Leland Stanford may have driven in the last spike on the Central Pacific Railroad in Promontory, Utah in 1869, but the transcontinental railroad ended on Seventh St. in downtown Oakland. And so, almost overnight, a commercial district grew up to service arriving travelers from the East. Those buildings, originally hotels and retail shops, are still standing and represent the largest intact collection of period Victorian commercial buildings on the west coast. Many of the buildings have unique cast iron facades and large plate glass windows, all very modern in 1875.
Although in continual use since the 1870s the area was long neglected, and buildings decayed. In the 1990s, the firm of Storek & Storek bought the properties and did major restoration work. The current owner, 11 West Properties has continued to restore and improve the properties. Today, Old Oakland is an active mix of boutique retail, restaurants and office space. The second and third stories of each building are occupied by tech companies, non-profits and internet start-ups. ThredUp, Blue Bottle, and Y-Combinator are tenants.
Last month we were asked by Eastdil to spend a couple of days to photograph the entire area including the robust social life and weekly farmers market. What we saw on the street was delightful. What we saw inside was amazing. It is almost a miracle that this slice of architectural history has been able to survive, be rediscovered and reused in the middle of a vibrant city. Old Oakland seems to be a place where the 19th Century and the 21st Century can live hand in hand.
Our Own Server
After years of using subscription services for FTP delivery, we finally initiated our own server. It works quite well and has a UPS backup. It is a RAID based array of large and reliable hard drives linked to a very fast commercial grade internet connection. ;Now when you receive a link from us, the downloading process will take a few minutes rather than a few hours. That should make everyone happy.
Sometimes looking backward can be fun. Knowing where we have been often helps us know where we want to go. So we took a quick look and the teens and came up with a retrospective format where we would pick out one interesting project from each year and try to find something timeless, if not beautiful about each one. I am divided up this retrospective into two newsletters, denominated by years. Let's continue with with 2015.
2015: Hotel Grace, San Francisco, Michael Stanton Architects
San Francisco has been a destination for people since 1849 all looking for their own pot of gold. Visitors do need a place to sleep and the city's hoteliers have been only too happy to offer one. Surrounding Union Square are a phalanx of big name five star establishments with legendary names and storied histories. This need to provide a home for the less well heeled traveler has been part of the city's business since it was first a city. Enter Stay Pineapple, a Seattle based boutique hotel group that wanted to join the long list of hotel entrepreneurs desiring a piece of the local small hotel market. Hotel Grace became their first entry into the Bay Area market. The hotel's origins date back to the post earthquake building boom a century ago. The new owners wanted to take a 1 ½ star place and move it up to a 4 star one. Stanton Architects reworked the old building from top to bottom, but put most of their energy on the ground floor remodel. Their efforts yielded a pleasant blend of Beaux-Arts grace with modern design touches.
2016: Bali Guest Houses, Bali, Indonesia by Alejandra Cisneros
We don't get to travel internationally too often, but when we do, it is usually very rewarding. In 2016 we were contacted by an American ex-pat, Alejandra Cisneros, running a small design firm in Bali who was interested in having her residential projects photographed for a monograph of her work. Her work is, to say the least, quite exceptional. She finds historic 18th and 19th Century houses from the island of Java, disassembles them, brings them to the island of Bali and creates a new house from the parts. The end result is an amazing blend of historic Polynesian design and Modern precepts. Many, but not all, of her clients are ex-pats from Europe and Australia who wanted to enjoy the beauty of the Balinese lifestyle. We spent close to a month there soaking in South Pacific Island culture. A remarkable experience.
2017: Santa Clara Square, The Irvine Company and Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Palo Alto Farm House, FG Architects
Santa Clara Square by the Irvine Company is one of the largest multi-use building projects in Silicon Valley. It consists of 8 mid-rise office buildings, 1500 units of apartments and a large retail complex. Built over a period of 4 years, we have been fortunate enough to be able to photograph it in each of its phases. The project is still being built and we are continuing to photograph its various parts as they are completed. Working around the Live, Work, Play concept, SCS can be an almost self contained urban city with a city. The Irvine Company has done an amazing job designing this urban center for the South Bay. Once upon a time, there were farms in Palo Alto. I know, Palo Alto is the heart of Silicon Valley and any farms left would be peoples' vegetable gardens. But architecture is often historic and people often want to reference it to remind them of times past.
Fergus Garber Architects of Palo Alto are masters of blending the historic with the modern. Palo Alto, like many cities in the Bay Area is very much interested in preserving its traditional middle America college town look with strong design restrictions on new buildings. FGA managed to thread the needle with this project creating a completely livable modern house with a "farm house" feel.
2018: Two Modern houses by Swatt | Miers, Fletcher Hardoin
Swatt | Miers have been clients of ours for many years. Their work keeps getting better. In 2018 we managed to shoot three houses for them, all in the modernist vein that they do so well. The Amara house is just the latest example of what the firm can do when they have a client with a singular taste and deep enough pockets to follow through on the original design concept.
Fletcher Hardoin is one of the leading architectural firms on the Central Coast. Their work is divided between luxury hospitality design and custom houses. Dan Fletcher worked with Jorie Clark Design to create a wonderful butterfly design house in the Santa Lucia Preserve. The house sits on one of the prettiest parts of the Preserve and offers a sense of serenity, elegance and beauty for the owners.
2019: Capitol 650 and Fourth Street East by KTGY Architects
It was hard to pick one multi-family project to feature from 2019 since we probably shot ten of them, but two stood out because of their scale and prominence as landmarks in newly emerging neighborhoods. Luxury apartment development is alive and well all around the Bay and we have photographed a fair amount of them in the last few years. We have also photographed below market rate and senior housing in a surprising number in the same time frame. No one design firm has a corner on this market, but our good friends at KTGY are major participants. We picked two of the five projects we have worked on with them in the last year or so.
Capitol 650 sits on a former cabbage patch in soon to be beautiful Milpitas, just steps away from the latest BART station. This large multi-level project has apartments and ground level town homes designed for families.
Fourth Street East just finished in 2019 and is a massive two building complex in the Jack London Square neighborhood. Designed to fit in with the existing waterfront warehouses the buildings feature brick facades and corrugated metal cladding reflecting the ubiquitous shipping containers at the port just blocks away.
Sometimes looking backward can be fun. Knowing where we have been often helps us know where we want to go. So we took a quick look and the teens and came up with a retrospective format where we would pick out one interesting project from each year and try to find something timeless, if not beautiful about each one. I am dividing up this retrospective into two newsletters, denominated by years. Let's start with 2010.
2010: Good Shepherd Catholic Church, Elk Grove, CA - HGA Architects
HGA expanded from its upper mid-western origins to California in a big way. They opened up four offices in Northern and Southern California in the oughts and started doing a lot of higher education and religious work. Of the many projects we photographed for them, Good Shepherd Catholic Church in a suburb of Sacramento was one of the most interesting. With curvilinear lines reminiscent of Notre Dame du Haut, this stunning gem of a church building is a surprise find in the central valley's often dull suburban sprawl.
2011: Two modern houses - Robert Swatt, Wm. David Martin
In 2011 I was in the middle of developing a survey book for Images Publishing of Melbourne and as a result, shooting a lot of houses around the U.S. Two great houses, one in the rugged East Bay hills of the Bay Area and the other on the edge of the Carmel River stand out. The Sinbad Creek house, by Robert Swatt, F.A.I.A. stands out for its simplicity of line and beautiful integration into the hillside environment.
