What a Pandemic Can Reveal
We are writing our first journal entry in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. We have spent the last 2 months re-aligning our studio and business practices to the new pandemic climate in an effort to continue to serve our clients in the best way possible, while making sure that we successfully shelter in place and take care of our own health, safety, and welfare. In light of all of this we have given a lot of thought to what our typical design process means to us, and how this process serves to enhance the quality of life for our clients.
It is our goal and pleasure to help our clients plan for meaningful quality of life no matter the type or size of project we take on. Although we have no way of planning for unexpected circumstances such as the global impact of COVID-19, we are profoundly fulfilled when the rigor we apply to our design process yields rewarding results. Over the last 2 months we have heard from multiple clients that the work that we performed has proven to be beneficial to their lifestyle during this unprecedented and unexpected time in world history. It is our pleasure to share with you the words of one client who has found comfort and quality in their “new normal” life as a direct result of the remodel we recently completed of their home.
“When we made the decision a few years ago to remodel our house, we had to answer a lot of questions. We considered how to configure bedrooms and bathrooms, ceilings heights, window placement, and hundreds of tile and paint color options. We planned every little detail, right down to where the dog would sleep. But one question that never came up was: Will this design meet our needs in a global pandemic in which none of us leaves the house for days or weeks or …?
And yet, during this strange, frightening, slower-paced time, we often take a moment to be grateful that we renovated our house when we did. Every decision we made in that process helped turn our home from what previously could have felt confining and uncomfortable into a sanctuary that calms and accommodates us perfectly.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in our kitchen. Our new kitchen was made by combining three small rooms (dining room, breakfast nook and kitchen) with little storage, less counter space, ancient appliances and no dishwasher. It’s hard now to imagine how we would’ve coped with preparing, serving and cleaning up after three meals a day for all of us for months on end. And while—let’s be honest—we still miss going to our favorite restaurants, at least we are able to enjoy mealtimes together comfortably. Baking with our son has become a fun distraction, and making homemade pasta together for the first time while FaceTiming with friends in the midwest is an experience we will remember fondly. Also, having the storage space for several weeks’ worth of food is something we will never take for granted.
Another thing that has saved our sanity is the fact that we each have our own workspace. For my husband, on conference calls and video meetings perpetually, the garage office conversion has been a godsend. Our teenaged son has a built-in desk in his room which he currently uses for various building projects. And my desk, sitting in the kitchen, has become the internet, Zoom and distance learning hub. Adjusting to our “new normal,” means a lot of time staring at screens for most of us, but at least we aren’t annoying each other by having to do it in the same room. Even though we didn’t add square footage, the open design of the central living area feels more spacious, while still affording enough privacy that we can get away from one another when necessary.
It’s hard to know when this will all end; when we will be able to ditch the masks and hand sanitizer, run our normal errands, go out for meals with friends and walk down the sidewalk without recoiling in fear when someone comes too close. Someday our lives will go back to something resembling normal, but our home will continue to be our safe place.”
It seems that we have been facing one crisis after another on an annual basis in California, and that the “new normal” reaches beyond the face of this pandemic. One thing we are certain of, is that we learn from each crisis, and we strive to absorb each lesson into both our personal and professional lives so the we do what we do best – FOR YOU!
Cheers and stay safe! Jessie and Tony
As we approach the end of the year we reflect on what the past year meant to us, what we accomplished, and what we have learned to carry with us into the new year. One of the things we find we consistently appreciate in our work is the power of collaboration. This is explained early in our process, and we identify this as an “Owner Inspired Vision”. We rely on our clients to participate in our process to create a vision that is uniquely theirs. This vision becomes our target goal throughout the design and construction process. We have found that successful collaboration creates a successful project.
We were reminded of the level of collaboration required during each phase of a project in our recent experience of preparing for and managing the professional photography of one of our completed projects. Of course our intent with photographing a project is always to express the intent behind our design and the pride of our clients, but this particular project was also selected for a spread in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles Magazine. Because of this there was a greater need to continue the precedent of collaboration through the photographic process.
Our photography team included our clients, the photographers, a stylist, and the magazine. To kickoff the process we held a walk through of the residence well in advance of the actual shoot. This gave us the ability to work with the stylist to ensure that the personality of the client was maintained while creating eye-catching images of the home.
