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Conversation

Wordsmithing – Edition 2

I like to define words and terms – as if by naming something I can wholly understand its purpose and value.  I have been attempting to define the label “home” for a couple years now.  Just months ago, I started to wonder, “How do other people define home?”  After a few quick clicks and a couple minutes of perusal on AirBNB, I decided to make a retired and bohemian-remodeled school bus my home for an entire weekend.  But really.

Over the coming months, I would fully utilize the power of Google search and crowd-sourced review sites – always seeking out zany accommodations.  I would ultimately camp on the concrete slab of a tipi, get snowed-in at an A-frame (with only a couple kerosene lamps and a small stove for warmth), watch a beam of sunlight mark the hours as it swung through the oculus of a yurt, jam out in a land yacht, climb 40+ nearly vertical stairs up and down from a fire lookout tower to resupply, and contemplate sleeping inside the tent-like fire scar of a sequoia tree should the trail continue to elude me.

The myriad places challenged me physically, but mostly they challenged my idea of “home.”  Listening to the proud owners/stewards beam about these curious abodes, I realized that home is nearly impossible to define; it’s more than bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, electricity, plumbing, etc.  Home is not a place.  Home is a feeling.  So now I keep an eye out for idiosyncratic homes, and I have a strict “stay yes” policy.  Because I have found that living someone else’s version of home only seems to solidify my own.

In true wordsmithing style, I present some loose definitions I’ve worked out over the years:

home |hōm|
noun
1 the place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household:

but more closely, psychologically:

  1. A space of one’s own.
  2. A familiar and friendly place to lie one’s head.
  3. A place one dreams about every other night one is gone.
  4. A place that resonates within even if one does not dream about it every other night,
    1. But that which no longer holds the mystical staying power for him anymore.
  5.  A mental state of content.

What is home to you?

For me, home has always been where I luxuriate in bed with a book until the sun has resolutely come and gone, where I spy brightly colored birds with my grandfather, and where I gather around the fire with friends and family.  Home lately is the water I boil for tea, the ragtag collection of pine needles I sleep upon after a ten mile hike, the grainy Polaroids hoarded in my wallet, the second helping of gumbo that no one demanded I eat, and the creative solution to the design problem that just came to me lickety-split.  I hope home will continue to be meeting new people that define home in a totally new way, because I can’t wait to see how and where I call home in ten years.

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Yoga on the Roof

We recently started doing yoga as an office on our roof. Yes, the roof.

I have been doing yoga for years. But as I was lying there in child’s pose with the warmth of the sun on the bottoms of my feet, I suddenly realized I had never done yoga outside before. It is a whole new experience. Mountain Pose has a much more fitting name with your arms outstretched to the sky, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the clouds inching past overhead. The city around us is of course full of distractions: car horns, the cookie smell wafting from the bakery downstairs, and wondering do little windows equal little eyeballs? But these interruptions are nothing compared to the connection we are feeling, we are here present and in the world in a new way. I am reminded that I am a human being first, and a hard worker second – I am more loose, more sound, more calm, more energized, and more connected than on any other slow-moving Friday afternoon.

I’m sure we seem like hippie Californians or like tech perk copycats, (admittedly, our instructor was a referral from one of our office clients), but I don’t care. And sure, we had to peel our co-workers and ourselves up from our desks, but the brain and body reset makes the work we come back to even better.

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The ‘Mo’!

Back in undergrad, my best friend tried to convince me to be his assistant coach for a local high school girls’ tennis team. I hesitated for a couple of reasons: first, he was a very talented tennis player while I was… not. Second, it felt too soon to trudge back to a high school campus. It took a lot more persuasion, but somehow, I relented. And it turned out to be one of the most surprisingly rewarding experiences I’d have throughout my years in college.