The other, by Wm. David Martin, built on the edge of the Carmel River in Central California, is laid out along the lines of a classic Spanish hacienda with an enclosed courtyard and circular orientation. Both are dramatically modern yet very different in their approach.
Just down the street from the notorious "People's Park" in Berkeley EHDD created a wonderful multi-functional student housing and services community center. Neo-Brutalism has certainly been part of EHDD's vocabulary, but in Martinez raw concrete gives way to wood, glass and metal design elements that are used to create a striking contemporary look. Berkeley Student Housing Services originally hired the German firm, Behnisch Architekten, but later called in EHDD to take over the overpriced and unbuildable design. The site was the home of the old Anna Head School which left in the 1970s and is slowly being absorbed into the Berkeley campus. Ironically, a year later, we ended up shooting the new Anna Head School (now known as Head Royce School) for Malick Architects in the Oakland hills.
2013: Scottsdale House and LA Valley College - Will Bruder Architect, Steinberg Architects
Working on another book project, I got the opportunity to work with Will Bruder in Phoenix, AZ photographing a house he did for a local family. Bruder is something of the heir apparent to a long line of princely architect outsiders starting with Frank Wright, that have made the Sonoran Desert home. Bruder's list of amazing award winning buildings is significant, but he still does houses. This Scottsdale house nestled in a hillside suburban site offers up surprise and delight at every turn.
Steinberg Architects in Los Angeles does a lot of academic and institutional work in the region. Their remake of the entrance and main plaza of LA Valley College is a tasteful effort to give a dramatic sense of place to an understated community college in the San Fernando Valley. The folded plate metal canopies offer both shade and a sense of place to the utilitarian administration buildings they are attached to.
2014: Pelican Point House, Carmel Highlands - Eric Miller Architects
Big Sur has a special place in California's cultural and literary past. In the 1950s it was discovered by the beats, then hippies and later, New Age types who made it their home or their place away from home. Think Alan Ginsburg, Gary Snyder, Henry Miller, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac. A generation or so earlier writers like Steinbeck and Robinson Jeffers lived or wrote about the place. Dramatic stone cliffs that jut into a swirling surf below offer some of the most breathtaking tableaus in North America. Here on a cliff overlooking Point Lobos, Eric Miller was able to create a dreamscape house with unparalleled views and jaw dropping beauty. And we were lucky enough to spend some time there photographing it.
Next month we will finish the decade review with five more spectacular, architecturally interesting projects that we have been fortunate enough to be part of. We would love to be part of your designs in the 2020s. Just click on the link and let us know what you need us to do: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have the good fortune to photograph all kinds of spaces, from the homes of the ultra-wealthy to shelters for the disadvantaged. With each job we gain a small sense of who we are and a bit of thankfulness for our station. It is especially rewarding to work for architects who have been tasked with building a sense of community in their work. Some projects are overtly community based, like community centers and public squares. Others are more subtle uses of private space for public use. In each instance, the concept of people sharing space and coming together for some common purpose is the central theme.
Europeans may have had their differences and certainly much blood has been spilled gratuitously in the name of this king or that religion, but over the centuries, their compact cities have provided a us with a remarkable blueprint for public space. My wife Candice and I spent several weeks in Spain this past spring soaking in the urban textures of its most noteworthy cities. Las Ramblas in Barcelona or La Plaza Mayor in Madrid should not be replicated here, but we can learn from their vitality and adaptability. As we rethink our urban fabric, providing spaces for people to congregate, dine, and live will be a primary task. Here is just a quick look at some community oriented spaces we have photographed over the past year.
Palo Alto JCC
The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto was designed by Steinberg Architects ten years ago. They asked us to photograph a community celebration this past summer. The JCC sits on a large site, the former home of Sun Micro Systems in south Palo Alto. In addition to serving a large Jewish community on the Peninsula, it also houses a low-income housing unit, a senior living facility, sports fields, a daycare center and two swimming pools. Almost half of the members are not Jewish and a Christian church uses one of their meeting halls on Sunday. Jews, Christians and Asians happily use all the JCC's well-appointed facilities. It truly is a private space dedicated to a public good.
Rotary Terrace, South San Francisco
Rotary Terrace is a mid-sized senior-housing facility in the heart of South San Francisco. The project was designed by HKIT Architects and was developed by the Rotary Club and Human Good, a housing non-profit. Rotary Terrace is an independent living facility for moderate-income seniors. Almost all the residents living there were thrilled to have the opportunity to live in a safe, clean, well-run facility in the heart of the Bay Area. Many of the residents had middle class lives until medical bills or supporting a sick spouse wiped them out financially. Rotary Terrace has become a safe haven for these residents.
ZO Apartments, Oakland
ZO is a recently completed high-rise apartment building in the middle of downtown Oakland. The project, developed by Gerding Edlen and designed by Perkins and Will, is one of a dozen new multifamily luxury high-rises that are quickly changing the core city. Like many of its cousins, it has smallish units complemented by expansive common spaces and decks on the podium level. Giving residents lots of room to hang out or make their home office is the trend in multi-family rental housing. ZO takes this theme one step further. The building has an open air "living room" on the ground level that is open to residents and the public. From 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon anyone can take a seat on a comfy couch in this public / private space and take respite from the busy street just steps away. Now if they could just add a pop-up coffee bar . . .
The Charles Porter Golden Gate Recreation Center
The Charles Porter Golden Gate Recreation Center in north Oakland is a new facility replacing a decades old one. Designed by Shah Kawasaki Architects, the center serves a large minority community with sports and educational programs. There are classrooms for after school programs and a small stage and dance studio for local performing groups. Facilities like these can be the life blood of working-class neighborhoods like north Oakland. I can remember spending many hours of a lazy summer in my youth at the local Rec Center learning pottery and taking art classes.
Developers lined up in 2015 to beat a rise in the per unit development fee for new projects in Oakland. As a result, close to a dozen new high and mid-rise buildings are in the process of being built or completed in downtown Oakland. We had the good fortune of photographing one of the first projects to be completed in this phase of development. Gerding Edlen, a nationwide real estate investment and development firm, commissioned the high-profile Perkins and Will to design their 23-story tower on 17th and Webster in the heart of downtown. This apartment project is Gerding Edlens most ambitious project in the Bay Area to-date and breaks some new ground for Perkins and Will as well. Unique to your typical high-rise multi-family developments, the Perkins and Will team, led by Ming Ming Ong, added some attractive design features that make the building stand out on a street lined with colorful tile facades from an earlier era.
ZO, the new name for the building, sits squarely on Webster St., but its main entrance is on 17th. A substantial parking garage sits under the podium level and is wrapped in a folded, perforated metal screen of powder coated triangles interrupted by vertical panels of colored glass. The building's entrance is marked by a shiny brushed aluminum canopy that rises to the 5th floor podium and becomes a covered enclosed seating area on the deck level. This four-story high enclosure yields a dramatic and sculptural element to the streetscape.The Perkins and Will designers use some simple but effective tricks to break up the glass slab look on the main tower by using walls of white concrete cut into discrete sections by bands of slate gray and white end caps. The effect is to create a stacked box look with window wall inserts.
