Living With the “New Normal”

October 9, 2018 | 0 Comments

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!

Northbay Business Journal


Sonoma County Announces the Opening of the Resiliency Permit Center

February 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

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:

Resiliency Permit Center Portal

The Fire Devastation Continues

December 8, 2017 | 0 Comments

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.

Rammed Earth Construction Begins

December 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

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

Rammed Earth Delivery System

The Ramming Process Inside the Wall


November 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

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:

Sonoma County Wildfire Debris Management

Structural Foundation Recommendations

Northbay Fires Day 19

October 29, 2017 | 0 Comments

Extent of Fire devastation begins to become evident

Asquared Studios comes to the end of the third week of the Northbay Fires with a new perspective.  This morning, the news has described the Tubbs and Nuns fires to be 4 days from complete containment.  Firefighters must continue to check fire lines and search for hot spots.  For many, this work seems to be happening in the background this week.  The skies have cleared and we have had a week full of oddly hot days, people returning to work, and wineries working hard to finalize the harvest season.  Our partner, Jessie Whitesides, is no exception in getting back to work in an effort to establish a small bit of normalcy.  Getting back to work included traveling to our current job sites for the first time since the fires began.  She inspected sites in Glen Ellen, Sonoma, and Yountville, and has been left with the overwhelming feeling of WOW!  There is a new shape to our beloved and distinct landscapes; new views have opened up, the colors of the hillsides have changed, and the remnants of beloved structures and lives remain in piles of ash amongst a selection of relics that stand like skeletons awaiting their opportunity to impose fright to the rituals of the upcoming Halloween festivities.

It is difficult not to become a rubbernecker … not out of interest in determining what happened, but out to of true amazement at the awesome destruction that ravaged our counties just 2 weeks ago. The site of firefighters, the forest service, utility companies, and tree trimmers are everywhere. Traveling on some of our most rural roads reveal entirely new views over our valleys and a dramatic sense of how quickly the fire moved across the ground surfaces.  Guardrails are twisted and fence lines are incomplete, both with wood posts burnt from the ground up with the tops of posts still attached to their horizontal barriers.  Even with all of this there seems to be a strong under current of community remaining strong and coming together to clean this mess up and move on with our fortunate lives.  At Asquared Studios we applaud this, and we will do everything possible to offer our expertise to these efforts.

Asquared Studios expected this event to affect our business.  The affect is just now becoming evident in the shear volume of calls we have received in a short number of days.  Anyone who has worked with us in the past knows that our primary mission is to provide a high level of professional services to our clients with a unique Principal Led Delivery System.  What this means to our clients is that each and every one of our projects receives the personal attention of a studio principal throughout the entirety of each project (see our “for you” section of our website for additional information). We are committed to offering this same level of service while working though this rebuilding period.  Our partners, Tony Garcia and Jessie Whitesides are currently developing a strategy that will allow us to service each and every one of you that have been recommended to us through our beloved network of clients and friends, because together #WEBUILDWINECOUNTRY!



October 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

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:

Disaster Relief : Insurance Recovery


Northbay Fires Day 11

October 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

Asquared survives the fires and volunteers to aid in relief

We are now on day 11 of the largest wildfire in California history.  As of today, many of the fires are contained to a high percentage allowing many to return to their evacuated neighborhoods.  Over the last 11 days many of the residents of the Northbay have had no choice but to operate their lives simply one hour at a time.  The same has held true for Asquared Studios Santa Rosa. Jessie has been spending her days volunteering at designated relief centers, checking on safety, and caring for and hosting displaced families.

In addition, Jessie has been volunteering at the LAC (Local Assistance Center) in Santa Rosa, which is a remarkable assembly of community services brought together in one common location so that the victims of the fire have a “one stop shopping” center to re-build their lives.  There people are able to replace birth certificates, drivers licenses, marriage licenses, tax paperwork, and talk to professionals from city and county services and utilities.  Trader Joe’s has donated shopping bags to help people keep track of all of the documents they will now carry around with them until they can restore some normalcy to their lives. Sitting in as a Santa Rosa Architect offering advice to those who have lost their homes, Jessie has answered questions about the cost of re-building, the process of working with an architect, how to interact with the city and county agencies, and has generally provided a shoulder to lean on for those who have never been through the building process before. As Architects the education we provide to the general public and our own clients alike is one off the greatest contributions that we can make to our community. Please, if you know someone who is in need of re-assembling their life and home, send them to the LAC, located at the Press Democrat Building on Mendocino Avenue.

We have also been involved in discussions with our local chapter of the AIA known as the AIARE. Please know that our professional organization is working diligently to be a strong advocate for our communities to guide the re-building process and offer professional advice to those in need.  Several members have been involved in fire destruction recovery in the recent past, so we are able to learn from those experiences and provide better and more accurate information relative to the current needs.  All of us will be working with both the city of Santa Rosa Economic Development Department, the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department, and the Napa County Building Division to understand what expedited services they will be providing for all of our planning and building permitting needs.

A new map describing the devastation to structures themselves has been released.  To grasp the magnitude of destruction that we will be dealing with please feel free to click the link provided below.

Click link below to learn more:

Map of Destroyed and Damaged Structures


October 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

Asquared is spreading the word: #webuildwinecountry

As most of the world now knows, we are on day 8 of the most devastating fire event in California history.  The past week has been filled with housing refugees, sorting out volunteer efforts, trying to stay happy and healthy, and mobilizing professionals whose expertise is going to be needed in our communities now more than ever.  We have even been in contact with some fire fighters to know that they are working their asses off, suffering outrageous cases of poison oak and 14 hours days, then returning to the fairgrounds for a warm meal and to sleep in tents on the ground before heading out again in the morning.  Our hearts and hugs go out to all +/- 11,000 of them.

We feel fortunate to know that we have lost only one of the buildings we have completed over the last 20 years.  Unfortunately that building was an historic renovation and was full of museum memorabilia that can not be replaced.  Our loss and the loss of so many others is going to take years to re-build.

Asquared Studios is working hard to bring together a collaborative of professionals who area abel to offer relief to the victims of the devastating fires that still rage through Sonoma and Napa Counties. We have a lot of ideas floating around and we are working on outreach to bring the ideas and people together. If you are interested in staying in touch as to what can be done to help be sure to check back with our journal. I will try to keep my activities posted here. We are building a web site for “webuildwinecountry” so that we can distribute information efficiently and effectively. #webuildwinecountry was established to identify with the greater sense of community in our area. we don’t just want to “re-build” we want the community to come together so that “we-build” our community effectively.

We recognize that the devastation has reached way past the wine industry and that our area has much more to identify with than “Wine Country”, so our commitment will not stop there, but will encompass all in the Northbay. The Northbay is a melting pot of Artists, Professionals, Cyclists, Farmers, Artisans, Foodies, Philosophers, and much much more. Please join us in our efforts – we welcome your expertise and knowledge.

We share just a few images that express the amazing community effort that is building to care for…..well….everyone!

Cheers – Asquared Studios

Jessie Whitesides + Tony Garcia



Asquared Studios Builds with Rammed Earth

October 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

Asquared is excited to be building a new residence using Rammed Earth

Asquared Studios has an exciting new project under construction on a uniques site with a unique mix of materials.  When we began work on this residence we described the design to the owner as “a simple box”.  As anyone in the profession of Architecture knows, using the term “simple” is a dangerous proposition, as the creation of a “simple box” requires the coordination of a complex set of details to remain true to the architectural intent.  The term “simple box” has now become a running joke between us and the owner of this unique new residence, as the material selections of Rammed Earth, Corten, and large expanses of glass have come together to create one of the most complex set of drawings and details that we have ever developed.  The challenge has been inspiring, and now, as construction is underway and the foundation expresses the true form of the “simple box”, and we are beginning to witness the form of our efforts.

We selected Annadel Builders as the general contractor for this project.  Their team has proven to be professional and extremely detail oriented.  The foundation was painstakingly formed with 2×6 board form foundation walls and literally hundreds of anchor bolts that will tie the foundation to the floor, the rammed earth walls, and the steel structure that allows for the large expanses of glass and and floating roof lines.

The rammed earth walls will be the first to be erected, and we are looking forward to working with David Easton and his incredible team at Rammed Earthworks.

We will be following this project through construction in our Journal, so please come check it out again!

Cheers – Jessie Whitesides