My favorite relic is a team shirt that I still wear from time to time while lounging around the house. It’s one of those delightfully corny puffy paint numbers – handwritten neon block lettering on a bright yellow Hanes t-shirt. The girls ambushed me with it one day and it read: “LHS Ladies’ Tennis / Coach Becky” on the back and “You’ve Got the Mo!” proudly lettered on the front. That last bit was a shout of encouragement that the quirky team captain used to holler at her teammates during tennis matches. It had evolved from, “You’ve got the momentum!” to “you’ve got the mo!” and it soon caught on as our unofficial team cheer. The shirt was perfect.

Now, how does this relate to design? I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of momentum. It’s a basic concept, but one that complicates the design process. So far, 2015 has been packed with new endeavors, ongoing jobs, and a handful of start-and-stop projects. And as usual, the latter seems to dominate my roster. While there are many reasons why projects fall into on-again/off-again tendencies, the struggle they all face is the loss of momentum.

A lack of momentum is troublesome for obvious reasons – starting and stopping has a big impact on cost and schedule – but the less apparent impact is how it muddles the design process. Creative thinking relies on momentum because once it comes to a halt; it takes a considerable amount of energy to get moving again. And after a few start-and-stop cycles, the entire process feels disarrayed, inefficient, and mentally draining.

It would be ideal if all of our projects ran smoothly and at a consistent speed, but that simply never happens. Ever. So how do we manage? What I’ve recently noticed is that creative momentum might not be singular. In an office where every designer works on multiple projects in tandem, we can spread our creative energy throughout several outlets rather than obsessing over one, which has its advantages. For instance, when I lose steam on one project, I might kick over some creative momentum to a different project by reintroducing a relevant design exploration that fell off the wagon in another project, or by picking up on a similar design problem that was left unresolved in a previous iteration. This type of piggybacking off the creative momentum of other projects happens quite frequently, presenting alternative paths to continue design thinking. It’s the unpredictability of each project that keeps me on my toes to seek out unexpected opportunities, and I find myself keenly aware of “the Mo” with bizarre ideas of incorporating puffy paint into the next project.

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Conversation

SF Chronicle

Paige Porter Fischer, “Boor Bridges Architecture influencing Bay Area design
Interview with Seth Boor and Bonnie Bridges.

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Conversation

Relay Race

Seth and I just wrapped up a wildly fast café for the co-working space Galvanize. Instead of a traditional lobby/waiting room setup, Galvanize brought us in to design a full-service public coffee shop. And we only had a few months to pull it off.

I really liked the idea, but knew that the schedule would be our biggest challenge. The café is designed to be super-efficient while providing a little something special to the well-kept industrial building. When you look around, you’ll see a lot of existing exposed metal hardware, some dating back to when it was a bustling grocery warehouse, some that was recently added by the architecture firm that used to be there, but all pretty cool-looking. That combination of hardware provided an aesthetic point we happily chose to follow. So we decided to make a big deal out of the metal hardware we were adding to the space, and got the chance to work closely with the local fabricator, Sol Design Lab.

I took part in a similar exercise during the build-out for Sightglass on 20th. In a way, we created a product line of metal hardware – each piece subtly refers to the others, but has its own function and can totally hold its own. The dramatic pendant light fixtures talk to the quieter sconce fixtures, which relate to (and can be incorporated into) the shelf brackets, and that motif can even be traced down to the hooks that display the sleeve of the record on deck. It was an inspiring process, and when it came time to design the focus for the Galvanize Café, Seth and I took our eyes off of the finish line and put our eyes behind some welding masks in our shop.

I wanted to start imagining the smallest component, and let it grow and adapt to accommodate other applications. I started sketching the bracket that holds the wood bar over the stone counter, and Seth and I both liked one that sort of resembled the letter “Y”. And then we just ran with it. Our schedule made constructability critical. We knew that if it was too hard for us to put it together in a day, it would take too much time for the fabricators to put 40 of these together in a few weeks. Admittedly Seth did most of the dirty work, but I drilled some artfully off-center holes through steel, and stood by to strategize as issues came up. We built one bracket, and I have to say it felt pretty awesome. We brought that to our next site meeting, handed it off to the fabricator, and they took it from there. Recalling the experience of putting one together, I came up with details for similar metal pieces for the rest of the space – table legs, wall shelf brackets and the like. It was exciting to see what the fabricators changed – they bent some angles instead of cutting and welding them, they chose to plug weld to save time, and they were able to turn around an INCREDIBLE amount of work in a very short period. It was a bit of a relay race, and that heavy metal bracket was our baton.

Putting that mock up together allowed me to be on the same level as our fabricator. Their decision-making processes were much clearer; I was working with experts, but I was also collaborating with teammates. Those little brackets hold a story. They’re unique, efficient and special. They talk to the older hardware in the space, but don’t imitate any of them. And, for me, they represent the effectiveness of our teamwork. Which is totally sappy, but also pretty great.

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Conversation

Recognizing Craft

Change requires a perceptive account of the existing. My recent explorations have narrowed with an emphasis on craft and where we find it. In the effort of maintaining an identity forged by the small and intimate, how can we mediate between the old and new? For me, it began with recognizing the timeless processes found in the everyday. Here are a few shots of an Inner Sunset favorite.

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Conversation

Now, Next, Future

A little over a week ago, Becky, Jason, Stephanie and I took a trip down to sunny Southern California to attend AIACC’s Now Next Future conference in Santa Monica. When anyone asked me what the conference was going to be about, I jokingly replied, “The Future,” waving my hands mystically. All joking aside, this was actually pretty close to the truth. More specifically, the conference focused on current and emergent technology and the ways in which it will affect how designers think, work and practice in the future.

The conference was held in a Pecha Kucha presentation style, so a lot of ground was covered in the two days we were there. The schedule was jam-packed with speakers, including  Ann Hand of Project Frog, Iwamoto Scott, Dr. Tom Albright of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, the head of model production at Morphosis, and a slew of other bright, progressively-minded movers and shakers. The keynote speaker, Skylar Tibbits of MIT, spoke about his research in self-assembling and programmable materials. His TED talk on the subject is fascinating, and definitely worth watching. It was especially inspiring to see the prototypes these designers are making to develop and communicate ideas that fall outside of typical construction methods. Jeff Day of Min|Day gave a rousing talk about craft and process that made me want to head into the BBA workshop and figure out new ways to make things.

The speakers came from a variety of backgrounds: architects, hackers, self-professed geeks, social media experts, BIM technologists, neuroscientists, academics and practitioners. The common thread, however, was the fact that all of these individuals are asking the right questions. The exciting part about all of these new technologies is their potential, and this sort of speculation is necessary to drive the conversation. As Moore’s Law describes, technological advancement is accelerating at an exponential rate. As we hurtle toward harder, better, faster, stronger, designers need to sharpen their psychic skills and take a stab at prognostication to remain relevant. The right questions are critical to way-finding these new territories.

The future is now.

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Conversation

Make Time

Inspired by Anand’s recent blog about despotically scheduling time to feed your passion (even when free time seems like myth), I decided to try my [touch screen] at calendars.  I quickly found that scheduling events for my nights and weekends was incredibly easy.  My soul felt at peace knowing that my obsessive lists were organized into clean blocks of time.  And if I felt like revising my list, well, then any invitees were instantly updated. “How fun these calendars are,” said the #millenial.

I loved scheduling so much that I started making blocks of time for every mundane (and unnecessary) task I could imagine.  I loved scheduling so much that I couldn’t tell you what I was doing tomorrow without looking at my calendar… And in a moment, I realized that I had become that person – fanatically wrangling 30 minute appointments for the sake of ownership alone, even though my hoarded minutes were completely and utterly empty.  No meat.  I had missed the point entirely. In my delirious attempts to organize my many projects and my personal life, I had expended my energies making time that lacked any substance.  I needed instead to “Make Time That Does Matter.”