At street level is a large, well appointed lobby with a huge garage door that is left open most days. Residents or people from the neighborhood can come sit in the comfortable lobby with its garden, sculpture wall and easy access to 17th street undisturbed. The building oozes with amenities, like a place to wash your dog, store your bike, have a party with one hundred of your closest friends, or chill out by the rooftop pool.
Downtown Oakland has been in the urban dumpster for a generation. With ZO and its soon to be finished cousins, that is about to change.
One of the most fun things about being a photographer is not knowing where the next assignment is coming from. That is not to say that every e-mail is an offer to sail off to photograph a luxury resort in the South Pacific, but sometimes the calls just pull us out of our rut. Last month we got a call from a wedding planning company who wanted us to photograph a few of their wedding venues. Wow, who would have thought that there was an entire slice of the hospitality trade that did ONLY weddings! Wedgewood Weddings is the number one provider of turn-key weddings in the U.S. They can get you everything you need except a spouse. Our role in this assignment was to photograph two of their NorCal venues. The founders, John & Linda Zaruka, are real-estate visionaries who saw attractive, under-used meeting spaces, often private golf clubs and historic houses as a perfect venue for their wedding company. John and Linda seasonally leased the properties, brought them up to code, gave them a facelift, and created a venue. A prospective couple need only select the champagne and write the check. Wedgewood does everything else.
Of the two places we photographed, the Jefferson Street Mansion at the old Armory in Benicia was wonderful. Originally an officer's quarters in the 19th Century, this historic house was completely decorated in period Victorian elegance when Wedgewood got there. They thinned out the furniture, added an outdoor chapel, dining room, and bar to complete the arrangement. From April to the end of October, the space is available to any prospective couple. Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Carquinez Strait, what a perfect place to tie the knot. If only the rest of married life could be that easy.
It must have been the grease pencil sitting on the architect's desk, with its helical strips of paper peeling away to reveal its core that inspired the building envelope of San Francisco's new Chase Center Arena. Designed by MANICA Architecture of Kansas City, the Chase Center sits prominently on San Francisco's forgotten south waterfront. Wrapped in 20-foot-high curved ribbons of powder-coated steel, the arena makes a dramatic architectural statement that redefines this once industrial and nautical section of town.
The building's architecture is quite beautiful. Its front on Third St., and rear facing the bay, are both elegant and inviting. The helical ribbon design is exciting and keeps the building from overpowering the site. The building has two office towers that frame a large plaza that face Third Street. Getting thousands of fans or concert goers to and fro can present a problem, however. SF Muni, Caltrain, and the ferry system will need to work overtime to bring guests to the front door.
I was always a fan of the Warriors' old Oakland home because of its architectural simplicity and structural cleverness. SOM hit a home run when they designed the Oakland Coliseum and Arena in the 1960s. The buildings did a great job of housing all three of Oakland's ball-sport teams. But times have changed, and spectator sports have become very big business. Sports team ownership has moved from rich eccentric individuals to corporate conglomerates that demand solo sport venues and upscale viewing accommodations. With the exception of the Cow Palace, San Francisco has never had an arena for either large sporting events or concerts. When major rock groups came to town, it was either Oakland's Oracle Arena or San Jose's SAP Arena that hosted them. Now San Francisco has a home for both. It will be interesting to see if the Chase Arena becomes a good neighbor to this newest part of the City, or just a traffic nuisance. It could be one more piece in the puzzle of transforming both Mission Bay and the Dogpatch neighborhoods.
Ocean View and Mountain Top Elegance in Carmel-by-the-Sea
I first discovered Carmel-by-the-Sea when I was a student at Berkeley many years ago. Its rustic cottages and windy roads bordered by a magnificent beach were compellingly beautiful. I am not the only one who has found Carmel magnetic. People from around the world often end up here, even if only for a brief visit. Both Pebble Beach and the Santa Lucia Preserve have the same zip code as Carmel and share much of the same oneness of living in paradise. Recently, we had the good fortune to photograph two houses, one at the beach and one on top of the mountain, that share a similar modernist theme.
Sea Glass by Eric Miller Architects
Sea Glass is a modernist home with a dramatic floor to ceiling open view of the Pacific just across narrow Scenic Drive. Architect Eric Miller has gone from a traditionalist to a modernist in the last dozen or so years creating a series of dramatic oceanside houses in the Monterey area. Building along the ocean on one of the most coveted stretches of real estate on the West Coast is always a challenge. Miller uses a few architectural tricks to reduce building height and expand views on a very tight lot.
Walls of glass are smartly juxtaposed against split faced limestone blocks for dramatic effect. Working with an open floorplan and using below grade space to create additional rooms, Miller has created a large comfortable weekend home for a Bay Area couple.
Taronga by Holdren + Lietzke Architecture
The Santa Lucia Preserve, located next to Carmel Valley on the central coast, is an amazing place. Originally, it was the 20,000 acre ranch of a wealthy New York family. It was sold about twenty years ago and is slowly being developed into 300 home sites. This is not your average suburban development. The minimum acreage for each site is five acres with some being as large as 40. We were fortunate enough to be commissioned by Holdren + Lietzke Architecture to photograph their latest house in the Preserve, called Taronga, an Aboriginal word meaning beautiful view.
At 2100 feet in elevation, this is the highest point along this section of the Coastal Range. The views from every window are amazing; distant ocean views on one side and a sweeping valley and mountain range on the other. Architect Craig Holdren captures this breathtaking panorama with a 12' high window wall that rolls away on warm sunny days. Something the central coast has a lot of. A wall of split faced limestone starts in the garden, defines the entry and becomes the primary wall in the expansive living room. Deep shed roof overhangs help control mid-summer heat gain. The house has a breeze-way that connects the main house to the guest house and provides a protected outdoor seating area complete with its own fireplace. The owners, a retired executive and his educator wife love the solitude and natural beauty of the place.
It's no secret that more people want to live in the San Francisco Bay Area than there is space for. While certain people in Washington brag about how basic industry is returning to the Heartland, (U.S. Steel added 500 workers nationwide last year) Silicon Valley and its many constituents are booming in exponential fashion. Facebook alone is in the process of adding 10,000 workers with Google and other tech giants following suit. The region's seven counties are projected to add about two million more people in the next ten years. That is an eye popping 28% population growth. All those folks are going to need a place to live. This need hasn't been lost on developers or cities as they rezone underused brown sites and leftover properties to spur large scale multi-family development. Here is a look at three we recently photographed.
Fourth Street East, Oakland
The architectural firm KTGY based in Irvine, California has a large hand in multi-family development in the Bay Area. We have photographed three projects for them in the last year with another five or six in the pipeline. Fourth Street East is a two building, seven-story project that occupies a somewhat forgotten corner of the Jack London Square waterfront. Inspired by the nearby port and railways, the design resembles stacked shipping containers and the landscaping is bordered by train tracks. Using every inch of square footage, this large project sports all kinds of upscale amenities for its residents. The trend is to build minimal apartments that are surrounded by luxurious common spaces. A large gym, game rooms, meeting spaces, a big pool and an executive kitchen are all part of the package. Even with nosebleed rents, this place is filling up quickly.