Fast forward to the day of the photoshoot. We started in the early morning hours with the Stylist. The stylist, Asquared Studios, and the clients worked to methodically prepare the first few set-ups in advance of the photographers and magazine editors arrival. Once the photographer arrived, we worked with them to ensure that the language of the architecture was brought forth in an impactful way to express the intended proportion, scale, light, and color. With that, we want to make sure that the photographs tell the story of how the house accommodates the lives of the owners, including how it flows, how it is used, and how they live in it to make the space their own. We relied on the our clients throughout the day to help us tell their story. The photoshoot was a true success.! Our collaborative process led to the editor’s selection of our project to be featured on their magazine cover.
Ultimately, the enthusiastic participation by the client at this stage of the project only reinforces the power of our “Owner Inspired Vision” philosophy and process. As we close out 2019 and move into 2020, we are excited to move forward in collaboration with new clients, consultants, contractors, and whomever else we have the honor to work with.
Reflection on 2018 and Projection for 2019
As we reflect on the past year, we are grateful as always for the health and happiness of our clients, friends and family members. Mid-Year, we passed our 13 year mark since incorporating our studio. We are full of joy and gratitude to continue to practice what we love.
This year also gave us time to reflect on the continued evolution of our thought process when it comes both to the built environment and how we interpret the interaction between our clients and their completed projects. New project challenges are always arising and we meet them with rigorous effort to overcome unforeseen obstacles.
Of the most notable lessons learned and recognized this year, is that the craft of communication is and continues to be ever changing and evolving across the 24+ years we have invested in our profession. We take this aspect of our process seriously and often reflect on the research Jessie completed for her Masters Thesis for which she research the paradigm of Architect – Client Communication. As it always has been, communication is “key” to the success of any project.
Personally, this year we were fortunate to spend face time together (and we do not mean “facetime” on a phone), but actual invested time to reflect and grow together. We travelled together to Phoenix, New York, and across California. In Phoenix we reconnected with our Alma Mater – ASU – to receive the distinct honor of being awarded membership to the Sun Devil 100 Class of 2018. On our trip to New York during the summer, we attended the AIA conference, experienced some amazing new design projects, and celebrated Tony’s Young Architect of the Year Award. Then in the fall we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving together in Santa Rosa, California. We turned it into a road trip and drove down to San Diego, with a pitstop in Los Angeles. Equally ready for an adventure, we extended our planned day in Los Angeles to experience an art installation by Yayoi Kusama after our planned visit to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Not to be outdone, was an early preview of a new way to experience Virtual Reality by Dreamscape Immersive. These were all great experiences that help us see the world in a different way, and inspire us to move into the year ahead!
As we say farewell to 2018, we look forward to all that 2019 has to offer, and wish everyone a prosperous New Year! Cheers from Tony, Capri, Jessie, Kola, and Mariana!
The Progression of Architectural Education
As you can see from our recent journal post, the year has slipped away as we have picked up the pieces from the October 2017 fire storm and have settled into our rhythm for a new normal. For us the new normal has included developing a new perspective on how we offer architectural services to those affected by the fires, focusing on developing meaningful relationships and expressing gratitude to all of the new people who have entered our world, and finding new ways to give back to the profession that has given us so much.
It has been a big year for us. Together Tony and I have achieved honors such as being recognized as the “Best of Houzz Design” and the “Best of Houzz Service”, and being named to the class of 2018, Sun Devil 100, celebrating the achievements of Arizona State University alumni who own or lead successful, innovative businesses across the globe. In addition, Tony was award the National Young Architect of the Year Award by the AIA. Feeling inspired by our accolades, we decided to give back to the profession through Scholarship and Education. We have created a scholarship to be awarded to minority women studying architecture at Arizona State University. And, in June of this year we brought an architectural intern, studying at the New School of Architecture in San Diego, onto our team. Together we have opened her eyes to the professional world of Architecture. As part of our commitment to her education, we have asked her to develop her thoughts about how the current state of Architecture Education relates to the professional world. The passage below is her insight and expression. Mariana, welcome to Asquared Studios, and thank you for being inspired!
The world is going through fast paced changes of advancement in technology and communications. Businesses such as Tesla, Airbnb, and Amazon -all founded in the past decade- are now influencing the quality of life and the built environment. To follow the pace of these changes, education is driven to connect students to hands-on experiences, training future professionals to become creators of a more efficient and successful society. Christopher Hawthorne, author of “Reinventing Architectural Education” article in Architect Magazine, argues that the field of architecture is going through some major changes. Architecture critic since 2004, he states that new technologies, changes in demographics, and philosophical priorities are reshaping architectural academics. Hawthorne points out the emergence of online classes as the democratization of education, and asserts that the current architectural pedagogy approach is “fading fast” with the rise of the leadership generation. Notion of space is being changed, and as designers, architects are being challenged to rethink architectural education and practice.
