I Broke My Glasses at Arcosanti

A wintry weekend pilgrimage in the Arizona desert yielded the opportunity to revisit a  site important to my development as a designer.

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I originally discovered Arcosanti wandering the wilderness in 1993 on a spring break road trip and found a compelling project that provided vision for my own work as well as a family connection.

The iconic apse where ceramic bells are crafted

The iconic apse where ceramic bells are crafted

That inspiration also made for trouble with the architecture department faculty, most of whom had never heard of Arcosanti or it’s visionary founder, Paolo Soleri.  They sure weren’t sympathetic to Arcosanti’s mission of sustainable urban planning and design.

Pigment applied to concrete formwork provides lasting, integral color to massive vaults that provide shade in summer months

Pigment applied to concrete formwork provides lasting, integral color to massive vaults that provide shade in summer months

Times have changed during the intervening decades, of course, and now sustainability is foremost in the mind of every planner and designer.

 

Living spaces overlook the amphitheater  

Living spaces overlook the amphitheater 

Arcosanti has changed, too. Recent construction—and new projects—hint at a new purpose, especially since Soleri’s death in 2013. A great conversation with Arcosanti’s new outreach director, Tim Bell, suggests a newfound purpose as a voice in the wilderness.

The wind bells

The wind bells

This would be a perfect role for the project, which is needed more than ever: classroom, forum, and touchstone to focus the ongoing, urgent conversations about environment and humanity. I can’t imagine a better venue for such a dialogue at the confluence of art, design, planning, and policy.

The tower under a winter sky

The tower under a winter sky

Tim’s earnest enthusiasm was so refreshing that I didn’t mind breaking my glasses while we chatted. I was overdue to have my vision checked anyway.

Throwback Thursday: Skilled Nursing Transition

A recent deep dive into the archives turned up this old gem: a study for a “Transition Room” for a Walnut Creek skilled nursing facility in 2010. An important part of rehabilitating patients for their return home, the space included elements of independent daily living such as a microwave and kitchen sink.

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The best part of this project was the first opportunity to work with Interior Designer Jack Lafferty, a collaboration that became a long-term working relationship as well as a friendship that extends to the present.

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Jack turned a freehand sketch into a beautiful clinical space that still supports the recovery of Walnut Creek seniors.

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Breaking Ground in Santa Rosa, Even As Butte County Burns

Commencing foundations work this week for a Tubbs Fire fire rebuild in Santa Rosa is a welcome sight, although bittersweet, as it’s seen in front of a smoky horizon from the Camp Fire, which is proving even more destructive and deadly.

 

Excavations underway

Excavations underway

It’s been a long recovery process in Sonoma County over the past year, just to get to this point.

Hot(?) Fun

With all due respect to Sly and the Family Stone, summertime means progress on projects...

  Framing complete on a cul-de-sac 2-story addition

 Framing complete on a cul-de-sac 2-story addition

 ...and reveals new views of the golden hills above Walnut Creek. Even if a persistent, morning marine layer delays the hot another few hours.

  A view to Lime Ridge presents a happy surprise out a bedroom window.

 A view to Lime Ridge presents a happy surprise out a bedroom window.


It’s the details...

The installation of a custom-designed towel bar, the result of a happy collaboration with East Bay blacksmith Celeste Flores, finishes a Lafayette master suite renovation.

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Celeste (find her on Instagram @clay_and_steel) managed to transform several marginally-coherent sketches, a meandering narrative, and a cardboard template into a simple, sophisticated solution that compliments the beautiful Kohler wall-mounted trough sink. Collaborating with such a talented local artisan is a real pleasure and adds so much to the work.

This effort also afforded another opportunity to actually draw directly on the project, a sort of constructive graffiti, photos of which helped bridge the gap between a drafted detail and fabrication.

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More later on my other work with Celeste...watch this space for details.

 


Construction Season 2018 is Underway

A two-story residential addition in Walnut Creek has posed some planning and technical challenges over the autumn and winter months. Bridging over a demolished swimming pool structure demanded (19) 24-foot deep concrete piers and 18x24” grade beams in a side yard along an angled property line with a 10-foot Sanitary District easement.

Now that the weather has afforded the opportunity, it’s time for foundations.

An impressive array of rebar for 1,300 square feet of single-family residential addition.

An impressive array of rebar for 1,300 square feet of single-family residential addition.

Anchor bolt placement

Anchor bolt placement

Friday morning, it all passed inspection. By Monday afternoon , it’ll all be covered with concrete.

North Bay Fire Recovery

A Saturday morning in the studio, making progress, at the six-month mark after the destruction of so much of Napa and Sonoma Counties: a refinement of a scheme started a week ago against the backdrop of KQED’s Forum On The Road about the recovery, making this an emotionally-charged effort.

Plan study for replacement residence in Santa Rosa

Plan study for replacement residence in Santa Rosa

Local civil and geotechnical engineers, whose work is necessary to begin these efforts, refer to them as "fire replacements." But for many homeowners who are ready to proceed with redeveloping their properties, the recovery isn't so much about simply replacing what was lost, but an opportunity to reconsider how architecture can support their lifestyle as they enter this new phase of their lives. Two-story homes are less desirable for some, as they see a single-story home more accommodating to aging in place. Guest bedrooms are considered for their value as suites for eventual live-in home health workers. Universal access is a priority. Drought-resistant landscaping, designed to keep combustible foliage away from structures is also valued. Energy-efficient and fire-resistant materials and systems can make these North Bay communities better positioned for a more sustainable life in a rapidly-changing environment.

  Quick watercolor elevation study

 Quick watercolor elevation study


Beverley Thorne 1924-2017

Master of American mid-century architecture,  Beverley Thorne, passed away at his home in Sonoma, California yesterday. He was the last of a great generation of architects that participated in Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study Homes project that introduced the United States to Modernism. 

Harrison House (Case Study Home No. 26) in San Rafael, California by Beverley Thorne (Photo: Matt McCourtney)

Harrison House (Case Study Home No. 26) in San Rafael, California by Beverley Thorne (Photo: Matt McCourtney)

Bay Area architectural historian Pierluigi Serraino interviewed and corresponded with Thorne extensively. Those conversations are documented in Serraino’s 2006 book NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism. Always happy to promote that volume, which has become the Rosetta Stone for understanding mid-century design in Northern California. Find it here:

 https://www.amazon.com/dp/081184353X/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_t1_D0-lAbSBVAkkSA8

Thorne’s most famous client (for better and for worse) was jazz giant Dave Brubeck, so we’ll leave this with him:

Local Story Writ Large

Fred & Lois Langhorst: A largely overlooked mid-century practice that produced noteworthy projects, earned a place in the history of Bay Area architecture, and remains a cautionary tale for the profession.

Langhorst Residence, 1947    Lafayette, California

Langhorst Residence, 1947

Lafayette, California

Lois' story, borrowed generously from Alan Hess' book Forgotten Modern: California Houses 1940-1970:

Fred Langhorst, originally from Oak Park, Illinois was a Taliesin apprentice from 1931 to 1936.  Following his apprenticeship, Langhorst moved to Los Angeles, then San Francisco, where he developed his own practice.  He married Lois Wilson in 1939.

Lois (Wilson) Langhorst was a native of Kiowa, Oklahoma, and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with degrees in architecture and sociology. She also earned a masters degree in architecture from MIT in 1940. In spite of her credentials, Lois Langhorst was not permitted to work in the prominent Bay Area office of William Worchester, as Wurster feared that the mere presence of a woman in an architectural studio would damage the fragile esprit de corps of his all-male staff.

Lois and Fred opened an office together in 1942, as equal partners, but because Lois was not licensed until 1948, Fred was often credited as architect of record. When Fred was unable to work due to his alcoholism, Lois ran the practice.

Fred maintained his relationship with Frank Loyd Wright through the years, and that relationship is evident in the work. Lois'  affinity for fellow Oklahoman Bruce Goff made her sympathetic to the values of organic architecture. Their 1947 residence in Lafayette is typically Usonian, with its sweeping horizontal planes, but without the ornament typical in Wright's work. 

Langhorst Residence, 1947    Lafayette, California

Langhorst Residence, 1947

Lafayette, California

Regardless of her skills as a designer and her ability to manage an architecture firm, Lois continued her work, against the prevailing current of sexism within the male-dominated profession of the era. The couple closed their practice in 1950, as they struggled with problems in their marriage, no doubt exacerbated by Fred, who took credit for one of Lois' prize-winning designs. The couple divorced in 1955.

Lois continued to work in the Bay Area through the early 1960s. She also earned a degree in architectural history at Harvard and taught at the University of California at Berkeley. However, she was denied tenure at Cal and later would be "unwillingly retired" from the University of North Carolina. She passed away in 1989.

Following their divorce, Fred Langhorst attempted to re-establish his office without Lois, but ultimately failed.

 

Interestingly, Lois is credited with the enduring design innovation of the kitchen island.  Regardless of her ubiquitous contribution to residential design, the life and work of Lois Langhorst remains a shameful tale of the failure of the architectural profession to take up its appropriate leadership role in society.

Page from 1946 "California Plan Book" crediting Fredrick Langhorst as "Architect" and relegating Lois Langhorst as "Associate."

Page from 1946 "California Plan Book" crediting Fredrick Langhorst as "Architect" and relegating Lois Langhorst as "Associate."