Elan, Mountain View
Seidel Architects has had an active hand the multi-family housing market for many years. In the 1990's we shot large-scale, garden apartments for them. Today, the scale and quality of their work has improved. The projects are outward rather than inward looking, trying to recreate an urban feel of a streetscape found in an eastern U.S. city in the early 20th Century. Elan sits on the edge of downtown Mountain View next to El Camino Real. The large L shaped development replaces a strip mall and a handful of service-oriented retail shops. Some of the old shops were restored and new ones added. The El Camino Real side of the property is a five-story apartment block with first floor retail. The more residential Castro Street side is a townhouse format, replicating a streetscape one could find in an older east coast city. A parking structure is tucked behind the buildings and a quaint urban street with shops and outdoor tables runs through the middle of it.
Capitol 650 | SoMont, Milpitas
Capitol 650 and SoMont are two other multi-family KTGY projects built back to back, right next to the south bay's newest transit hub, the soon to open Milpitas BART station. Capitol 650 is a large five-story apartment block that faces busy streets and the elevated VTA light rail line. SoMont, the two-story, townhouse-like condos are placed behind on the quieter side. As with other projects on this scale, the apartment side is loaded with common space amenities from game lofts to meeting rooms. The apartment buildings facing the streets have deep setbacks with lushly landscaped green strips that provide both a mini-strip park for the neighborhood and some sound insulation for the residents.
Taking Our Backup System Up a Notch
After years of relying on a JBOD backup array, we finally installed a NAS system with a RAID array. While not totally bulletproof, this NAS server will dramatically improve our fail-safe archive and backup system. A RAID system (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a technique that paints files over four different disks in a redundant fashion, so nothing is lost if one disk fails. Our potential for data loss has been reduced to almost zero. Another benefit of the NAS is we now have our own addressable in-house server. Going forward, we will be able to deliver zipped files to you directly from our server at a much faster speed.
"There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die." -- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Ever since noted Jewish gangster Bugsy Siegel teamed up with the Italian Mafia in 1945 to turn a hot, dusty rail junction in the middle of the Mojave into the world's fantasy gambling mecca, Las Vegas has become one of America's iconic cities. Las Vegas is one of the few places in America that people have a hard time being neutral about. There is either much loathing or loving of the place. Las Vegas is a physical symbol of America's darkest characters and its brightest lights. Founded by gangsters and sustained by vice, avarice and venality, its "Sin City" moniker has more than a ring of truth to it. Yet its appeal is almost universal. After all, it is the one place where most Americans can go to have fun.
Personally, I think of Las Vegas as an urban design process that is continually expanding and evolving, possibly even for the better. From a design perspective, it has gone from the ugly, to kitsch, to the sublime. While entertainment, both legitimate and not, is the backbone of the economy, the city is flexing its muscles in interesting ways. The gambling and entertainment themes have added sports and convention venues. Las Vegas is now the third most visited city in the U.S. You can easily hear ten different languages on a stroll down the strip. From Muslim women wrapped head to toe in plus 100-degree heat to teenagers flashing more skin than any dermatologist would permit, the Strip is one of the most robust promenades in America. Restaurants and bars open onto the broad boulevard while foot bridges raise you over the bustling dessert streets. A few steps from the Strip one can find either cavernous casinos or very well-appointed luxury hotels and restaurants where a Wagyu steak dinner can run you something north of $500.
I ended up in Las Vegas a few weeks ago ostensibly to attend the annual A.I.A. Convention and Expo. I went as press, to exercise my editorial skills and take an anecdotal temperature of the town. I love conventions for two reasons, 1. Everyone is on their best behavior. Even when they don't want to be, they are gracious. 2. The wealth of information and eye candy in amazing. It is literally impossible to absorb all the offerings from floor exhibits to lectures. I wish I had a week, but I didn't. I am not a licensed architect and do not need to accrue CEUs, so I did not go to the lectures on "Optimizing Wall Panel Performance" or "Sound Absorbing Ceiling Tiles," but I attended a variety of floor lectures on urban design and multi-family housing innovations. I also talked with architects, dozens of product manufacturers and old friends from Cal Alumni to my publishing industry contacts. If you have never been, the amount of effort some manufacturers put into exhibit design is breathtaking. Window panels 12 feet high, real burning fireplaces, built in place concrete block walls, mockups of exterior cementitious paneling 10 feet high. All this so 10,000 architects could be awed. But after all, isnt what this is what Las Vegas is all about, to leave us all starstruck so that we can come back for more?
Architects and Interior Designers Working Together
The rivalries between architects and interior designers are legendary. It is almost a "women from Venus, men from Mars" type of dichotomy. Yet, in the world of residential design, they often have no choice but to collaborate. Architects and Interior Designers have distinct and separate jobs and do see the world in different ways. They can and do work together, often creating compelling work. Here are three projects we recently photographed where residential architecture and design are woven together.
Robert Swatt of Swatt | Miers Architects is a mid-Century modernist who has a pension for the spare look. No, Marie Kondo is not a staff member, but she would feel right at home in his studio. Their mid-Peninsula Amara house has all the trademarks of Richard Neutra or Pierre Koenig seemingly plucked straight from the Palm Springs desert. Swatt chose his in-house interiors person, Connie Wong to fill in the space between the walls. Wong responded with a subdued palette of grays and whites adding warmth with rich mahogany wood accents. Because of height restrictions, the house has a full livable basement that contains many useful functions, from home gym to sauna to TV and game room for their children. The family's informal lifestyle dictated no dining room. Instead that space has become the "homework room" for the kids.
Interior designer Jodi Tisdale of Pacifica was tasked with giving an upscale spec house in a hidden corner of Pacifica a major face lift. The house was built with a traditional look and the clients chose not to stray too far from that. They also had a serious collection of one of a kind handcrafted furniture that they wanted to feature. Tisdale started the job and then realized that there were too many structural changes to the property for her to execute. She called in architect James Vaccaro who lent his expertise in building structure and engineering so that she could complete the project. Walls were moved, a staircase rebuilt, a kitchen completely redone and whole sections of the downstairs repurposed. In the end, the couple, who had just sent their last child off to college, had a new house to enjoy for the rest of their days.
Michelle Moore is an interior designer who lives and works in the Lamorinda area of the East Bay. She was asked by a couple in the leafy suburb of Lafayette to redo their forty-year-old merchant-built home. Working with architect Peter Golze, she transformed major living spaces, expanded and modernized the kitchen, master bath and master bedroom suite. The Asian-American clients leaned toward a Japanese esthetic and Moore responded in kind with furniture and finishes worthy of any modernist. Since her building changes were not structural, her contractor was able to get permits from her drawings. In this instance, Moore wore both hats, interior and architectural designer. Once again, a soft palette of neutral colors and furniture fixtures with clean lines and a Bauhaus look blended seamlessly into her Asian inspired theme.
Getting Out of Town
It has been decades since my wife and I have been to Europe. Having a couple of flight credits from a cancelled job we decided to take the plunge and do a grand tour of Spain. As Americans, we may read all kinds of disturbing stories in the news about Europe, but they are actually doing just fine. Their streets are cleaner than ours, there is much less obvious poverty, the citizenry is well shod and well fed, and people generally seem happy. From Gaudí's wonderful Barcelona creations, to the treasures of the Prado Museum in Madrid to the hill towns of Cádiz, to the Alhambra in Granada, we soaked in as much Spanish heritage as we could in two weeks. Here is just a small taste of our travels.