All of the architecture schools certified by the National Architectural Accrediting Board require students to work long hours in the design studio. This scenario has its roots in the 19th-century tradition of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, but has not been through any format changes ever since. Heavy course loads combined with rigorous professional requirements, becoming an architect is an long term proposition, demanding from five to eight years of full-time study and other practice hours of internship experience to receive licensure. The average time from starting a degree to becoming a licensed architect is 11 years, according to the architect and historian Jonathan Massey. All the dedication needed comes from the broader range of what architects really do. Architects are not only building designers, but also construction managers, product designers, teachers, developers, leaders, and so much more. Architecture is a complex profession that develops in response to demands of society, contextualizing the past, present, and future concerns. Therefore, architecture education must endure adaptiveness to change by offering professional perspective.
With the advancement of artificial intelligence, it makes sense to integrate architectural education with the process of making buildings. Artificial intelligence will facilitate the building drawing processes, thus students need more connection with hands-on practicing professionals so that their knowledge is valued in the professional world. The design-build experience can prepare students to face interactions between builders, engineers, and clients. Besides, it also involves the business side of architecture, which is usually forgotten in architectural school. Noticing this change, some of the top Architecture schools in the U.S. have been showing changes in their curriculum, offering new experience and opportunities for architecture students. The School of Arts and Architecture at UCLA offers hands-on experience and cross-discipline collaboration in design and urban planning through its cityLAB, Experiential Technologies Center and The Now Institute. All undergraduates in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M-College Station are required to take part in a semester away program, either studying abroad or completing an internship in the field. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities School of Architecture, collaborates with research centers and practice communities to offer students the chance to explore community outreach, sustainability and preservation. The University of California-Berkeley encourages an environment of innovation and collaboration through unique research centers and hands-on learning opportunities in its College of Environmental Design. In this movement of technological advancement and scarce resources, it is clear the need for incentive for a more practical education in a collaborative environment.
Architecture is significantly responsible for the future of society, considering that spaces have great affect in our quality of life. Designing a more livable community to connect people sustainably, influences the environment beyond architectural practice. Architect’s education is crucial to initiate critical thinking abilities, and to grow problem solving skills. It also needs to promote collaboration instead of promoting solitary geniuses, to expand the potential of the profession in multidisciplinary teams. Most importantly, architecture students must be introduced to architectural practice early on. Trends of change are moving with increasing speed, and architecture education will follow and adapt to it if students are given the opportunity to experience school as an introduction to the professional world.
A Profound Anniversary
It has been 365 days since the Northbay Wildfires ignited our lives, and Asquared Studios Partner Jessie Whitesides is thankful to have been asked by the Northbay Business Journal to reflect on the time that has passed and the situation we still face. Below is the essay published yesterday, a full link to the story is provided at the end of this entry.
As we approach our one year anniversary to the devastating fires that wreaked havoc on our beautiful North Bay Counties, our built environments, and most importantly our lives, we have adjusted to a way of life I think we can call the “New Normal”. The New Normal is a term I use like a broad stroke of a brush to sweep over life after the 2017 complex fires. If I think back to the days, weeks, and months following October 8, 2017, I remember an intense responsibility to provide help to those in need by volunteering, completing and sharing valuable research, and re-envisioning how my Architectural Studio provides professional services. Buried within all of this there was an apparent distinction made between life “before” the fires and life “after” the fires.
Life “After” the fires was immediately full of an overwhelming sense of humility. What I found is that the event caused life to slow down, and for people to notice each other with a deeper sense of responsibility. Everyone had a story, and it felt important to allow everyone to get their story out. It was emotional. It was surreal . It was powerful. This power drove meaningful conversations between people and professionals which would have had no other instigator, and as an Architect, I found myself explaining our professional responsibilities, the Architectural process, and the value of our profession to people who suffered loss on a daily basis.
The recognition that everyone was grossly under-insured to re-build in the current economy of the North Bay was immediate. Many of the conversations we had with people established that they were being offered less than half the cost of what it will take to rebuild the most basic of structures that they can call home. To us, that meant that the challenge was on, and the challenge has stayed on over the course of the year. The complicated nature by which the architecture and building industry typically operates has become even more complicated by the aggravation of a shortage of everything: People, Resources, Materials, and Time to name a few. The shortage of these key elements have caused building prices to sky-rocket, nearly doubled from what we would have estimated “before” the fires. Material resources are running low, labor costs are rising, and the schedules by which we can design and build a project have been extended by months. Our professional community is rising in the face of this adversity, but our challenges are far from over. Over the last couple of months we have learned that the re-building dreams of many are being squashed by construction bids that overwhelm the budgets their homes have been designed to achieve. When this happens, the victims of the fires are forced to face a new reality….the reality that they will not be able to re-build; consequently, one year later, they find themselves in the same position as they did one year ago….with no idea what their future looks like. For our studio, this is not an acceptable result, and so we continue to reflect on what we (and our profession) can offer our community. We have widened our views, put extra time into researching building alternatives, and find ourselves investigating alternative materials to be used in new and meaningful ways. What we have been given in return is gratitude for keeping the dream alive! Most importantly we approach this profound anniversary with the strength of new and lasting relationships with the people of our community.
The events in the Santa Rosa Courthouse square surrounding this anniversary are welcomed and we are proud to be a part of this community healing and re-building process!
Asquared Studios Attends the First Resiliency Center Informational Seminar
The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) has opened the Resiliency Permit Center, or RPC, which is a unique permitting facility dedicated to specifically serving the victims of the 2017 wildfires. The primary purpose for the RPC is to expedite and streamline the permitting needs for building (or re-building) in the burn zone. The RPC has been contracted to Sonoma County for 3 years.
The RPC is run by West Coast Code Consultants, a company that specializes in plan review and inspection services. Mike Renner will be heading up the RPC and he was on hand at the seminar to explain the process for submittals and approvals for projects located in the burn zone. It is clear that they are dedicated to making this process as pain free as possible. Some of the highlights on how they intend to do this is by creating a user friendly web portal in which submittals can be made and comments returned. Their intended review process is 5 days to comments, or what they call “Greenlines”, which is a system of notating submittal drawings and returning them to the applicant in lieu of creating plan review letters. If corrections are required, the RPC will review the revised submittal package within 3 days. If anyone has been through the standard building permit review process, an 8 day total review period is remarkable, and we commend the establishment of this system.
To achieve an maintain the efficiency of this process, Mike has asked that everyone schedule a “Pre-Application Screening” or PAS. He encourages project teams to bring as many team members as might be necessary to ensure this screening is effective. The purpose of this meeting is to review the intended project for planning, septic, and building issues and determine if there is any project component that will create a red-flag for the RPC review process. It is our belief that the pre-application screening is something that should be done in the case of any standard permit submittal.
In addition to the expedited process, projects submitted through the RPC will enjoy a discounted permit fee. The noted discount is approximately 35% less than the standard fees.
Of course each and every project will have a unique set of requirements and questions to be answered, but overall the RPC is offering a remarkable opportunity for fire victims to achieve their re-building goals. We encourage everyone to visit their web portal and review what they are offering. From this location you will be able to access information regarding services for projects that fall within the jurisdiction of both Sonoma County and the City of Santa Rosa.
Asquared Studios is happy to answer any additional questions you may have and help you navigate the re-building process.
Click the link below for more information:
Our Hearts go out to those in Southern California
It is Friday Morning December the 8th, 2017. The fires in Northern California are now 2 months old. Our community has been recovering strong with an amazing amount of volunteers, new organizations, many fundraising benefits, and an impressive amount of clean up completed. As Architects, we have essentially had our boots on the ground advising those who have suffered loss, exploring individual moments of devastation, and coming to terms with the ways in which we can offer our expertise in a capacity that is effective and affordable.
With the burst of fires in Southern California, the on-going disasters are now moving toward our Southern California studio in San Diego. Our hearts go out to those that now face the fight that we are just now coming to terms within Northern California. Asquared Studios would like to let everyone know that we encourage you to use as a resource as much as possible in navigating the difficult process that comes next.
Please look back through our journal posts over the last two months to find the information that we offered with regards to fire recovery. Also feel free to reach out to us to simply ask questions. We are here FOR YOU!
With Love – Tony, Jessie, Capri, and Kola.
The First Rammed Earth Wall Gets Rammed!
Thursday marked a big moment for us at Asquared Studios. Our Partner Jessie Whitesides, first read “The Rammed Earth House”, by David Easton, in 1997. Now, 20 years later she has seen her admiration of his expertise in earth building come to life as a significant part of one of our current projects. This single family home in the hills of Sonoma is now well under construction. In our previous post related to this project we explained the complexity of the “simple box” plan for this single family residence. Now, a significant amount of the structural steel has been installed and the largest rammed earth wall has been rammed. As with most minimalist design elements, the simplicity of the finished rammed earth product requires a great deal of complex coordination and preparation to come to life. To give you an idea of the complexity of what we have created here, we finalized our construction drawings about 1 year ago this month, and since then we have been coordinating the intricacies of connecting the rammed earth walls to perpendicular concrete walls, burying steel columns in the wall to support a floating roof, and installing plate steel door and window surrounds into the rammed earth formwork. So, when Rammed Earth Works (David Easton’s Construciton team) began filling the walls with our custom mix design on Thursday morning we reveled in the excitement. Rammed Earthworks has developed an efficient method for filling the walls with stabilized earth materials and ramming the material to a specified compaction. We are impressed by the dedication of his team, and we anxiously await the removal of the formwork in the coming week. For now we are excited to share a few process photos and videos with you through the links provided below.
Click links below to see more
Today is the deadline to OPT-IN to have the Government clean up your property
We are 5 weeks from the start of the devastating Northbay wildfire and the deadline for opting in to have the Army Corps of Engineers conduct lean up services on private properties is here. In most cases we have recommended to the people who have contacted us for help to OPT-IN for this service. The reason for this is that the Architectural Design process will take longer than the clean up process. It is our understanding that the clean up process is due to be complete by February 2018.
We have spent much of the last 5 weeks educating those who have lost their homes about the Architectural Design Process. Complete Architectural Professional Services includes several design and documentation phases of work prior to the time that a permit submittal can be made. Depending on the size of the residence or structure defined in the scope of work for any given project, the design process can very anywhere from 6 to 12 months. With February just 3 short months away, we believe that allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up your site as part of their established process will not affect the design and permitting schedule for a new residence, and will allow for the most efficient and effective process for having your site cleared of debris.
In contrast, people who choose the OPT-OUT option will have a good deal of additional coordination to manage to complete the process. The first order of business will be to hire a General Contractor who can coordinate site analysis, inspections, demolition and clean-up, and final testing. The first order of business is to get the initial site analysis scheduled and completed. Next, a private inspection company must be hired to perform initial site testing. The initial testing has been noted to range between $500 to $1,000. Basically the inspector will remove 3 to five sample bags of soil and send them out for testing. Once the initial testing is complete a demolition company can remove the debris from your site. The results of the initial testing will then be attached to the demolition debris so that the landfill knows what is coming into their facility. The closest landfill will be in Vacaville, which will have significant transportation costs. Finally, following the completion of the demolition, the original testing company must come back and test the soils again. Of course the cost of the private clean up process will vary depending on each individual site, we understand the range of costs will start at $25,000.00.
The consideration of choosing to OPT-IN may depend on several items: 1. Individual insurance policy limits for demolition, 2. Whether your site is isolated or within a large area of impacted homes 3. The intent to leave or remove the foundation (see MKM ZFA document attached) 4. Timeliness of Army Corps demolition 5. Your trust in private verse public services. We have also attached a 3 page PDF from Sonoma County describing wildfire debris management.
With the rains upon us this morning, we would also like to extend a warning to be careful if you and your property are on a hillside or in a sloping area. The rains are going to create dangerous conditions as most of the vegetation, trees, and underground infrastructure that help to hold soils in place have been annihilated and/or damaged to point at which they will not stabilize the soils. We understand the large sinkholes have already developed in areas of Fountain Grove. We urge you to act wisely and stay safe!
Click links below to learn more:
Asquared Studios provides information for working through your recovery after a disaster
We are now half way through day 14 of the wildfires that have ravaged the Northbay. In the last 14 days Tony and I have been discussing my volunteer experiences at the Local Assistance Center to determine if there is a way for us to be of more help to those in need. We recognize that there is simply A LOT of information to digest for those who are suffering total loss and for those who are faced with the monumental task of assessing damage to structures that survived the fires. This damage will likely stretch far beyond the visible aspects of flame and heat damage, most notably extending into architectural finishes, wall cavities, and ceiling cavities that are filled with all forms of insulation. As a result of our conversations we have assembled a simple outline or guideline that you may find useful in determining a process for recovery after a disaster. The link provided below will take you to the PDF of this outline.
We urge you to be cautious when returning home!
Click link below to learn more: