Sunday, December 2, 2012



 "Good communication begins with good listening" OGB

Our most successful projects usually result from a team effort amongst the major players involved – typically the client, the architect, and the contractor.  When everyone has the skill and desire to achieve excellence then the only other necessary ingredient is clear and timely communication.


It is important that all parties understand the spirit and qualitative intent as well as the quantitative requirements.  We do not have any one or two ways of achieving good communication, but rather prefer to evaluate each situation and then respond in an appropriate and efficient manner. Everyday, simple communications are often best handled via email, fax, U.S. Mail, or telephone calls, but complex communications are preferably accomplished face to face, ideally at our office (1).

Most projects begin with meetings, an agreement, a written program and a site analysis (2).  Many of our conceptual ideas are formulated during visits to the site and these are typically communicated through a combination of notes and freehand sketches.  Sketches may be in color or black and white and are refined as required to assure client understanding   (3).  Sometimes even more refined imagery is desired such as watercolor renderings or the like (4).

The preliminary design phase typically employs computer generated drawings for plans and elevations which are often supplemented with study models to better communicate the essential formal and spatial relationships.  We prefer to keep models (5) relatively  abstract so  as   to keep the focus on the big ideas. Secondary considerations like material, texture, color, etc. can be better communicated in other ways.


Contract and construction administration documents are virtually all computer generated, although regular meetings, review of samples, and full size mock-ups by the contractor are important aspects of the total communication process.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Green Design

We are a recognized leader in environmental awareness and climate responsive design.  We see our exploding population as the primary threat to our planet's resources and the "green washing" of every new building as too often little more than a marketing ploy.  "Sustainable development" is blatantly false and an obvious oxymoron. Elevating each new project to the highest and most thoughtful level which we are capable of is our ever present goal.


            "Responding (adapting) to the site and taking maximum advantage of environmental
            conditions, making efficient and elegant use of form and material, and preserving as
            much landscape as feasible have always been at the heart of my thinking.  Our planet's
            most precious resource is life itself - deep ecology - and my thinking instinctively
            includes continuity of the ecosystem."  OGB       

Our work utilizes many of the features now found in "green design, sustainable design, and LEED approved" buildings – not to accumulate points or credits, but rather because it's the right thing to do.  These features are not an afterthought and are both seamlessly integrated and a purposeful part of the project's composition.  This kind of efficiency results in the kind of harmony and grace that has characterized our buildings starting with our first project.

WALK-IN CABINS:  This initial project is a housing cluster with parking located remotely to minimize impact on the forest. The economical cabin form is a truncated cube to reduce surface area relative to the volume enclosed, and clear skylights provide natural lighting while providing views up into the boughs overhead (1).

BRUNSELL HOUSE: A classic passive solar project, this house is not only a part of the meadow, but the meadow is also a part of the house. This project effectively uses solar space and water heating, passive ventilation, natural lighting, and radiant floor heat as a backup system.  Excess water from the earth covered roofs and gravel driveway percolates back into the ground (2).

(1) and (2)
SPRING LAKE PARK VISITORS CENTER:  Appearing as though Mother Nature herself has sown a building seed, the center harmonizes with its setting by placing solid walls into the  grade and using  glazed "roof walls" to  retain  the  translucency of  the forest, allowing  interior views up into the surrounding boughs.    Exterior redwood shading fins screen the sun and sky glare, becoming smaller and less translucent with height  - similar to the scale change of the surrounding trees (3).

OREGON COAST HOUSE and GARDEN HOUSE: Flying log buttresses allow expanses of glass and solar gain collection systems are used for space and water heating as well as generation of electricity. Rain water is also collected, passive ventilation utilized, recycled materials incorporated, and more (4).

(3) and (4)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

ARTrails Open Studio

Our studio will be participating in the 2012 ARTrails Open Studios event with our studio open for touring on two consecutive weekends, October 13-14 and 20-21.  Nearly all Obie's original drawings from the last two years will be on display.  All drawings will be available for sale as well as limited edition prints of some of his earlier work.  The work can be grouped into seven general categories as described by Obie:
Flower Sketches
Graphite with felt marker sketches of some of my favorite flowers.
Ten Architects of Consequence
Some of the architects who have made an impression on me.
Biomorphic Images
Searches into our connectedness with organic life while allowing the drawing itself to evolve in the process.
Architecture Related
Old pieces of construction and related objects that have caught my eye.
Pairs of Figures
Male and female couples in compositional relation to one another.


With or Without Memory

 Compositions related to the Biomorphic Images series, but incorporating familiar imagery including figures, architecture, text, biomorphic forms, and color.

Ten Artists of Consequence
I've just begun this series of some of the artists who have made an impression on me.





Saturday, September 1, 2012

Historic Petersen Ranch


Last week Bob Pennypacker and  I toured the 216 acres comprising the Petersen Ranch on the north edge of Dry Creek Valley. The ranch has recently come up for sale and includes a number of very special home sites ( In many ways it is very similar to my own acreage in that it is a combination of oak and Douglas fir forested ridges, deep canyons, vineyards, and a common border with the lands surrounding Lake Sonoma.
The variety of conifer and deciduous trees, high and low elevations, and steep and gradual slopes epitomizes much of what I love about the California landscape.  I have always had deeply ingrained feelings for the land and it is natural for me to be respectful of it with every architectural decision our studio makes.  It is a shame that so many of us  see the landscape as little more than a large placemat upon which to set their building – this kind of thinking falls short of the ultimate opportunity – to form an adaptive partnership with the landscape and almost certainly increase the potential for a memorable accomplishment.
The key here is the ability to read the landscape – as far as the eye can see – and to have both the insight and skill to respond accordingly.  Perhaps the worst approach is to compromise the quality of the setting by placing the building directly on the sweet spot.  Often, a better approach is to set the building to the side or only partially on the sweet spot and thereby achieve a cohesive of partnership.  This approach usually opens many opportunities for developing unique, site specific responses, and when one succeeds at this high level the resulting resonance is truly artful.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Design With Restrictive Budgets

            "Because  we  had  an  ordinary  piece  of property and  a  restricted
            budget we knew we needed to have a good architect."  An OGB Client

We do not think of ourselves as needing to have any particular budget amount – whether high or low – it's just another element of the total design equation.  Low budget projects can be a joy to work with if the client is realistic and open-minded, but can be very challenging if the client is hoping for a bargain using medium budget forms and materials. 

Our initial strategies for restrictive budget projects include 1) keep it simple, 2) keep it small, and 3) team up with a sympathetic builder ASAP. One essentially gets about what one pays for and it is important that reduction in quality of materials and installation not reduce longevity and/or increase the long-term maintenance.

            "While   it  is  certainly  a  plus  to  have   enough   finances  to  allow
             flexibility in  solving  problems, tight budgets  can lead to some very
             interesting and refreshing solutions." OGB

WALK-IN CABINS:  A truncated cube was employed in order to minimize surface area relative to the volume enclosed. Remote parking and an H-shaped foundation further responded to this project's Spartan budget (1).

ZACHARY HOUSE: This addition to, and make-over of, an existing hippie house was treated as a contrasting pair with reduced work on the existing portion in order to increase work on the addition- although even the addition used a square plan to minimize wall area and standard sliding glass doors to achieve large, yet affordable, windows (2).

1     2
HUBBARD HOUSE: This long low form preserved the ocean view for the adjacent uphill lot (which our clients also owned) assuring its sale and resulting income to pay for the construction loan on the house.  Inexpensive materials and close association with the builder were keys to meeting the restrictive budget while achieving a high level of design (3).

WINDHOVER: This vacation house was designed on a rectangular plywood module and is quite modest on the entry end, allowing a celebration of features on the (opposite) view end including a high ceiling, generous glazing, and driftwood tree trunk columns that visually connect the house to an adjacent Monterey Cypress hedgerow (4).
IRBY HOUSE: This retirement house used a strategy of  overall modesty (in just about every way one can think of) to achieve an economical yet delightful farmhouse-like project.  We were able to include a spa, all wood interior, and even some custom fabricated hardware items (5). 

4     5

Friday, July 6, 2012

Complexity Without Contradiction

In the under-appreciated, time squeezed, and chaotic situation most architects work in it is a welcome blessing to have sets of rules to help guide and lead oneself through the design process. Architects align themselves with particular rule sets which become like camps with names like Brutalism, Deconstructionism, Post Modernism, Mediterranean, Green Architecture, etcetera.  Rote following of the "isms" can lead to boredom and minor modifications. When handled skillfully, they are often viewed as welcome and refreshing relief, although they seldom stray too far from camp.

