Sunday, December 11, 2011

Traditional Remodels


I have always liked doing remodels.  Two of the biggest reasons for this are 1) they often lead to solutions we might not have imagined if working with a clean slate and 2) when historical accuracy is called for they encourage a scrutiny of "the old ways" that is often both delightful and interesting.

Some examples of scrutinizing "the old ways" include:

Cedar Mansion/Sonoma:  This B&B had a number of great details that needed to be respected – some requiring improved technical proficiency. 

Brunsell/San Francisco:  This Victorian got a new face lift on the front as well as a new kitchen on the rear.

Larkin/St. Helena:  Already on the Historical Registry this remodel was completed with care and thoughtfulness for a very discerning client.

Old Milano Hotel/Gualala:  With historical accuracy we refurbished the old building and got it listed on the Historical Registry.

Some examples of solutions we probably wouldn't have imagined working with a new project include:

Himot/Tallahassee:  Awkward corners in the existing construction led to these zany bookshelves.

Bowman/Gualala:  Because there was no entry area into the house we created a symbolic entry out of a new front deck.

Barr/San Francisco: This Victorian suffered from lack of light so we added a glass roofed kitchen on the north side.

HowGuinnLand/Sebastopol: The existing house was so uncomely we just built a mask to hide its front facade.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ecological Landscaping

A really big idea in my life and work is that of continuity – the connectedness of things versus the breaking up and fracturing that is the norm in today's manmade world.  I have always had an affinity for the California landscape and for me landscaping isn't about creating decorative foundation plantings – it's about connecting back to the larger landscape – perhaps for as far as the eye can see (?).  And it's not just about continuity of plants – although this is what we most often think of  – it's also about continuity of animal life.  It's trying to preserve the ecosystem – not to bit by bit break it down! Not every project allows this to happen, but for those that do we often find that our landscape consultant lacks genuine sympathy with our mindset and this often leads to our doing the landscape design ourselves.  A big plus with this approach is that the overall project concept is totally consistent – the landscape being integral with the building design.  We have had some wonderful successes working with landscape architects and designers – although usually with projects involving gardens and /or traditional landscape schemes.  The following images of our projects illustrate a few of our basic landscape ideas:

Berms and earth covered roofs can merge with the surrounding grade to create an obvious integration with the land.

If existing trees are too close to new construction they can often be saved and integrated into the final composition.

Building extensions like trellises can support exotic species and serve as a kind of mediator between man and nature.

When there is a desire for substantial numbers of non-native species I tend to incorporate them in ways that limit their range – such as planting them in planters or courtyards.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Old Way of Seeing

In the good old days when life (and transportation) was slower there was a much greater emphasis on the inclusion of detail in architectural design than exists today.  On the exterior this detail was often inextricably linked with light and shadow – creating patterns and textures that helped give buildings a lively face – something of a life of their own.  Today we flash by most of our buildings with little scrutiny – and with correspondingly little need for well articulated facades – unless, of course, you slow down enough to actually look (!).

Architects used to study buildings in situ by drawing them – drawing the light and shadow.  This took some time and forced one to actually see (and understand) what they were looking at (!). Today's architects can take a few moments and capture numerous photographic images with little critical seeing or understanding (besides, there's always Photoshop).  Times have changed and our man-made world is becoming increasingly less appealing.

The older bank is alive and kicking while the newer bank is DOA

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Drawing Towards Design

I have always marveled at great draftsmanship – whether they be working drawings done by hand or computer, quick conceptual or design sketches or finished renderings.  The intent of all drawing is to communicate visually what can't be conveyed with words alone – for me this is usually a sense of the overall character, a sense of the big idea and how it might be realized.  Quick, freehand sketches have an inherent looseness that is compatible with the imprecise nature of our conceptual ideas.  Following is a selection of my design sketches and drawings starting with a couple of early hard-lined design drawings, followed by the kind of conceptual sketches we do routinely – sometimes right in client meetings (!)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Parable of the Cave


One of our presidential candidates recently stated that the U.S. population has increased 25 million over the last 10 years, but that there has been no increase in U.S. jobs over that same period. Both our donkeys and elephants seek to create more jobs by encouraging the making of more stuff. Our donkeys seem blind and totally oblivious to future implications. Our elephants seem aware that living beyond one's budgetary means may have unpleasant future consequences, but are totally unable to extrapolate this thinking towards natural resources, social tensions, environmental degradation, quality of life, and just about everything else one might care to think about. 

Political debates over subjects like entitlements, national debt, unemployment, illegal immigration – not to mention the multitude of social, political, and human rights issues – remind me of the inhabitants in Socrates' "Parable of the Cave" – an illustration of the difference between enlightened and unenlightened understanding. In this story men have grown up in a cave wearing restraints that allow them to only see one wall of the cave. A variety of shadow shapes are cast onto the wall and manipulated by others hidden from the men's view and understanding. The shadows are the only "reality" the men have ever known and over time they come to comprehend and even be able to predict the timing and sequencing of the shadow show – they believe that they have achieved an understanding of "reality" – which, of course, is merely the shadows of the actions that are creating the shadows. I see the creation of more jobs and a revitalized economy as but a false (unenlightened) "reality" – the continuing depletion of world resources must surely result in unpleasant realities. This, I believe, is the enlightened reality.

If our long term goals are to improve quality of life, end environmental degradation, resolve social tensions, and stabilize our stock of natural resources then we certainly don't want to increase the difficulty of accomplishing this by increasing jobs – our first priority should be to decrease the difficulty by decreasing the population by 25 million people. The benefits of reducing population seem obvious, but to advocate such would, of course, be political suicide. Looking beyond the obvious is not a strategy that very many of us can come to grips with. It is not easy to act in the interest of future common good when it requires sacrificing some of our present prosperity. Achieving this kind of enlightenment would require instating eyesight into blind eyes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Multiple Figures

I am interested in figures and unusual ways of seeing them.  I worry about them being too abstract but then I worry even more about them being too literal.  Incorporating various pieces of anatomy allows me to navigate through the familiar and unfamiliar while searching for the enigmatic expressiveness that is so elusive.

Opposing Figures

Bent Over Figures
Shoulder to Shoulder Figures

Side by Side Figures

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Biomorphic Images

Of my drawings the most successful and of greatest interest to me are the series of abstract biomorphic images.  The following narrative and selected drawings are a good introduction to this segment of my work.

My life as an architect has clearly affected the way I view the world – and the art work I respond to.  I'm sure it is no accident that my drawings strive to evoke a sense of space as well as form.  Not just the positive and negative composition space on paper, but space imagined by the mind's eye as well. I've always been more interested in the unknown than that with which I am already familiar.  Accordingly, the compositions are suggestive and/or intriguing rather than literal and/or appealing to our sense of traditional beauty.

Having always been drawn to nature I find that organic imagery comes quite readily to me.  Each drawing begins with a thumbnail sketch which is enlarged and loosely transferred onto the final drawing surface.  The drawing tends to evolve from there with technique playing an active roll in the process – I want the technique to be an expressive aspect. Hopefully the finished drawing is a balance of order and chaos, a combination of the familiar and unfamiliar and, most importantly, a work that resonates with the beholder.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

So I've Been Doing Some Drawings...

My interest in art began in college where I majored in architecture and  Rico Lebrun and Jerald Silva are two of the artists I have continued to admire since those days.  Although I have done a little drawing and painting over the years it is only recently that I have begun to draw in earnest.  I find that my technical proficiency is not on par with my compositional visions so this disparity is something I am consciously attending to. I am primarily working on three different theme sets of drawings: old architectural elements, organic imagery, and multiple human figures I’ll post examples from each set separately starting with the architectural elements this time. These weather-worn artifacts are often wonderfully formed and marked by the stories of their history. It is this characteristic that I pursue in drawing them.

Giant Ventilator

Old Sliding Doors

Derelict Kiln

Patched Up Opening

Broken Window


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ten Architects of Consequence

I recently completed a series of ten portraits of some of the architects that have impressed me over the years.  I used a variety of sources for the likeness and allowed my personal expressiveness to determine composition and technique.  All are crow quill pen and ink – with some incorporating extensive use of ink wash(es).  They appear here in the order in which they were produced along with explanatory captions.

Louis Kahn: At his best achieved an intense timeless quality.

Christopher Wren: In the 1600s Wren was forced by governing agencies to add two unneccessary columns to his design- it wasn't until damage inspections following WWII that it was revealed that both columns stopped just short of the ceiling (!!!).
Malcolm Wells: Probably the foremost advocate of earth covered roofs and "gentle architecture".

Louis Sullivan: Able to capture a spiritual quality in some of his work.
H H Richardson: An enormous architectural appetite - no holds barred.

Emmet Wemple: Teacher and mentor to many Southern California architects of my generation.
 Paolo Soleri: A small man with a huge vision - architecture on steroids.
William Turnbull: A wonderful talent that has yet to be fully appreciated.
Filippo Brunelleschi: One of the great genius-architects of the Italian Renaissance.
Piranesi (father/son): Architectural drawing as good as it gets.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When Do We Right The Ship?

 Historically man's numbers were small and fairly stable but with the development of science, technology, and the division of labor we were suddenly able to produce enough food to literally fuel a population explosion. The last century has witnessed a flash of consumption – and a corresponding reduction in natural resources.  As these resources continue to diminish and population continues to grow something will have to give.  Presumably the population will level off or reduce to a number that can be sustained by the remaining resources.  But the longer we postpone resolving this conundrum the more difficult the eventual solution will be.  So far politicians and industrialists have proposed everything but the obvious.  The P word (population) is absolutely taboo because it would mean political suicide – and a stable population probably implies a stable economy (unless extraterrestrial resources become available someday).

I expect we will face up to and achieve stability within the next hundred years or so.  It would seem possible to achieve stability with a wide range of population densities – it's a matter of how much we do with and without.  What a shame we didn't initiate population stabilization efforts a couple hundred years ago. It's just common sense that we can achieve stability more easily with 5 billion than 10 billion, or with 10 billion than 15 billion, and so on.
In the above graphs the red band width represents world population and the green height represents natural resources – note how they change over time. In any event it seems obvious that using up resources and producing more people is a catastrophe waiting to happen.  This is an awful predicament somebody will have to face – it just doesn't seem fair – but then, if life was fair horses would ride half the time.