I hate to admit it, but Ronald Reagan's autograph is on my diploma from U.C. Berkeley. The sheepskin has been hanging in my studio for all these many years. Seems like the "Gipper" was governor when I was an undergrad at Cal. In case you don't remember, it was the 1940's football movie Knute Rockne, All American about the dying football player played by Reagan that catapulted him to Hollywood stardom. That slogan kept running through my head when I got an email from a photo agency in London to shoot a university campus here in the Bay Area. The assignment went from very vague to very specific and was for a U.S. based advertising agency doing a marketing campaign for a study abroad program aimed at Asians and Europeans. And, of course, the university just happened to be my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley. I guess this was one for "the Gipper."
In some ways, the Berkeley campus has not changed much in the years since I was a student. But the student body has grown significantly and the tenor of the place seems much more serious than when I was there in the '60s and '70s. The stately John Galen Howard Beaux-Arts Classical Revival halls are still there, now interspersed with more modern structures and a clever integration of landscape and building design. The campus lives in a tight 1200 acre quadrant with almost every square foot of land spoken for. Ronald Reagan sent in the national guard to put down student rebellions and Donald Trump has scolded anti-right wing protestors, but the university has prevailed and prospered as one of the nation's premier institutions. It was a unique and fun assignment.
Adapting the Past for the World of Tech
110 Sutter was being built when the 1906 Earthquake hit. It was one of the very few buildings in the city's downtown that survived. The building was originally the offices for the French Savings Bank. The vaults are still downstairs. In its modern-day iteration, it is home to a series of tech start-ups. M.J. Moore Construction hired us to photograph some of the restoration and adaptive reuse work on the building. The painted wall in the "breakout room" is part of the original sign that was once an exterior wall of the building. It was uncovered when a stucco facade was removed in the remodel. His group restored the mosaic tiled floors and integrated them with the concrete ones.
San Francisco is percolating with creative space reuse and has been since EHDD redid the Cannery almost 50 years ago. It is encouraging to see that building tradition being carried forward.
Some of the most exciting views of San Francisco can be seen at about five hundred feet at dusk. A major real estate trust asked us recently to get a shot of the city at "blue hour" with their building featured in the foreground. We summoned our UAV (drone) pilot, Eric Sahlin, and set out on a mission that was as much a Photoshop exercise as it was a shooting one.
The shot needed ample room in the sky because it was to be used in print for an annual report cover. We also needed a high quality image for offset reproduction. Our plan was to take multiple shots from the same stationary location and stitch them together in Photoshop, thereby creating a seamless vertical single image. We have done that before with some success, but what we couldn't anticipate was the intense wind at 500 feet which almost scratched the mission. Our pilot was forced to use a very high ISO to get a stable series of shots that we could work with. Back at the studio Kristen Paulin stitched the images together in a very convincing way, but we then had to deal with the unacceptably coarse grain caused by the high ISO. Digital sensors are generally good to about 800 ISO. Above that, you are taking your chances with grain and noise. Using a third party software and some very sophisticated and seldom used grain reduction techniques, Kristen was able to save the day on a very tricky shoot.
As life expectancy has increased, experts say that accepting changes and finding meaningful activities are paramount to staying happy and healthy in our golden years. Modern medicine and people paying more attention to their personal habits, like smoking and drinking, has stretched the average person's life span in unexpected ways. In the last few months we have been fortunate to photograph three facilities to provide housing for the elderly: one assisted care and two non-profit, low-income independent living. All these facilities provide an essential need, providing safe and supportive housing for our parents or grandparents.
The Trousdale is the result of a public-private partnership in Burlingame. Designed by SmithGroup architects, it is an assisted living development that has the look and amenity of a four-star hotel. A hair salon, a movie theater, and a massage studio are just some of its features. Each of the units are small studios with kitchenettes. The building has two dining rooms and a café on the ground floor with public access. This market rate facility seems to be designed to pamper seniors in their later years.
Life's Garden in Sunnyvale is an independent living facility built around a two acre open space that provides a green oasis in an otherwise increasingly urbanized South Bay environment. HKIT Architects, working with Beacon Development Group did an extensive remodel on this existing community of over two hundred residents. Life's Garden is a low income facility designed for independent seniors. This facility actively engages its residents in a variety of programs that serve much of its ethnic diversity. It was clear chatting with residents that they were all very happy to live in a safe and nurturing environment.
Anyone who has been in California for more than ten minutes understands that the landscape gets greener as you rise in elevation. In most cases, the desirable neighborhoods are the ones with Hills, as in Beverly, attached to them. The reason is simple. They are greener. As winter storms roll in off the Pacific, they rise in elevation and just drop more precipitation on the higher elevations turning them into green zones of vegetation in an otherwise semi-arid landscape. I happen to live on one of those hills, a lush, wooded hillside environment where my human neighbors are far outnumbered by pine, oak and redwood trees. But there is a downside to living in "Paradise" both literally and figuratively, as many Californians have painfully discovered over the last few years. The winter rains usually end around April 1 and don't resume until the middle of November. That is seven months of dryness; enough to turn most woodlands into tinderboxes. Any ignition source can turn one of these green zones into an inferno with deadly consequences. The horrific Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 burned within a mile or so of our house. We were very lucky to have been spared.
There are three questions here. 1., Can we design a safer house by using better materials and technologies? 2., As the climate incrementally warms and the summers get hotter and longer, can we mitigate our natural environment so that it does not become a mortal threat? 3., How can urban planning help communities like Santa Rosa and Paradise rebuild in a more defensive way?
To answer these tough questions, I turned to two architects who lived through the Santa Rosa Tubbs fire of 2017 and have had an important hand in the rebuilding of that community.
The first is Warren Hedgpeth, a lifelong Santa Rosa resident, past president of the regional A.I.A. chapter and currently involved in rebuilding a number of homes and businesses in the Fountain Grove neighborhood. Hedgpeth is a forward thinking architect, always reaching for innovative solutions to everyday building problems. As an example, the last project we shot for him was a three story 50 unit apartment block in downtown Santa Rosa, constructed entirely of modular units. The Tubbs fire burned within a few blocks of Hedgpeth's house and left many of his neighbors homeless. They are struggling to recover, he says, even after receiving substantial insurance payouts. Many people see rebuilding as too much of a struggle and have resigned themselves to move on.
Building a fireproof house is almost impossible, says Hedgpeth, but there are several things that an architect can do that will greatly increase a structure's fire resistance. Cal Fire has created a new set of codes called the Wildland Urban Interface Codes which require both fire resistant materials for the exteriors and elimination of places where fires can start, like exposed eaves and deck overhangs. That, and a brush free perimeter around the house will give the structure a fighting chance. Fire resistant cementitious paint, ventless attics, fire resistant glass, fusible link shutters on glazing are all part of the fire-resistant equation. Hedgpeth noted that while the blue collar Coffee Park subdivision is well on its way, the more exclusive Fountain Grove is struggling to come back.
The second authority I spoke with is Julia Donoho, A.I.A., Esq. Donoho is both an architect and an attorney. She is also chairwoman of the A.I.A. Firestorm Recovery Committee. Helping people rebuild their communities has been a full-time job for her since the Tubbs fire, which took just three hours to burn 12 miles, destroy over 5600 structures and kill 22 people. Donoho's approach has been on many fronts, from streamlining the permit process to studying the ebb and flow of heat in firestorms, to looking at more efficient ways of building fire-resistant structures. A firestorm is different than a basic wildfire in that it creates its own wind system from the intense heat. This phenomenon can lead to very strange weather effects.
Donoho told me some startling things that most people don't think about: 1., Houses and structures aggravate a fire because they burn so hot they add excessive heat to it. 2., If heat from a fire could flow around or through the structure, it could sometimes be saved. 3., Heat flows in patterns much like water and wind. If we could understand it better, we could build structures where the heat from a fire could flow around a building rather than consume it, much like the air around a moving car. Donoho is also vice president of a construction company that is focused on finding new technologies to build cost effective new structures in the burn zones. Her biggest adversary right now are the insurance companies that are using outdated formulas to compensate homeowners. It is relatively easy for a medium sized contractor to say, rebuild fifty homes in a subdivision like Coffee Park, but much more difficult to rebuild one offs in more exclusive Fountain Grove. "All insurance companies are not the same," she said. "Consumers need to know what they are buying."
More of us are living in the Wildland Urban Interface. We love the beauty of the place but may not fully understand its risks. Warren Hedgpeth told me of experiencing the Hanley fire in 1964 that burned over the hills to the edge of Santa Rosa. Its pattern was almost identical to the Tubbs fire 55 years later. The primary difference was the fact that in 1964 the fire consumed woodland and ranchland. In 2017 the Tubbs fire burned homes and shopping centers. There are no easy ways to stop wildland fires. Rakes don't work, POTUS. But building smarter more fire-resistant buildings and creating defensible space around them seem like our best short-term alternatives.
Everyone, with the exception of those holding 30 year mortgages on houses they bought years ago, complains about the cost of housing in the Bay Area. And their gripes are real. The explosion of market rate housing prices and significant population increases has put pressure on the entire housing market. The rapid appreciation of real estate values in marginal neighborhoods in places like
Oakland is in no small part a contributor to the tent cities that are populating freeway underpasses all around the town. There are a handful of non-profits working with corporate sponsors, institutions and pension funds trying to at least roof over the heads of the working poor. Last month we had the good fortune of photographing three below-market-rate housing projects in some unlikely places for architectural firms with a long history of working in this sector. The results were gratifying.
Located in south Berkeley, just a block from the Ashby BART station, Harper Crossing is a high density affordable senior citizen housing complex that provides numerous amenities to its residents. The U-shaped four-story structure surrounds a green courtyard with its own vegetable garden maintained by residents. Despite the busy location, the inwardly facing units offer a quiet relief from street noise and traffic. The ground floor has meeting rooms and a common area that can be used for classes or private gatherings. Kodama's use of pitched roofs and mixed wood and stucco siding are informed by the craftsman prairie bungalows that dot the surrounding residential neighborhood. Architect Steve Kodama has been working in the affordable housing arena for many years and is one of our oldest clients.
For the casual observer Walnut Creek is a sleepy sprawling suburb with an unusually large office and retail presence near its BART station. Walnut Creek does sprawl eastward to the foothills of Mount Diablo, but the city has an extremely vibrant core filled with restaurants and a large open-air mall with unique shops that make it the urban focal point of the East Bay. Because of its
strategic location, Walnut Creek has been aggressively urbanizing its downtown by adding high density market rate housing at a breakneck clip. The one thing missing was affordable housing.
Taking advantage of a low-income housing tax credit program, the city of Walnut Creek decided to build housing for working low income families. They selected two sites just north of the BART station that were leftovers from the last
office building boom of the 1980s. The developer they selected, Resources for Community Development, hired HKIT and Mithun Solomon to create two high density buildings for working families.
HKIT and Mithun Solomon had to work with less than ideal sites. The 1515 Riviera Ave site is sandwiched between two busy streets and a fast food parking lot. Mithun designed the 1515 building to follow the curve of Riviera Ave. They punctuated this arc with dramatic triangular sunshades giving it a cheese grater like facade. The building's residents represent a broad range of ethnicities that are part of the fabric of a growing diversity in the East Bay.
The 1738 site sits hard and fast next to a very busy, elevated ten-lane freeway and a feeder street for the BART station. On the freeway side of the building, HKIT used a single loaded corridor design with a double wall insulation to separate noise. They placed decorative bays and triangular sunshades on the freeway side to create visual interest for motorists at 60 mph. On the street side, HKIT designed a large community room that opens onto a podium level courtyard with play area. Both buildings are designed for larger families with the majority of apartments being two or three bedroom units. These small steps by forward thinking cities will not solve all of our housing problems, but they are steps in the right direction.
Somewhere on my bookshelf of architectural classics is a volume on Pierre Koenig, that prince of Mid-Century modernists based in Los Angeles. His Case Study houses 21 and 22 became the benchmark for residential modernism in the 1950s and 60s. C.S.H. 22, the Stahl house, was photographed by the legendary Julius Shulman in 1958 for Life Magazine. Shulman, always the showman, hired some sorority girls from U.S.C. to show up in prom dresses for the shoot. He carefully positioned them in the dramatic cantilevered living room and shot the house at night with the young women prominently animating the glass box house. He could have taken the same shot without people, but Shulman understood that modern architecture was minimalist and looked better with them than without.
Since the 1950s, the debate has raged on about whether an architectural shot looks better with or without people. There are valid arguments on both sides, but the trend has been to at least add a few folks to show scale and activity. Sometimes, a few scale figures can turn into a crowd which can distract from the original intent of the image. Digital imaging, with smaller sensors and quicker shutter speeds offer more opportunities to get people into architectural shots. In this newsletter, we feature three recent assignments where people played either a minor or major role in defining the space.
Swordplay: the West Berkeley Fencing Club
This tired, former auto repair shop, just off San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley, was given new life with the help of Alward Construction who transformed the property into a lively Fencing studio for kids and adults. The structure was seismically strengthened, lighting and flooring upgraded and casework for fencing gear added. It was a simple remodel and Keith Alward decided that the best way to show the space to have it full of fencers. That happens most afternoons when kids, fifth through twelfth grade fill the hall with épées and energy. We decided to go with a combination of strobe, daylight and dragged shutter speeds to have some swordsmen still while others a blur of action.
Anton Menlo Apartments
KTGY is a large So.Cal based architectural firm with offices and projects around the country. They have a significant presence here in the Bay Area with a number of multi-family projects either completed or under construction. We recently completed a large multi-family project just up the road from Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park called Anton Menlo. The marketing manager we worked with urged us to include people in most shots whenever we could. In this situation, there were no hired models or good looking staff we could rely on. We just had to recruit people on the fly. It was clearly too cold to get anyone by the pool, but we found people using most of the common spaces on the property. We got the approval and cooperation of every person we shot. Their presence added a subtle human touch that is often missing from your traditional architectural shot.
Roofstock is an internet site for residential real estate investors. They occupy the fourth floor of the historic Breuners Bldg. in downtown Oakland. JRDV, an international architectural firm based in Oakland did the space planning on the project. As with many shoots involving tech companies, both the tenants and the architects wanted photos filled with happy workers. We decided to shoot on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning so that we could limit the flow of employees, but not interrupt their work day. We lit most of the spaces with lots of strobe and managed to keep a fairly large cohort of workers in place late on a Friday afternoon. The company's HR coordinator was quite helpful in orchestrating our model flow. The center of the space is a large circular seating area they dubbed "The Agora." We managed to fill it up on a Friday afternoon with a large pizza bribe. Both clients loved it.
Peopling spaces doesn't always work. Sometimes the people can distract from the architecture. People often date a photo. The swing dresses worn by Shulman's models went out of style shortly after the shot was taken. Today they look antique, but the house doesn't. That being said, the discrete use of people in architectural shots can create a warmth and sense of humanity that no amount of lighting can ever accomplish.
Photographing hotels, restaurants, and resorts has always been a key component of what we do. People who work in the hospitality trade are always a great group of people to work with. They are almost always solicitous and resourceful. Often hospitality spaces are aspirational and even fanciful. Abraham & Paulin have shot a series of hospitality spaces this year that are imaginative and fun.
Nobu Hotel Miami Beach
The 1960s saw a major expansion of Hotels on Miami Beach. Many of the architects were sun baked modernists who created mid-century modern resorts with a decorative Latin flair. The Fontainebleau and Eden Roc were two such upscale resorts designed by Morris Lapidus. About five years ago, Nobu Hotels bought half of Eden Roc and turned it into Nobu Hotel, Miami Beach. They hired the Rockwell Group to give this mid-century classic an elegant makeover. As part of a 48 hours in Miami Beach travel story for Gentry DESTINATIONS Magazine, we got to camp out and photograph this classic hotel. Nobu spent a serious sum of money remodeling all the guest rooms and public spaces, giving each a delicate, Japanese touch without ignoring the dramatic 50's architecture. It was definitely worth the trip.
Nobu Hotel, Miami Beach.
The Orchard Garden Hotel
One of the nicest things about working with hotels is that most change their look every five years. And then they need to update their photography. This was the case with the Orchard Garden Hotel on Bush St. in San Francisco. This understated four-star gem sandwiched between the financial district and Chinatown is a favorite for business travelers. We got to spend a few days this summer shooting this and its sister hotel just up Bush St. The hotel has lots of natural maple finishes and a sleek modern feel to most of its spaces. There are roof top terraces that look over downtown and offer a cozy spot for small gatherings.
Veggie Grill is not a completely new concept, but its vegetarian offerings and its phone app ordering are. They just opened a new restaurant in Berkeley and asked us to document it. Veggie Grill started in So.Cal but is slowly moving its way up the coast with five casual dining spots in the Bay Area and a few in the Northwest. The restaurant we photographed in Berkeley represents a new service concept for them: a place where vegetarian fast food and a smartphone app come together. Order on your phone and pick it up ten minutes later. Time to trade in the Big Mac for a vegan Steakhouse Burger.
Abraham & Paulin were just featured in the international digital lifestyle magazine, Bontena this month. The format was a long and detailed interview about who we are and what we do. It gave us the opportunity to go into some depth about the "why and how" of what we do. Click here to take a look:
Shooting residential interiors and hospitality spaces has always been an integral part of our work. This past spring we were fortunate enough to shoot a variety of residential projects that spanned a wide range of styles and budgets. Each one was engaging and fun. Here is a quick sample.
Restored Georgian in San Jose
The Willow Glen House was a team effort to restore a classic Georgian home in one of San Jose's oldest neighborhoods. Bob Tobiason of Tobiason+Rook Builders teamed up with J.C. Riccoboni of RICCO STYLE Interior Design to breathe new life into this 100 year old classic. The basement was expanded to create new living spaces and guest quarters. Rooms were added and walls subtracted to create more space for the active family that lived in the house. Attention was given to restore almost all of the original hardware, interior doors and windows. The end result was a fabulous revitalization of a classic San Jose home.
Willow Glen House by Bob Tobiason of Tobiason+Rook Builders and J.C. Riccoboni of RICCO STYLE Interior Design.
New Craftsman in Monte Sereno
Tucked away in Monte Sereno is a new home built by De Mattei Construction. Our good friend and client Risë Krag of RKI Interior Design was asked to design all the interiors. The house is a mix of Craftsman design and modern elements that give it both a familiar yet contemporary look. Krag had to create some intimate spaces in a large Great Room with exposed wooden truss ceilings and limestone walls. Krag was lucky enough to design the some of the living room furniture including the occasional chairs and the large table of petrified wood and ammonites. She used a giant 72" circular chandelier in the Great room as a unifying element. As always, Risë's understated interiors and refined palette blend well with the muted Craftsman architecture.
A Lavender Oasis
Nancy Boy is a brand of essential-oil based bath, body, and home products sold online and in the companys San Francisco retail store. Owners Eric Roos and Jack Richards live and work in rural Sebastopol at a country property with house, barn, and lavender fields. They asked us up about a month ago to photograph their spread, which is situated among vineyards and apple orchards and is just wonderful to see and smell. The gardens are planted with many of the same botanicals used in Nancy Boy's products. The home is cleverly decorated with a palette of whites and grays and is an inviting backdrop to classic contemporary and mid-century modern pieces.
Are You Secure? How Google's New SSL Rules Affect Your Website:
If you haven't heard, the almighty Google announced that as of July 2018, any website without an SSL certificate (the 's' in https://...) will be flagged as unsafe in the Chrome web browser. What does that mean?
Google is pushing for more website security. If a website is has the HTTPS protocol, then it is protected. In addition to a slight boost in Google ranking, the benefits to migrating to HTTPS include preventing hackers from stealing information, protecting any exchanged data from being corrupted, and guaranteeing that the website your visitors think they're viewing is, in actuality, your website. I found this page extremely helpful in breaking it down: HTTP to HTTPS: An SEO's guide to securing a website.
What you should do: Contact your website hosting company and your domain name registrar, and ask them what steps you need to do to switch to HTTPS protocol. They might have done it already or they might need you to complete some steps.
What to expect: We just made the switch last week at no cost by contacting our web host. Our site was interrupted only briefly, less than 1hr, but the main hiccup we experienced was that any link we had ever sent to our clients was now obsolete. If you've recently tried to view a project gallery on our site, and you get redirected to the landing page, contact us for the updated link. Another way around this is to right click the link > select "copy link address" > paste it into your browser > add the 's' after http > then hit return to load the url. That should get you back up and running.
Tucked away on the expansive central California Coast is the Santa Lucia Preserve. It is an old rancho that stretches from the ocean to the edge of the Santa Lucia mountains. It is slowly being developed into estate class homes on five to forty acre parcels. As architectural styles have changed, so have the houses being built there, opening up opportunities for modernist architects and interior designers to exercise their talents. This past spring I was asked to shoot an elegant modern house by architect Dan Fletcher and interior designer Jorie Clark, two old friends. Being stuck for two days in a gorgeous house set in a stately redwood grove in the middle of nowhere was a challenge, but someone had to do it. LOL. Both Dan and Jorie are well traveled designers with years of experience. They have worked in Monterey and Carmel for decades honing their skills in residential and hospitality design. All this was on display at the Fox house in the Preserve. Floor to ceiling glass meets stone walls and Belgian oak floors. Classic modern furniture sits on handmade rugs with native American art pieces on the shelves. Quite the retreat for nature lovers.
The Fox House in Central California. Fletcher + Hardoin Architects. Interiors by Jorie Clark Design.
Los Altos Retreat
As dense and urban as coastal California is, it is always amazing to me that 15 minutes from Palo Alto, one can find a mountaintop building site and have one of northern California's leading architects build a modern retreat. This couple chose Bob Swatt, F.A.I.A., to design their house up a country road in Los Altos Hills, close to Stanford where he teaches. This somewhat spartan exercise in concrete, wood and glass sits on a quiet hillside that overlooks a wooded glen and the leading edge of the Santa Cruz Range. This is not a big house with the main floor occupying most of the active public space. A spectacular selection of contemporary art hangs on the few walls in the house. Swatt is fond of exposed concrete with poured in place walls a part of almost every room.
Palo Alto Makeover
FGY are influential but under appreciated architects in Palo Alto. Their office is one of the most active residential ones on the Peninsula. This south Palo Alto remodel is a dramatic remake of a modest, merchant-built house from the 1940s. Catharine Garber, the lead architect, kept most of the shell building, but gutted it and cleverly flipped the floor plan so that the main living space faced the re-imagined back of the house. She moved the bedrooms to the front, found some extra living space in the second story gable and created a new entry on the side down a cozy walkway. Garber did all this inside a 2000 square foot floor plan. She also found a space for some of the owner's quirky sign collection.
Located on one of downtown Oakland's prettiest commercial streets, Lowney Architects' office sits above a trendy Vietnamese restaurant and a Japanese Fried Chicken spot. A great place to work if you get hungry. Since Lowney's office was a short hop from our studio in Jack London Square, we walked over picking up a few containers of Dim Sum in Chinatown on our way to a working lunch in Ken Lowney's office.
Ken Lowney is an Oakland native who studied architecture in London and Santa Monica (SCI-Arc) before opening his eponymous shop in downtown Oakland in 2003. His first project was the renovation of a classic building on Lake Merritt. He turned a 1920s era Cadillac dealership into a Whole Foods. Since then, Lowney has built a solid reputation as being one of the East Bay's leading urban pioneers in housing and retail development. Throughout Oakland, there are dozens of major development projects under construction and Lowney's hand is on many of the most prominent ones.
He is a huge fan of Oakland and sees the city as a place with tremendous growth possibilities. Oakland has many things San Francisco doesn't, like space, affordable real estate and great weather. It also has an urban and regional transit network that serves much of the Bay Area. Oakland did have a robust commercial core sixty years ago, but the construction of BART and suburbanisation in the 1960s and 1970s killed it off. Jerry Brown opened the door to urban revitalization in Oakland when he was the city's mayor in 2000 and it has kept going. This latest development cycle will bring thousands of new residents and hundreds of businesses downtown. Once thought of as a "black city," Oakland is now one of the most racially balanced urban centers in the Bay Area. Crime is way down and property values are rising.
Lowney's office does a broad range of work from historic renovation, to street level retail, to multi-family in a variety of markets, from subsidized to luxury housing. His 1261 Harrison project, when built, will be the tallest building in the East Bay. It's gigantic Y shaped 460 ft. tower will dramatically alter the downtown skyline and hopefully revitalize the adjacent Chinatown. Lowney's 1000 plus unit mixed use housing project next to the West Oakland BART station will breathe new life into a moribund neighborhood that has been scarred for decades by freeways, "urban redevelopment" and neglect. A portion of the Kirkham project is being built using modular housing technology developed by here in the Bay Area.
We talked about some of the ongoing problems Oakland faces, like homelessness, and what can be done about it. One quick, simple solution is to set up temp housing for homeless folks in "Tuff-Sheds," on public land, a program Lowney has actively supported and donated money to. Homelessness, in many ways, is our society's lack of caring for the mentally ill and those with drug issues. These are larger issues that need to be addressed on state and federal levels, but giving a homeless person a clean, sanitary place to stay is something that can happen locally and quickly.
I asked Lowney if he was a form giver or problem solver. Without hesitation he replied, "Definitely, a problem solver. Architecture is the means to serving people and not a means in itself." For Lowney urban planning and how buildings interface with the community and the environment are just as important as the buildings themselves.
In the classic noir film, the Hustler, Minnesota Fats asks Fast Eddie where hes from. Without hesitation and a little sense of irony Eddie replies, "Oakland." I think more people feel like Eddie these days.
The southern most city in the continental U.S. is the legendary port city of Key West. A bit like San Francisco in spirit and origin, Key West was founded by adventurers working as legal scavengers rescuing sailors whose ships floundered on the shallow reefs that surround the Keys. They recovered what items of value they could from the wrecked ships. Needless to say, Key West developed a reputation as a rollicking, care-free kind of place, something it has never shaken. A small island whose core city is built out in a quaint Victorian style, it is also reminiscent of San Francisco. For the last few years I have been writing and photographing travel stories for my good pals at Gentry Destinations Magazine in Silicon Valley. One of the island's prime resorts, Ocean Key Resort & Spa, invited us down to spend a long weekend and do a story about the charms of this almost off the grid American city.
Except for the occasional hurricane, the weather is always nice, the bars close at 4AM and everyone just seems to run in first gear in this most laidback of towns. Maybe this is why K.W. was a port in the storm for so many great 20th Century American writers like Hemingway and Williams. Hemingway's home and artifacts are still here. The indoor/outdoor lifestyle flourishes, with most bars and restaurants looking more like someone's patio or backyard than a formal eatery. White washed "Stick Gothic" houses line old-town's narrow streets giving it an almost Disney like scale. In three days in Key West, we never turned on the T.V., checked our email, or paid much attention to the outside world. We just sat on the balcony and watched the sailboats silently pass by.
What do you do if you are an architect and have a project that you need to photograph, but it is not DONE? There is little furniture and no art to speak of. In addition to that, the place is neither finished or cared for. We just photographed a place like that on a beautiful site in the Suisun Valley. The results were spectacular. Architect Karen Mar of YAMAMAR Design, who designed the remodel, realized her project needed some help. She rented key furniture pieces, culled artwork from home and office, and showed up on shoot day with armfuls of props. We reciprocated by bringing stacks of books and shopping bags of accessories. This simple shoot required an exceptional amount of planning and execution. Working as a team, we pulled it off.
Here are some of the before shots of the interiors we dressed up. The giant, multiscreen TV dominated the space and needed to go. The temp-outdoor style living room furniture needed to go outdoors. The bedrooms were good but needed some propping. The front entry was empty offering a great opportunity to feature some interesting furniture and art. Karen Mar using her amazing resourcefulness pulled most of this together. We followed up with some serious Photoshop work which included refinishing the wooden floors that bleached unevenly, strategically placing art around the house, and cleaning windows and backyard clutter. A cooperative herculean effort saved the day and created an excellent set of images everyone can be proud of.
Upgrading Your Web-Sized Photos: Get to 2880
Screen resolutions are constantly getting better. What that means is the 600px wide standard for web images has been upsized about four times in the last ten years and can now be up to 1920px, 2560px or 2880px wide, depending on your device. Apple is boasting a new 5000px wide display coming to the market! Today, it's a moving target and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
2880 px wide should be your new standard when uploading image assets intended for full-screen display on your website. It covers all your bases. Start large and let your code and web browser decide if the image should be downsampled. If you have not resized the images on your website in the last few years, it may be time to think big, again. Dont try to upsize your existing, small JPG files. Rather, go back to the original TIF files and make a resized sRGB JPG from them to the 2880 standard. You will need to compress it to keep the file size around 500KB. I choose a quality level of "6" (out of 12) in the compression dialog window when saving my JPGs for web in Photoshop. Would you like us to resize your images for you? Contact us for help.
And while you're at it, ditch any web design that is dependent on FLASH and trade it in for an HTML5 site. Embrace the change!