Recalling how Stephen Mather (the first director of the National Park Service) had frequently overcome depression by escaping into the wilderness of America’s early parks — and knowing my own deep love of adventure — I resolved that the best way I could make time would be to leave it behind in civilization.

So in early August, I put my new calendar skills to work scheduling a multitude of getaways.  My plan, which only looked slightly maniacal from the outset, would be to escape to a different wilderness every weekend for the next 10 weekends.  My journeys were plotted at random; i.e. any National Park Service managed land within 300 miles (and then some). In the end I would find myself navigating slimy tufa at Mono Lake, wiping waterfall mist from my face in Yosemite National Park, surveying miles of fog in the peaks of Pinnacles National Park, gasping for breath at 12,183 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park, marveling at some of the tallest trees in the world  in Muir Woods National Monument, staring at purple anemone colonies along the California Coastal National Monument, horseback riding with my coworkers in the Emigrant Wilderness, and choking on sulfuric steam at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Just three weeks into my grand scheme I felt worn out, exhausted… and panicked (how many more campsites do I have reserved?), but I noticed that I was generally less edgy.  After five weeks, I was dragging myself out of bed because I was so immensely tired, but I started to realize that creative ideas were coming easier and more efficiently at work.  Seven weeks in I had to go to the doctor for a host of maladies, and yet I found myself singing to myself out loud on my walks home, dreaming up new dreams and goals.  And today, fresh off a 20 mile round-trip hike to a volcano and back, I have never been so exhausted in my entire life.  And I have never felt so completely and utterly satisfied.

I learned a lesson, and I can’t even explain it to you.  I’m better with visuals, so I’ll just let John Muir do the talking:

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir. 1938.

 

Special thanks to Bobby for going along with “the plan,” to my friend Sara for dealing with my altitude sickness, to BBA for being incredibly supportive, to Anand for the motivation, and to Ken Burns for the PBS documentary The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea.  Watch it… if you can make the time…

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Conversation

Sleep Away Camp

Sleep away camp, for me, conjures thoughts of forced physical activity, serial killers lurking in the woods, and writing letters to your parents begging them to send you better snacks. So I was excited but a little apprehensive when Anand told us our summer retreat was going to verge on the summer camp experience at Pinecrest Lake, a peaceful spot in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the new kid at BBA, was I going to be the killer-in-the-shadows bait?

Our first night at Pinecrest kicked off the weekend with cocktails and a playlist of 90’s rap and R&B; trust falls are so passé – nothing says team-building like a sing-a-long to “I Believe I Can Fly.” Saturday started with a big breakfast (sans bug juice) to fortify for the jam-packed day ahead. First up was our group horseback ride, and we hit the extremely literal dusty trail with our horses – Bullwinkle, Joyce, Bob, Cash, Mork. Our ride took us by some incredible vistas and through a ski area. I was nervous about the ambitions of our trail guides when glimpsing a double black diamond sign as we began our descent back to camp.

Next up was our pleasure cruise. Two party boats, dubbed “Booze Cruise” and “Snooze Cruise” (take your pick) set out on the gorgeous lake, where we suntanned, grilled, jumped off the boat, jumped off rocks, jumped into floaties… basically jumped off anything that was sturdy enough to launch from.

Saturday evening was capped with a dinner at the Steam Donkey Restaurant. We chatted away about upcoming projects, the balance of creativity and critique, our favorite wines… and presented Seth and Bonnie with a surprise, funny books full of silly candid shots that we had been hoarding for an appropriately embarrassing occasion. We continued the party late into the night, playing boisterous rounds of Heads Up and Salad Bowl.

Sunday came all too soon, and after a huge stack of pancakes, we made one last nature stop in the Stanislaus National Forest, for a great view of the Echo Lake Reservoir. I sat on the edge of the cliff, watching the shadows of drifting clouds move across the surface, thinking about how much fun I had with my colleagues, getting to know everyone better and blowing off steam… only to be interrupted with a jolt by the painful sting of a wasp. Time to get back to reality!