

And having a vacation where I could truly relax and enjoy my surroundings, unfettered by other tourists, I was reminded of three important lessons.

  1. Timing is Everything

I normally travel in the summer and end up resenting fellow tourists almost as much as the locals. But France in November? No lines, no long waits, easy to nab reservations at great restaurants. On one of our last nights, we even had an 11th century Chateau all to ourselves!

Château d'Island Avallon Vézelay

Château d’Island Avallon Vézelay

 

It is a different experience, being in an almost-empty museum or taking a guided tour with no other tourists. There is more time for contemplation and pure appreciation. Your experienced isn’t marred or affected by others.

Read more

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.”)

Read more

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,069 other followers

%d bloggers like this: