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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Value of Public Art - part 1

At the Fifth and Mission Street Parking Garage in San Francisco, the railings at the corner of the structure where the landings of the stairs are, have "art glass" panels between the metal uprights and handrail.
Most people must just climb the stairs and not stop to really view them.

But if you get down low and look through them, you'll have views of the city in a way that adds geometry to present you with an artistic scene.

. . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fences of Pleasure Point -

I have a friend in Berkeley who works as an urban designer for a major landscape architecture and urban design firm. He collects photos of unusual fences. I think I'll join him in collecting photos.

Here are my nominations from the Pleasure Point area of Santa Cruz County...

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Do You Know Where Your POPOS Are...?

What are POPOS?
(according to SPUR - San Francisco Planning and Urban Research)

The acronym “POPOS” stands for privately-owned public open spaces - publicly accessible spaces owned and maintained by the owner of an office building. POPOS come in many forms: plazas, roof gardens, greenhouses, atriums and others. Some POPOS are easily accessible, while others are tucked away and more difficult to find. What makes a space "public"? The line between public and private spaces is undoubtedly blurry. While it may be true that public spaces are owned by the public and private spaces are privately owned, publicly accessible spaces can be provided, owned and maintained by either private or public entities.

Privately-owned public open spaces are privately provided, owned and maintained — and are characterized by some limitations on public access due to their status as private property. This can result in a somewhat more controlled environment.An important question to consider is this: Do POPOS qualify as “public” space in use, feeling or accessibility? Since many cities and other public entities have budget constraints, particularly in the United States, it is common practice for governments to require open space to be built by the private developer, and operated and maintained by the private property manager.

Do these spaces feel more or less “public” than publicly operated and maintained spaces? If so, how do we know? How does a public space feel?The answer rests, in part, in an understanding of the historic role that public spaces play in our built environment. Public space in the traditional sense was part of the public domain in the form of squares, boulevards and covered passages.

Their common function was that of an open meeting place where any individual could choose to assume an anonymous public role that allowed for interaction and exchange with the other players, often strangers, who coincidentally shared the space. Cultural rules and norms dictated acceptable behavior. Public space was easily identifiable and accessible due to its design and location within the urban fabric. However, what made a space truly public was the experience of the unexpected.

Today, traditional public spaces still play an important role in a city’s fabric for a variety of reasons. However, they are no longer the only places for this kind of public interaction. A significant amount of interaction has moved to informal or even virtual spaces, due to readily available technology and increased mobility.

New public spaces have emerged in places such as airports, shopping centers, and public and private buildings. The public nature of these spaces typically is tied to their function and the extent to which they are limited to specific users.POPOS fall into the latter category since they tend to be dominated by a specific group — office workers — due to their location and accessibility.

The limit of acceptable activities, the established set of rules and the controlled environment may not make a POPOS a true public space in the traditional sense, yet it provides a privately owned and maintained amenity that is publicly accessible. The user may feel more like a guest than a player who appropriates the public stage.It becomes clear that POPOS cannot substitute for true public spaces due to their limitations, but nonetheless they can encourage experiences of exchange. As long as the established rules are not violated and the comfort level of the majority of users is maintained, anyone should feel invited to use the space.

This invitation to use the space needs to be recognizable through good visibility, location and design.

...the map below shows the POPOS in downtown San Francisco -

and here are a couple of images of some of these "privately owned public open spaces" ...

text and photos from SPUR - check out ...

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Parking Garages - Structures or Buildings?

One of my projects to review as the Urban Designer was a Medical Office Building with an attached Parking Garage.

This, of course, led me to look at parking garages as a "type". Here are two examples - the first from San Luis Obispo, California.

...the above design is an attempt to surround the structure with a "skin" reminiscent of a downtown building.

The next example is from St. Louis, Missouri. It is an example of "expressed" and "refined" structure - showing the garage for what it is.

I like the more straightforward and refined approach.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Postcards from the Monterey Jazz Festival

The Monterey Jazz Festival closes today...

a wonderful event 52 years strong!

I found some great old postcards -
still on sale for 4 for $1 by Earl Newman . . .


The surprise musical discovery was :

ya'll dig Afro-Cuban Jazz fusion ??

well, click on his name sweetness for a little lagniappe !!!!

. . .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Factors in Neighborhood Compatibility -

One of my most difficult assignments was to list and prioritize the
factors involved in neighborhood compatibility

. . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Can Neighborhood Compatibility be measured ?

Understanding the terms and concept is the first step. After delimiting what the "neighborhood" really is, a survey of each house can be made in relationship to a pre-determined list of elements.

One method I developed was using "scoresheets" to rate each house. After that the new house would be rated with the same scoresheet and the house would have to rate above the average.
Below is a first pass of what that looked like -

. . .

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

reDESIGN - Case Study #9

This is a small office building on a corner lot -





. . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Design Down the Middle -

We have about 21 median islands on a major road in the county that are in need of upgrade. They need some new trees and all new groundcover. We must design with less water use and for simpler maintenance. I started to create some conceptual design parameters with these sketches - In designing medians, I think of the car and the speed - recognizable pattern and rythym are important components. Included in that are forms, colors, textures and spacing of elements.

In my search for median island designs I came across the

"Islands of Los Angeles National Park"

(click on the above for more information)

is someone putting us on ???

- it is LA, after all!!

YES, an artist with a great sense of humor and public provocation ...

. . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Long Strange Trip - Part 2

I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in June of 1974 with a Bachelor of Architecture.

Another recession, so I decided to try to live where it would be pleasant, even if I didn't have a job.

I moved to South Lake Tahoe onto a couch of a friends house and started to look for work. Within three days I found work with a retired architect. We did one house together and he had no more work. Winter was approaching and I had no money. I decided to apply at the casinos for work and was hired by Harrah's. I carried thirty pounds of coins in an apron and made change for the slot machines. Yes, you actually could put coins in the machines! After three months I realized that I was going nowhere and headed back to San Luis Obispo

I did find work at a Civil Engineering and Surveying office for $4/hour. I stayed for about nine months. In the Whole Earth Catalog, I saw a book that was for Owner-Builders, written by a man named Ken Kern. He lived in the Sierra Nevadas at about 5,000 ft. elevation outside of Fresno. I wrote Ken and asked if he needed help and he said "come on up".

Ken Kern, author, builder, mason and surveyor

Ken had written two books by then - the Owner Built Home and the Owner Built Homestead.


Besides writing and selling books, Ken would answer questions and even give you a sketch through the mail for $10 !! If you were then interested, he would actually draw up plans for your owner-built home. That's where I came in.

He lived in Alder Springs, a bend in the bypassed old road heading up to Shaver Lake. I stayed in an old mobile home. Ken lived with his wife Barbara and two sons and a daughter in the remodeled house nearby. I stayed up there until I left to live with what would be my future wife.

Ken passed away some years later after a beam collapsed and fell on him.


One of the houses I helped draw up was for a single young woman in Salem, Oregon named Eleanor. She believed she could build a small house and actually did it ! She kept in touch with letters, photos and slides describing the whole process.

In future posts, I'll tell her tale.

. . .


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