Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Friday, July 31, 2009

Site Design Review - Case Study #4

This is a large housing site near a busy road -


THE URBAN DESIGNER ...No change in the number of units or amount of parking,
but quite a difference in the spatial ordering of the site!

Turning the open spaces toward the entry road creates longer vistas and the community center at the end of the entry road now has a rear play yard that can be seen by parents through the rear of the building.

. . .

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hat's Off To Larry !!! ..........

No, not me...

Lawrence Halprin
who recently turned 93 -

Lawrence Halprin (born July 1, 1916 in New York City) is a prolific and accomplished American landscape architect and educator.

Halprin grew up in New York and spent three of his teenage years in Palestine on a kibbutz. He earned a degree in plant sciences from Cornell University. In 1935 Halprin returned to the US to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and landscape architect Christopher Tunnard. In 1944 Halprin was commissioned in the US Navy as a Lieutenant Junior Grade. He was assigned to the destroyer Morris in the Pacific which was struck by a kamikaze attack. After surviving the destruction of the Morris, Halprin was sent to San Francisco on leave. It was here he would stay following his discharge.

Following an apprenticeship with landscape architect Thomas Church, collaborating with Church on the seminal Dewey Donnell Garden (El Novillero) in Sonoma County California and helping to develop the contemporary California Style garden concept, Halprin opened his own office in 1949. Since 1976 he has been a partner with Sue Yung Li Ikeda.

Halprin's wife, accomplished avant-garde dancer Anna Halprin, is a long-time collaborator, with whom he has explored the common areas between choreography and the way users move through a public space. They are the parents of Daria Halprin, an American psychologist, author, dancer, and actress.

Halprin's work is marked by his attention to human scale, user experience, and the social impact of his designs, in the egalitarian tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted. Halprin was the creative force behind the interactive, 'playable' civic fountains most common in the 1970s, an amenity which continues to greatly contribute to the pedestrian social experience in Portland Oregon, where "Ira's Fountain" is loved and well-used.

He is the co-creator with his his wife of the RSVP Cycle, a creative methodology that can be applied broadly across all disciplines.

- from Wikipedia

Among the major works of Lawrence Halprin's office
are open spaces and fountains -

(perhaps his major contribution to Landscape Architecture)

FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Levi Strauss Plaza, San Francisco, CA

Freeway Park, Seattle, WA

Ira Keller Fountain, Portland, OR

..and where did all of this come from? Halprin loves to walk in the Sierra Mountains of California and sketch waterfalls and boulders... His sketchbooks are legendary -

I heard Larry Halprin say at an ASLA conference ...
"I don't work FOR architects,

I work WITH them !!"
. . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

reDESIGN - Case Study #1

Part of my job as Urban Designer invloves reviewing the design of houses in the Coastal Zone. Our jurisdiction does not have a Design Review Board. I am an in-house design reviewer. Often, I will take the drawing submitted and make minor revisions which I think helps the design and better fits in the neighborhood.

I offer the suggested revisions for discussion with the designer and the owner. Being a full-time staff member, I am available for meeting with the project planners, the designers and architects and the general public.

The following is one example.




A flat roof is atypical of the neighborhood and only increases the appearance of greater height. The arches over the window and door are now similar. Two simple revisions give the design some unity.
. . .

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bucky's Three Questions ....

When I was an undergraduate student in Architecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, we had a visit by Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller had one of the most fascinating
and original minds of his century.

Born in 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts, he was the latest
--if not the last--of the New England Transcendentalists.
Like the transcendentalists, Fuller rejected the established religious and political notions
of the past and adhered to an idealistic system of thought based on
the essential unity of the natural world and the use of experiment and intuition
as a means of understanding it.

But, departing from the pattern of his New England predecessors,
he proposed that only an understanding of technology in the
deepest sense would afford humans a proper guide to
individual conduct and the eventual salvation of society.

Buckminster Fuller was one of our world’s first futurists and global thinkers.
His 1927 decision to work always and only for all humanity led him to
address the largest global problems of poverty, disease and homelessness.

He realized early on that by examining global problems in the
context of the whole system—the whole planet—
he would have the best chance of identifying large-scale trends
that would allow him to anticipate the critical needs of humanity.


"Bucky" came to the archictecture exhibition room and talked to the students for almost three hours. His wife dragged him away to go to dinner. He came back around 9 pm to talk to the entire university at the large lecture hall. Around midnight his wife came on stage and said it's late and time for Bucky to get some sleep!

I don't remember all of what he said, but I remember the three questions he wanted architects to answer -

1. How many pieces are in your building?

2. How much does your building weigh?

3. How many BTU's did it take to produce every thing required for your building?

Bucky was searching for the greatest covering he could produce with the most minimal of effort and effect on the environment. He believed that if you wanted to do that - you would work with the most minimal number of elements, that weighed the least amount and took the least amount of energy to produce.

This kind of thinking led Bucky to develop the geodesic dome...

... while I don't think that kind of structure is the answer,
I do believe that the questions are still worth pondering.
. . .

Monday, July 27, 2009

Architecture as "Service" - Remodels and Additions

Introduction -

Most architects with small offices that I know, assist people with remodels and additions. Many years ago, I had a conversation with an architect in San Francisco whose work I greatly respect - Jeremy Kotas.

I complained about the fact that as a two person office, my partner and I had a large share of additions and remodels between the new houses that came in. He told me that most small offices he knew did the same thing, and that in fact they never turned away a remodel or addition for a former client. In his thought, it was something architects did as a "service".


Santa Cruz Zen Center Priest's Residence -

The existing building had been badly treated over the years. Aluminum sliding windows replaced original wood, the porch had been allowed to crumble and the porch roof sagged.
The center wanted a minor, but sensitive upgrade and a new single car garage. The proposal was relatively simple: rebuild the porch and add capitals to the columns, replace the roof with a small gable pitched as the main roof, build a garage with doors that fit the period of the little cabin (c. 1870) and replace all windows with real wood windows that had real divided lites.

. . .

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is the "Surf Shack" a Style of Architecture ???

Maybe -

I'm sure this is another one of those "Only in California....
would the question come up" kind of things.


Near the City of Capitola, just to the west, is a district of Santa Cruz County called
Pleasure Point

This is one of the prime surfing spots along the Northern California Coast.

It's also the home of Jack O'Neill, the inventor of the wetsuit !!

(why is there no plaque for this guy?)

Pleasure Point has become an extremely desireable neighborhood and the prices started to skyrocket for small homes on small lots. In the heyday of the real estate boom (two years ago), that meant one million for a teardown.

Paying that kind of money meant that the character of the neighborhood changed rapidly. Some of the folks who have lived there for a long time (and loved the charm of small streets, small houses, ocean views and great surfing down the block) began to organize and complain.

How could their neighborhood character be saved? What is that character? Is the "Beach Cottage" (or "Surf Shack" as it is fondly called locally) part of that character? ......

Here are some vignettes that I prepared to begin the discussion -

the answer is ....
"neighborhood zoning"

...this is one way of grappling with the transition, but not intended to be the final answer or total solution.

. . .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

If You're Going to San Francisco.... sure to visit
Pier 7

and give some thought to the planner who championed having a purely public pier -


Randy was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. He attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and recieved a B. A. and M. A. in Regional and City Planning, and subsequently attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his Ph. D. in Geography.

After graduation from Berkeley, Randy worked for a private planning firm preparing environmental impact reports and ended up essentially spending all his time working with the Port of San Francisco. He made the Port Director an offer he couldn't refuse. He became the Planning, Environmental and Regulatory consultant to the Port with a reserved parking space directly in front of the Ferry Building. Every week he and the Director had a meeting with Mayor Diane Feinstein (the Port - although not very active as a port - is the biggest money maker for the City of San Francisco).

Randy contracted AIDS and became very ill. He passed away in November, 1992 at the age of 43.

As part of his work for the Port, he fought for the exclusive right of the public to use one of the piers for strolling, fishing, etc. He never saw his dream realized, but the Port of San Francisco completed the project. There on the pier is a plaque describing the effort made by Randall Rossi.

The Rossi family in front of the plaque

Ever see a plaque dedicated to a Planner?

(Randy was a close friend and
my older daughter's godfather)
. . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Architects in Film / Fact and Fiction....

You might think that Hollywood is fascinated by
the life of an architect....


ya gotta love the pencil....!!!

But there are really good documentary films about architects, architecture AND their personal lives. I'm recommending three -

My Architect

Sketches of Frank Gehry

rent'll like the personal stories -
and the architecture !!

. . .

for yet another view ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Passing of One of the Greats....

AIA Los Angeles joins the Architecture + Design Community
in mourning the loss of

JULIUS SHULMAN, Hon. AIA/LA 1910 - 2009

Julius Shulman's luminous photographs immortalized many of the mid-20th century modernist architects whose homes and buildings he so lovingly photographed throughout his career. As a result of his photographic masterpieces, Julius himself became a superstar in the architectural world. He was a giant in the field and giant, indeed, is the void he left upon his passing last week. Thankfully, he also left an enduring legacy for future generations to cherish and enjoy. His archive of over 260,000 negatives, prints, and transparencies was acquired by the Getty Center in 2005.

"I was lucky to be doing the right thing at the right time. So, anytime someone wanted a photograph of a modern house, Uncle Julius provided the picture."

Julius Shulman, 1994

Julius Shulman's most celebrated work -- a black and white photo of a glass and steel frame home built by architect Pierre Koenig in the Hollywood Hills as the sun was setting on May 9, 1960 (Case Study House No. 22). Here are some links to various perspectives from around the country of Mr. Shulman's extraordinary life and career: The Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesThe Chicago Sun-Times. If you have personal remembrances that you would like to share with the AIA/LA membership, please forward them to, and we will be happy to reprint them.

American Institute of Architects Los Angeles
(photos and text)
forwarded by Josef Kasperovich, Architectural Photography
. . .

Doing It The "Wright" Way....

For about 4 years, I have passed a building complex on my way to and from work.

It sure looks like it is either:

a. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
b. Designed by the Taliesin Fellowship
c. Designed by a follower of Wright

We are fortunate to have a book, The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture , so duh...I looked it up.

It was designed by a San Francisco architect, Aaron Green. Mr. Green assisted Wright on many projects and was associate architect for the Marin County Civic Center.

Aaron Green 1917 -2001

Aaron Green was born in Corinth, Mississippi in 1917 and grew up in Florence, Alabama.

Aaron Green studied as an architect at Cooper Union in New York City, New York, which is where he was first introduced to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. Green first met Wright when asking the renowned architect to design a house for Stanley Rosenbaum. Green was invited by Wright to join Taliesin as an apprentice in the early 1940s, from which point the two maintained a close friendship. Green enlisted in the Air Force during World War II, serving as a bombardier in the Pacific theater.

After the war, Green moved to Los Angeles and worked as an interior designer with industrial designer, Raymond Loewy. During this time, he married and began a family. In 1951, Green moved to San Francisco and founded Aaron G. Green Associates, Inc., an architectural practice dedicated to service-oriented design. In this organization, Green acted as Wright's West Coast representative.

Green participated in forty of Wright's projects. At the time of Wright's death in 1959, the Marin County Civic Center was uncompleted, and Green saw the project through to completion.In 1968, Green became a member of the College of Fellows, American Institute of Architects. He taught as a lecturer and critic at Stanford University's department of architecture for fifteen years. In 2001, Green became the first recipient of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's Gold Medal.

Green died on June 5th of 2001 at the age of 84.

- from Wikipedia

Monday, July 20, 2009

Site Design Review - Case Study #3

This site is an infill lot, set between a mobile home park and individual residences, on a busy arterial. The planning mechanism for creating any density on this lot could not be a standard subdivision - due to the required street width. The developer chose a particular zoning tool which in our jurisdiction is called "townhouse" development.



What turned the project around?

The use of common walls and duplex pattern for some of the units opened up more land. Turning the end duplexes at 45 degrees allows less driveway and conformance with the cul-de-sac.

. . .

Sunday, July 19, 2009

SHOTGUN : a type of weapon, a Motown hit from 1965, OR.....


Land being scarce in New Orleans, the lots are very narrow, typically about 35 feet wide. The shotgun design was developed as an inexpensive design to fit these narrow New Orleans lots. Shotgun houses were built in lower and middle class neighborhoods.

Single Shotgun Floor Plan

Double Shotgun Floor Plan

The shotgun double house has four shuttered openings on the street - two doors and two windows. The shotgun single will have one door and window in the front. Most Bywater shotgun houses are flush with the sidewalk with the steps and overhang projecting out onto the sidewalk. The original steps were of wood box like construction. This provided a bench-like platform on each side facilitating the New Orleans practice of "stoop sitting."

Early shotgun houses did not contain a bathroom. An outhouse would be constructed in the back yard, and baths would be taken in the bedroom or other room of the house. In later houses, a bathroom with a small hall would be inserted before the last room of the house.

The first two rooms, called double parlors, are usually separated by double pocket doors. The remaining room-to-room doors are single width and may be double leaf "French" doors or single leaf panel doors.

The front roof of the early shotgun ended in a hip. After the 1880's often a gable was inserted above the overhang. The overhang usually was supported by decorative wooden brackets and contained cast iron ventilators. The front foundation wall included two cast iron ventilators as well.

text, floor plans and vent photo from

Bywater Neighborhood Association

. . .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Court Housing in California...

Lewis Court, Santa Monica -
There have been architects who have designed attractive affordable housing. One that comes to mind is Irving Gill. Gill worked for Adler and Sullivan in Chicago, and then left to make his mark in Southern California.
One of his masterpieces is Lewis Court in Santa Monica.
Gill seems to have captured some California essentials in this project - a derivation from Spanish/Moorish influences in terms of courts as a central focus, the "parti" (organizational theorem) in the design.

The architecture of the complex is both modern and timeless, as the architecture of the Greek islands.

. . .
Beach Court, Santa Cruz -
This complex was a motel complex design for beach goers who wanted to stay longer than one night. It is currently rental studios.

There is no parking on site, however it is a corner lot and there appears to be street parking (whenever I have visited).
Modern planning would prevent this wonderful place from happening. Parking would stop it cold. Density would stop it cold.
Building codes would wreak havoc with the units. Yet they are lovely, warm, and really beloved by the inhabitants. Why not ?
. . .

Lincoln Court, Alameda -
This project is a series of condos in an "English Village" style of architecture. The units are small and organized on both sides of this delightful landscaped path.

The site runs between two streets and what you don't see is that there are alleys on both sides which hide the garages in the rear of each unit.

So, why go on about these? I heard an urban designer from Seattle say that "there is one-third of the housing market which is grossly under served - the three S's - Seniors, Singles and Students".

I am two of those three now.


Recommended Books

  • - Precedents in Architecture
  • - City Comforts
  • - A Pattern Language
  • - The Architecture of Happiness
  • - Architectural Composition
  • - Design Language
  • - Elements of Garden Design
  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace