Driving on the back roads of the Loire in France, you can’t help but notice the caves throughout the Valley – many of which have windows, doors, shutters, awnings, courtyards, etc.. Dating back to the 11th century, the soft white limestone, tufa or tuffeau, of the area was quarried extensively leaving deep clefts and caves in the hillsides. These caves or troglodytes represent one of the most dramatic forms of adaptive reuse that I’ve witnessed as they have been converted into homes, stables, storage units and even abbeys, hotels, restaurants, and churches. The abandoned quarries and caves were recognized by the inhabitants of the area for their potential as low-cost dwellings and also in darker times for their defensive potential. Several of the caves are said to have been used by the Resistance during World War II to hide those fleeing from the Nazis to unoccupied, southern France.
I had the pleasure of staying in one of the troglodytes for a few nights last month. The property where we stayed was formerly part of the neighboring castle’s grounds, and the caves were part of the castle’s farm providing storage and stables. The property included two large troglodytes where two sides of the buildings are honed from the rock that was quarried from the hillside long ago. Walls, windows, floors and roofs were all added and the castle’s stable has now been converted into a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home. Two additional caves also exist on the site and are currently used for storage and laundry, but have been plumbed for future use as guestrooms. Without intervention, the caves maintain throughout the year a steady temperature of 12° Celsius or about 54°Fahrenheit which for the Loire means that the caves are also used extensively for wine making. Adding to the charm of the caves, you can sometimes see fossils in the walls and remnants of some of the former uses, such as a trough from the former farm which runs the length of one room and now acts as a ledge. For me, I couldn’t help but wonder about the 1000 years of inhabitants who have occupied the space and think of the stories and history they have seen. - Hannah
This fall I’ve had a few opportunities to travel outside of the Bay. There’s nothing like getting out of the daily routine to rediscover inspiration all around you in big ways and in more subtle moments. But there’s also something great about coming home with fresh eyes and noticing all over again the inspiration right outside of your own back door.
A sunny Sunday afternoon brings locals and tourists alike to activate New York City’s High Line.
Colonial Mérida Cathedral, circa 1598. A collage of traditional “seconds” tiles in a courtyard house, Yucatán, Mexico.
Then, in a sidewalk of Baltimore’s Butcher’s hill I’m reminded of home by someone’s tiny tribute to California. It’s true, we have a wealth of inspiration right here in California, from the peaks memorialized in Ansel Adams’ photography to the view from my deck: above, the craggy tops of the Ritters Range, Ansel Adams wilderness, and below a view of downtown Oakland across Lake Merritt. It's good to be home. -Bridgett
Neutra VDL House
Background: Richard & Dionne Neutra built this house in 1937 after receiving funding from Van Der Leuwen, for whom the house is named. Richard and his son Dion ran their firm out of the back of the house & often held events in the front. After a fire in 1963, Dion, rebuilt the structure, this time with the benefit of having lived there for many years and with careful attention to the climactic forces.
50 years after the renovation, the house is still very inspirational. The experience of being in the house is powerful and conveys much more than the images. The strongest impression is how well the Neutras blurred the distinction between outdoor and indoor. The breezeway on the second floor opens up entirely on both sides, and while covered overhead, feels like being in a tree house. Through screens and louvers, the Neutras clearly mastered control of the local air currents and solar aspect, to provide maximum ventilation and light control in all areas of the house.
Also very evident is the craft and care in details to support the mundane, perfunctory functions of life–the corner cabinet between kitchen and dining, the flush wood panel doors at the bedrooms, and the built in toothbrush/cup holder at the vanity. And the lovely vintage tiles showcase the craft of materials from the time.
Ethics and Aesthetics in Architecture
Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to present a paper at a conference hosted by the International Society of Philosophy and Architecture. The conference took place at Newcastle University in Newcastle, England and focused on the Ethics and Aesthetics of Architecture. Over the course of three days, scholars, practitioners, and professors from around the world exchanged ideas, thoughts, and stories on the relationship of ethics (i.e. what is ‘good’?) and aesthetics (i.e. what is ‘beauty’?) in the discourse and practice of architecture and landscape architecture.
The paper I presented was entitled, “An Architecture of True Ideas” and focused on the architectural implications of an excerpt from Benedict de Spinoza’s treatise, “On the Improvement of the Understanding.” Published in 1677, Spinoza wrote, “As regards a true idea, we have shown that it is simple or compounded of simple ideas; that it shows how and why something is or has been made; and that its subjective effects in the soul correspond to the actual reality of its object.” These three characteristics of a ‘true idea’ were then used as a framework for discussing the similarities and differences of Temple E in Selinunte, Sicily; Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright; and the Memorial to the Burning of Witches by Peter Zumthor.
Presenting on the third day I was joined in a panel discussion by Vasillis Ganiatsas from the National University of Athens, Greece; Dario Negueruela del Castillo from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain; and Negin Djavaherian from McGill University of Montreal, Canada. All four presentations centered on a similar ethic/aesthetic however, each with its own focus ranging from theater and urbanism to education and architecture.
The conference was a wonderful experience and has provided an ocean of fodder to push and develop further explorations in the discourse and practice of architecture.
The Feldman Brothers Reunited
Dave Feldman, brother of Principal Jonathan Feldman, returned to the Bay Area last week to join the Comcast SportsNet Bay Area team. This is the first time the brothers have resided in the same place since Dave went off to college in 1983! Dave comes to CSN Bay Area to take the lead on 49er broadcasts, as well as helping with Pre- and Post-Game shows for MLB, NBA, and NHL. Dave has worked as a sportscaster all across the country, including stints at ESPN, WTTG-TV (FOX) in Washington, DC, and KTIV-TV (NBC) in Sioux City, Iowa. Dave graduated from Tufts University with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Jonathan is very excited to have his brother around, and the rest of the office is excited to (hopefully) get some great tickets to games. You can find a full bio on Dave at CSN Bay Area’s website.
Near my desk I display a small collection of found natural objects from places that inspire me. These objects include a small piece of white marble, a bit of basalt, a stick bleached from the sun and redwood bark ground smooth by the waves. I also have a quote by Rudolph Schindler, an early California modernist architect I admire:
Schindler describes one of his projects as fulfilling: “the basic requirements for a camper’s shelter: a protected back, an open front, a fireplace, and a roof.”
Though many of Feldman Architecture’s projects are by necessity more complex than that, I’ve found that the most successful spaces we create have the simplicity in forms, materials and details found in a “camper’s shelter”. To me this nature-inspired minimalism facilitates an appreciation for both the built and the natural world. - Brett
Object Lessons: Design across Disciplines
Recently, we undertook a re-branding of our graphic identity at Feldman Architecture, a process led by graphic designer Anjel Van Slyke. Sitting in the seat of client and being guided through the design process by Anjel gave us a chance to reflect on our own process. Like a short architectural project, the trajectory of the graphic design followed a familiar path, including outlining a scope, budget and schedule; gathering research, precedents, and materials; brainstorming; refining the details; and production/construction.
Recently while watching the documentary, Objectified, which chronicles several Industrial Designers and major corporations known for design, I was struck by a section of the film in which Dieter Rams, Former Design Director of Braun, brings to light his philosophy on good design. Herr Rams eschews the idea that a designer is an artist, noting that industrial designers spend much of their time working with business people, engineers and clients. Herr Rams goes on to elaborate on the values of good design:
Good design should be innovative. Good design should make a product useful. Good design is aesthetic design. Good design will make a product understandable. Good design is honest. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is long-lived. Good design is consistent in every detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. Last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.
Undergoing the re-brand process had our team elucidating the principles we stand for and thinking inspirationally about the image we wish to publicly project. Dieter Rams ‘manifesto’ is a great reminder of some of the goals we tend towards for our architectural projects. But one could argue, contrary to his statement that designers are not artists, that there is actually an art to the decisions which are made and lead to what appears to be as little design as possible. Simply put – this is hard to do simply.
We were immediately drawn to the logo you see now on our website, but we were even more fascinated as Angel described where she had chosen to tip the edges of the letters and why certain sketches were not eliminated. She led us through her sketchbook of cast-aways and final cuts. In the end, we feel we have an amazing fit to our firm’s work with a simple elegance that does not appear fussy or labored over, but expresses lots of ideas and complexity with minimal moves. - Hannah
Colorful New Flatware from Sabre
Discovered this past weekend, an amazingly, colorful flatware from Sabre available at Maison d'Etre in Berkeley, California. Using an "Old Fashioned" silverware profile from which the line draws its name, Sabre has reinvented the traditional in plastics that are fun, dishwasher safe and available in 20+ colors. The "Old Fashioned" theme is also taken to the extreme, offering sugar cube tongs and a tart slicer. - Hannah