When architects vehemently adhere to a specific style, movement, look, or trend it can be a bit like using a kind of cheat sheet – allowing focus on just one set of rules or viewpoint.  The good news is that over time this can refine both one's thinking and work product – the bad news is that this pretty much shuts out all the rest of reality.  Consistency is gained by working with a diminished pallet but the results all too often fall short of its potential. The successful mixing of different styles, ideas, eras, and technologies is more challenging and requires a greater skill level than working with a predetermined set of rules, but the resulting experience can possess a depth of richness unachievable with simpler approaches.  Is this modernism working outside the box?   Traditionalism embracing contemporary technology?  Might it be easier to get the Donkeys and Elephants to agree? Is it anything more than eclecticism?  It's obviously post-modern (but then what isn't?).  I applaud being inclusive, encompassing, embracing, and responsive to the given circumstances.  Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture comes to mind – although not the vapid, mundane work that later claimed homage to it.

This kind of thinking requires the willingness to orchestrate disparate elements, each with integrity and grace, into a composition with a unique life of its own.  Perhaps it is a matter of making the best choices available – beyond the constraints of this and that "ism."  This would support inclusive rather than exclusive decision making: perhaps the technical efficiency of a contemporary construction system, the richness of a site crafted element, the historical connectedness of a family heirloom, and more. 

(1)       (2)

Quality work comes from quality architects and is not related to which camp they align with or historians place them in.   I respond to work which incorporates as much as possible in a manner that resonates with both the setting and the knowledgeable observer.  I am humbled by such multivalent compositions – often creating an overall sense of order just short of chaos. Examples include some architect's own houses: Frank Gehry's in Santa Monica (1) and Charles Moore's in Orinda, New Haven, and Austin (2).  Tom Kundig approaches multi-valence with his gizmos (3) and Bill Turnbull did it by incorporating the landscape into the very soul of his work (4).  These are wonderful works of quality architecture and celebrate complexity without contradiction.

(3)     (4)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Emerald Ranch Road Properties

I recently visited the Emerald Ranch Road properties ( and was impressed by the care and sensitivity that has been extended to them thus far.  Dave Roberts of Sothebys' asked if I would share some thoughts on how new owners might think about building on these wonderful sites.  Because it is fundamental to my thinking that architecture is enhanced by partnering with its setting, I have listed below some basic strategies for working with, rather than against, the natural landscape.  This approach is dependent on the ability to "read the landscape" – a talent that requires architects with notable skill and genuine affinity for the natural landscape.

Don't think of the site as simply a placeholder for a building that offers you little or no exchange with your surroundings – rather think of how you can merge with and/or best experience the site.  Do not select the nicest spot on the property and then obliterate it by putting the building there (1, 2).
(1, 2)
The view will almost always be more compelling with some trees left in the foreground.  What is left in place is every bit as important as what is removed – layering provides choices and allows the eye to move back and forth (3, 4).
(3, 4)
Every site includes numerous opportunities for adaptation and enhancement of the development.  Sun, wind, layered views, significant trees, ground slope, and other natural features all suggest how the development might best respond to the unique circumstances of the site.  To not take advantage of these opportunities sentences the project to the status quo (5, 6).
(5, 6)
Maximizing sun in winter and minimizing it in summer are usually fundamental considerations in siting the house – and can be realized with a bewildering array of solutions (7, 8).      
(7, 8)  

Consider preserving the limited amount of usable (relatively flat) land by  building on the adjacent steeper slopes.  Two or more buildings placed accordingly can create a courtyard (9, 10).
(9, 10)
Dense high trees usually suggest high windows because they bring in more light and afford views up into the tree boughs (11, 12).
(11, 12)

Building amongst trees to be preserved may suggest weaving the building in, out, and around them for a literal integration.  Various parts of the house can be placed in open areas connected between the trees (13, 14, 15).
(13, 14, 15)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

And Then What?

Government policy decisions of yesteryear had limited impact on the world –at large because of far fewer people and less potent technology.  Today we have both the population numbers and technical means to impose truly environment changing (even earth shaking) actions on our planet. 

We now live in an age where it is no longer appropriate for our leaders to make decisions and proposals whose consequences do not look beyond the next election and well into the future.  To ignore future ramifications is irresponsible.  In life as in the game of Chess, if you leave yourself no resources for the end of the game, you lose.  Are we expecting the second coming to occur before we reach our end game here on earth?  I require personal responsibility of myself and those around me and sometimes dream that government might do the same.  These dreams are usually pretty unpleasant as we seem to have all but lost the traditional approach of leading by example.

Two of today's biggest political issues are the economy (jobs) and the national debt.  Many solutions have been mentioned, but I don't recall any of them including a conclusion…an end game…a happy ending (?):

·                     More jobs – then what?  More production requires the use of more resources to supply more people – driving up costs and leading to the need for ever more jobs.  And then what?  Is there any end in sight?  Perhaps a better approach would be to reduce population to a point where there was a job for everyone (!).  Our civilization has no rules for the game of life…notice that we limit the individual use of water and at the same time build more dams to supply more water.  Why do we need to limit water use?  Is it so that we can squeeze more people on to the planet, build them more suburbs, sell them more stuff, and tax them to build more dams?

·                     If we zero out the national debt – then what?  Do we start all over again?  Swear supply off borrowing forever?  Do we just let future generations struggle with the whole mess?  Is the idea that it's OK to be head over heels in debt?  That's just not my inclination – I find myself repelled by too much dependency and attracted towards self-sufficiency.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I've never been much of a follower and with the quality of leadership on display these days it's easy to see why.  I'm thinking about leadership in many forms – political, journalistic, professional, parental, …what is perplexing is that it seems that too many of those with the great responsibility are the ones lacking in what (for me at least) are essential qualities for notable leadership. There is good and bad in all of us and I don't expect all good from anyone, but the following key qualities are all too often either lacking or absent altogether:

Empathy – For others, for life, for the world around us.  The odds are very high that the person being denigrated is just about as intelligent, caring, thoughtful, and worthwhile as the accuser – and may even be a better cut of humanity to begin with (at least they're not doing the denigrating!). I find it presumptuous to assume others are somehow inferior.  Have you ever seen someone put down because they had a different viewpoint on things?  Or their right to free speech interrupted by protests?  Empathy can be applied to other life forms as well.  Have you ever seen a snake or other defenseless creature killed just because it was itself?  And it is still possible to feel empathy for the habitat and resources that help life to exist and flourish in the first place.  Have you ever seen someone throw trash on the ground or in the water?

Accountability –  There seems to be a shift away from personal responsibility and toward blaming others.  Perhaps this is the result of the continuous shift away from individualism and towards governing policies that inevitably tend to encourage the status quo by creating a kind of level playing field.  I think each of us needs to be accountable for our actions – no matter how severe the repercussions.  I am unappreciative of others pressuring the way I live, work, and think.

Vision   This is related to "class" as well as the notion of  "inclusion versus exclusion." I want to hear the pros and cons of all sides of issues with no distortion and no name calling whatsoever (name calling is usually a substitute for any meaningful analysis).  I don't want to be told how to think – I am capable of making my own judgments.  Most propositions are terribly short sighted and mired in short term personal gain rather than anticipating the long term greater good.  Teachers vote for education, minorities vote for each other, and union members vote the union endorsed line.  It appears to me that most people with quick black and white judgments usually lack depth of vision and are disappointingly superficial.  The world is too complex to lend itself to very many simple, clear cut solutions and policies of inclusion rather than exclusion can be valuable ways of viewing the world.  It's like trying to decide whether to play zone or man-to-man – even if the best choice is made initially, circumstances can change requiring adjustments, a complete tactical reversal, or a creative combination of tactics.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Interior Design

Our whole mindset is essentially based around what a project is and does rather than how it looks or appears.  Strong intentions almost always result in strong aesthetics and pretty much take care of themselves. Form and space are our primary considerations and how these are brought to life with natural light is the key to establishing a successful interior.

It is hard to imagine a serious architect that is not committed to the interior, the exterior, and every other aspect of his design.  The interior is not only the driving force behind nearly every building project – it is the very reason for the project's existence…in the words of Lao Tse "The reality of the glass is the space within."           

            "I have always taken to heart Ero Sarenin and Charles
            Eames maxim to always think about both the next larger
            and next smaller scale elements while designing. Accordingly,
            while designing a room, for example, one should  also think
            about how the collection of rooms combine to form the whole
            building as well as the furniture to be placed within the
            room." OGB

While we always orchestrate the interior finishes, lighting, details, and colors, we sometimes find ourselves working with interior designers, especially for furniture selection.  Designs for built-in and custom furniture are most often conceived by us in concert with the building and room design.

1 and 2
WINDHOVER: A concrete Rumford fireplace is positioned against a wall of exposed aniline dyed 2x10 framing and cement backer board. The open portions between the framing allow light from an entry skylight into the main living space (1).
LIEB RESIDENCE: Designed for baseball fans, some of the living room furniture reflects the sport via base-shaped end tables and a "Joe" chair. A Rumford fireplace faced with alternating bands of black granite and galvanized sheet metal ties the adjoining spaces together and provides a central anchorage (2).

3 and 4

PINS SUR MER: Establishing a skylit entry in the central portion of the house allows crucial backlighting for every room in the house on this often fog-bound site.Tree trunk columns and a chandelier assembled from industrial lighting components help provides a no nonsense ambiance (3).
OREGON COAST HOUSE: The symmetry of the interior responds to the symmetry of the views which are both up and down the coastline.The cast iron stove backs up to a viewing loft above and glass doors leading out to the bluff below (4).

Saturday, January 28, 2012


One of the things that is interesting about designing a kitchen is that it is usually the heart and soul of the project – a role it has always had. As the kitchen goes, so often goes the rest of the house – this is where technology interfaces with ambiance, and the outcome, always important, can be quite striking.   

As with the rest of our design approach our kitchen designs are primarily concerned with their functional role in both the larger and smaller scheme of things (their relationship to other rooms and to the appliances, cookware, and utensils). The aesthetics evolve out of the kitchen's form and function, although with a watchful eye on the rest of the house as well.

(1 ) and (2)

BRUNSELL (Obie House):  The clients requested a kitchen that would not separate cooks from guests.  The tiled island is thought of as a de facto kitchen and includes the cooktop, grill, sink, and chopping block.  There is a separate bar with sink as well as adjacent walls containing pantry, small appliance counter, and major appliances

TIN ROOF:  Here the kitchen is open to the rest of the house and is built around a large stainless steel island.  A backup area holds appliances, walk-in pantry, sloped shelving, and additional counter space.  Dish storage is in an antique hutch set into a wall of exposed 2x10 framing.

(3) and (4)
HOWGUINNLAND:  The awkwardness of the existing room layout led to relocating a new kitchen (rotated 45°) within an oversized living space to create more comfortable room scales.  The kitchen is capped with a large pyramidal skylight which is in turn fitted with a light modulating cone of perforated sheet metal.  Soft light filters down through the holes to illuminate the kitchen while the rest reflects into adjacent rooms as backlighting (4).

SAN FRANCISCO REMODEL: The clients' indecision about open or closed kitchen cabinetry led to the embodiment of both – slatted faces of red birch (recalling the client's boyhood memories). The location at the back of an old Victorian necessitated exposing the exhaust duct which has subsequently been celebrated as a feature element (3).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Santa Rosa City Hall Council Chambers Show

Obie will have twenty-nine pen/brush and ink drawing giclées on exhibit from January 10 through March 1 at Santa Rosa City Hall.  A reception will be held on January 20 from 5 to 7 PM.  The Council Chambers are upstairs and the address is 100 Santa Rosa Avenue.  Please call (707) 543-3010 for viewing hours.  Below are the announcement, City Hall, and the artist's statement.


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 biomorphic imagery comes quite readily. Each drawing begins with a thumbnail sketch which is enlarged and loosely transferred onto the final drawing surface.  The pen (or brush) and ink drawing can evolve considerably with technique playing an active roll in the process – I want the technique to be an expressive aspect of the work. Hopefully the finished drawing is a balance of order and chaos, a combination of the familiar and unfamiliar and, most importantly, an image that resonates with the viewer.


All drawings exhibited are limited edition giclées (archival inks on acid free papers) with medium and large images on 310 g/m2 German etching paper.  Drawings are priced unmatted and unframed with mats and frames available at nominal cost.