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.


Make Time That Does Matter

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…


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!


Taking Time Out to Make Things

After being in our office for over a year now, we have finally outfitted our shop.  We’ve undertaken our first building project:  a laminated wood table for our office kitchen (reclaimed wood courtesy of this office and other jobs).  All designers love to make things, of course, but are often a bit sad / jealous to let someone else have all the fun in actually building our projects; we are contractors at heart I suppose. Yes, we do fun “architect” stuff like making beautiful images and solving difficult but rewarding three-dimensional problems, but like any modern day desk person, we also do our fair share of emailing, phone calling, chart making, and calendaring, etc.  Happy clients and contractors (and dare I say building officials?) are a wonderful product of these efforts.  But sometimes you need a tangible pat-yourself-on-the-back object that you can admire and say, “We made this!  With our own two hands!  And look how awesome it is!” The sore sanding muscles, gluey fingers, blisters, and greasy pizza refuels are not just things to be worked through or dealt with, they are part of the enjoyment of making real physical things. We aren’t yet at back-pattable status, but that’s just because (we hope) we aren’t done yet.  This table is on its way.  Stay tuned.

2014_Arch and City Trou Normand

Architecture and the City Festival

Upcoming Architecture and the City Festival Behind the Scenes Tour of Trou Normand
Date:  Sept 10, 2014, 3:00pm – 5:00pm


2014_Arch and City Sightglass II

Architecture and the City Festival

Upcoming Architecture and the City Festival Behind the Scenes Tour of Sightglass on 20th
Date:  Sept 7, 2014, 2:00pm – 4:00pm



It Never Ends

My project will never be over. There will be no big single unveiling of successful completion, nor an admission of defeat. There will only be the occasional thrill of incremental progress mixed with a general lack of progress. At least that is how it seems. I have been remodeling my home for as long as I can remember so why should I be able to imagine it any other way?

This is where I live right now – in a semblance of what my home used to be, and a hint of what it promises to be.  My space is covered in cardboard and draped in plastic, but the plumbing and some fixtures work so I am able to convince myself it is livable. This is exactly what I have warned countless clients against – living in your remodel, even for a little while. But the hope of improving things and the reality of not being able to move out have proven unavoidable. And, as it turns out, there are no secret deals for Architects; we exceed budget and go over schedule just like our clients.

It’s not so bad really.  I take my victories where I can get them. I actually enjoy the process. I like making things and seeing things get made. I like learning how things are done. I am comfortable with potential. But I could get used to moving on as well.


Hitting Snooze

Sleep is the best medicine for just about everything. Not only do I love sleeping, but I also use it to help me solve design problems, from simply thinking smarter after a good night’s rest to power napping through a creative block and sometimes, literally dreaming about solutions. Sometimes, I dream in Rhino (no kidding!) and am proud to say that I have never pulled an all-nighter, even throughout college. Sleep is just too precious and a lack of it has been shown to negatively impact creative thinking.

But just like everyone else in the city, I tend to forgo sleep too often for social gatherings, events, or work. After three years of constant sleep deprivation (aka grad school), I also developed a terrible habit of hitting snooze – not once, not twice, but up to five times every morning no matter how many hours of sleep I get. It’s gotten so bad that I often set my alarm to sound half an hour before I need to get out of bed. Despite the overwhelming knowledge that this behavior is, in fact, bad for you, I still can’t kick the habit. That is, until I sleep outside.

Having grown up in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, spending time outdoors unplugged and far away from the city is a regular necessity. But I find something particularly magical about sleeping outside, whether in a tent, on a hammock, or out on the deck or roof. I tend to sleep better for a shorter duration and wake up naturally without feeling groggy. (I haven’t found research on the therapeutic wonders of outdoor sleeping just yet, but there are definitely benefits to spending time outdoors.) Whenever I have the opportunity to snooze outside, I do it.

Ever since we moved into our home on Larkin Street, I’ve been talking about getting a hammock to pitch on our roof deck. Not just for lounging outside, but also for power naps, occasional post-lunch siestas, and a comfortable place to find some quiet in our open office space. And after going on about it for over a year, I was finally tasked to buy one! Naps for everyone! (Have I mentioned the benefits of napping?)

In the spirit of “the lived experience”, I’ve opted to test two hammocks: first, a Byer of Maine Barbados Brazilian hammock for its style and material heft and second, the Kammok Roo for its durability and easy set up. Two different takes on the traditional hammock, but I’m excited to try them both out! I hope the rest of the gang here is, too. The next time I’m stuck on a design problem, instead of waiting for a creative spark or mood to hit me, I’ll curl up in the hammock for a little outdoor respite. It’ll be like hitting “refresh” instead of “snooze”.

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Make Art That Doesn’t Matter

A year ago, I was painting on an easel in a dark corner of my bedroom, in front of my dresser, with old sheets on the ground to protect my landlord’s carpet… tiptoeing between drying canvases on my way in and out. Art requires space. Our office learned that when we moved from the Mission, and I learned it when I gained some space and fitted out my art studio, filled with natural north light. I’m lucky to have this space in a city so dense, but it didn’t come without its sacrifices. In order to justify said sacrifices, I created my Art Night.

I just picked up Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work and it is reaffirming that many creative types throughout history are like me, creatures of habit. A brief glance at my iPhone calendar would unveil the plethora of mundane tasks and appointments I create in order to keep things moving smoothly. In between the important things, I schedule the little things – laundry, exercise, one-week reminders for birthdays that require gifts or cards (seriously try that, it’ll make you seem so prepared and thoughtful). They all have equal weight in there, and that is the only reason I’m wearing clean clothes to work today. And, for the past year, my calendar has included a weekly reoccurring appointment called “Art Night.”

Art Night is where I can work through some minor obsessions; results include some dreadful pieces that belong nowhere, and some better stuff that finds its place in my apartment, the apartments of my friends (I’ve resolved to make all of my gifts this year… and I’m successful about 90% of the time) and the chance, habit-supporting commissioned piece. The Night is allowing me the time to problem-solve and strategize without deadlines or consequence. It’s never been the way I work; I’m challenging myself to find opportunities within incompleteness, and striving to “finish” work that is just awful, and hopeless. It’s good for me, I guess.

Being the way I am, the calendar appointment was necessary to allot time for the self-serving and anti-social undertaking. I make up for it by occasionally inviting friends to join me, and by blasting my Instagram followers with my progress. Sharing my art virtually provides the social factor I crave after a long evening to myself. Plus, I get to connect with other artists and makers I’ve met through school or along the way, gain the instant-gratification every #millennial obviously needs (I’m not even going to fight that point), and create an accessible chronicle of my recent work.

As design professionals, we spend most of our time striving to make art that matters (thanks, CCA!). But for one night a week, I get unfocussed, and gladly make art that doesn’t matter. It’s still too early to tell if this is working to make me a better designer, thinker, person. But for now, it’s simply a ritual; a challenging escape that I’ve grown to appreciate.


Special thanks to the geniuses behind syncing calendars, my old roommate for moving out, and Flax Art Store for being on my way home and always carrying that random supply I just learned I need (I’ll miss you guys).