From The Ashes Comes Innovation

2003 brought terrible fires once again to Southern California. One such fire wiped out a large area in Valley Center, CA. This is where I met my clients, standing on what was left of their burned to the ground home among blackened trees and everything else on a large parcel overlooking the valley.

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After I expressed sincere condolences, they informed me that they were having a very hard time finding an architect that was interested or willing to help them rebuild. I was shocked. Standing there with them, I wanted nothing more than to help them rebuild their lives. Our journey together began at that moment.

The owners had done some research about a new building material called Tridipanel. They asked me to check it out, and see if it’s something I thought was a good idea, and if could I figure out how to design a house with this new innovative material.

One of the few global manufacturing locations for this product was in Mexico. Being in San Diego, it was an easy decision to visit the factory and learn as much as possible about the product – it’s capabilities and design opportunities, etc. Of course, being Mexico, I had to turn it into a little fun vacation. My wife came with, and we had a great time visiting the factory, visiting several homes built with this material, and seeing a Baja drag race in the dark.

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Once I’d figured out how to to use the material, and learned it’s terrific structural and insulation capabilities, I was hooked. Designing to these impressive capabilities was both fun and rewarding, creating a wonderful design that takes advantage of the 300° views and provides a very large protected courtyard that has the best view framed through giant sliding glass doors on both sides of the high bay Great Room. This large courtyard is actually more like a central plaza like you’d find in the small towns in Mexico.

The cantilever ability with this material was fun, and was used extensively to provide lots of protection from the hot Valley Center sun.

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The husband, being in the construction industry, did a fantastic job of running the construction himself, with plenty of support and encouragement from his wife.

Site visits were fun, informative and helpful to the ultimate outcome of the project.

These fire victims now live in an innovative non-combustible concrete building that will never burn, allowing their growing family to build a new life in a beautiful area over looking the valley, which is their community.

Happiness all around…

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All and Nothing

My first client from the internet was back in 1999. After agreeing to work together, at our next meeting he informs me that he wants to take a year to design his new home.  A wet dream to an architect.

Having purchased an ocean view ranch home in Bay Park San Diego, with a failing foundation, we decided to scrape the old house and build new. Improperly filled soil in the 60s led to the failure, and was so deep it was not practical to remove and re-compact. The new house would need a caisson and grade beam foundation – like long vertical fingers reaching down through the bad soil, into the good.

As a single man in the tech industry, he wanted a modern home taking advantage of the small lot’s ocean, bay and city lights view. Another aspect of the owner’s program – to create a 21st century living space, incorporating technology of course, but more importantly creating an open living space breaking down the “room” concept into a single “21st century living room” space. This included a “food prep area, and an alcohol bar.

During this lengthy design process we became the best of friends, almost like brothers, having many common interests – and, he’s excellent at mixing exquisite cocktails. We went to several concerts together and during construction, he rented a house near mine, and to be totally honest, there were late night walks between…

This close relationship continued thru construction and way beyond, until his ex girlfriend commissioned me to remodel her house. Then it became awkward for me. Really awkward. The ex is an awesome person also, but they’d had a less than amicable breakup apparently – I felt extremely caught in between. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle it well, and caused my relationship with this great friend to sour.

Back to architecture and the title of this post;

“I don’t want a front door” my client tells me. Assuming that it was so 20th century to have a front door, I spoke about practicality and resale etc. which he totally got, then said; ” ok, then it has to be all or nothing”. His meaning was it had to be an extravagant huge (all) front door, or none. I believe we achieved both. The solution we called “all and nothing”. Viewing the image below, you’ll be the judge.

The ocean view being to the west, afternoon sun exposure was a major consideration for all the glass necessary. A large circular deck creates massive sun protection and a large exterior living area, where most meals are enjoyed. Pass-thru windows in the food prep area and the bar, add to the indoor/outdoor lifestyle and have worked out perfectly for entertaining.

As the years have passed, we are still friends, albeit not as close as before, unfortunately. He’s since gotten married to an amazing woman, built another house in Hawaii – which he kept me in the loop for… which I enjoyed very much, and am grateful for. Of course I think we could have killed that Hawaii design together.

Our San Diego house was featured on What You Get For The Money. My only national television exposure, so far.

Ultimately an amazing experience, with an amazing client, and friend. Every project is so different, and so personal.

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Not That Big House on the Hill?

Our family had a vacation home in the San Jacinto mountains of California for years.

My wife and I, our daughter, and our two pups packed up and headed up for a planned weekend of mountain fun.  Before the age of The-Weather-Channel-in-your-pocket, we got caught by a change in the weather when we were about 75% of the way.  Snow chains for the last hour of the three hour drive from San Diego (normally two).

Our vacation home was on a gravel road off the main road.  We could see the snow plows were out (unsung heroes), and I knew our gravel road was not on their agenda.  The plow people had left a pretty hefty snow berm in the way of accessing our gravel road that was covered with a couple feet of snow.

Driving my wife’s big V8 Thunderbird, I decided to go for it and gunned it, broke through/over the berm and made it about halfway to our vacation home, stuck.  “We’re here!”  Unpacked and trudged up the rest of the way with our stuff, while the pups were having a hay-day jumping around in the white stuff.

The following morning, the storm gone, we hike down to start digging.  While digging, a young couple with two small children come bounding up the snow-covered road with the greatest of ease in their big 4×4 SUV.  Turns out we’d gotten stuck right in front of their family cabin.  Nice people, offered to help, and we continued to talk while digging.  Conversation turned to “what do you do for a living” – when I said I was an architect, the wife instantly turned to her husband with eyebrows raised, then said; “we just happen to be interviewing architects now for a new home we want to build, would you like to throw your hat in the ring?”.

After proposal etc. I was commissioned to design their new home.  During the usual programmatic interviews, the husband informed me that he doesn’t want to be that guy that lives in that big house on the hill.  Their site was on the top of a hill.

A design was presented.  Met them at their current home, the husband arrived a little late.  I was just finishing taping up the drawing and rendering sketches when he walked in.  Went thru my dog n pony, all seemed to go well.  They walked me to my car, and while leaving, in my rear view mirror I saw her jump onto his back piggy-back style with glee.  Figured that was a good sign.  (He later informed me that when he walked in and saw my sketches taped up, he thought to himself; “Oh no, it’s round.  We’ll have to re-design).

While finalizing the construction drawings, just about ready to submit for a building permit, I find out she’s pregnant.  After a sleepless night, without them knowing, I figure out a way to squeeze in another kid’s bedroom without changing the footprint or architectural design of the structure.  Very happy people.

Construction drawings, engineering, processing etc. – fast forward… They decide not to hire a general contractor, she was going to build this house herself, with my help.  She had no experience at this.  Turned out she was very good at it, and we had a blast building this house together.

Design-wise:  The husband was the owner of a concrete block manufacturing company, so naturally concrete block was the preferred main construction material to be used.  But I wanted to do more, made every effort to make the home a celebration of concrete block.  Example – used raw concrete blocks on edge to form the fireplace mantle.  Apparently the kids love the holes, and use them at Christmas for hiding gifts.

Big house on the hill – given my design is non-traditional, maybe even unorthodox – feeling like I achieved the stated goal – even though the house is over 5,000 sq. ft. and on a hill.

The house won a design award, but more importantly I made lifelong friends with every family member.  Over the years, we’ve kept an eye on each other’s mountain cabins, and stayed in touch.  Wine with friends among the pines is a wonderful thing.

You never know what chance encounters can turn into.

Life truly is what happens to you, while you’re busy making plans.

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Didn’t See That Coming

Custom home design.  Every project is extremely different, not only because the site is different and the client is different, but also; different economies, building codes, a myriad of different circumstances.  I relish these differences.  It makes what I do for a living very interesting, and never boring.  I’ve been designing custom homes and remodels since ’86 and have seen my fair share of these differences.

However, I was not prepared for what happened on this project.

Absolutely wonderful couple, late mid-life, had been holding onto this 8 acres of gorgeous southern California back country since purchasing it in the 70s.  There was a little house on the property that they’d been renting out, all this time.  Now it was time to build their dream house.  Obviously lots of thought had been put into this idea for many years, and I was extremely honored to be selected as their architect.

The planning process was delightfully fun, and went on for awhile.  We would meet late in the afternoon in their current home, go over the sketches and plans, have some wine, and discuss the matters of the day.  A really wonderful relationship was developed between the three of us.  The house plan seemed continually to grow in size despite my constant efforts to tame it.  Finally we had a design – 7,000 sf. of modern design using as many sustainable products and systems as possible at the time;  Entire house framed with recyclable steel, 100% solar electricity, solar water heating, 100% rain water collection and storage, gray water collection and storage, building insulation made from recycled blue jeans, cabinets made from sustainably grown woods…. you name it.

Jurisdictional processing of construction drawings and engineering, and now we start the minimal grading,  and oh yeah, the building of the street and city fire hydrant system extension required by the jurisdiction for approval of the project ($100k extra for the budget – don’t get me started).  Now we start the foundation, fly ash in the concrete, we’re in business.  Steel framing starts, moves along well.  Selections are made, decisions made – it’s all coming together.  By the time the drywall is up and cabinets are being made in the carpenter’s shop, we’re about 80-85% of the way through construction of this new dream home for this great couple.

The husband catches a cold, shakes it but is left with this cough he can’t get rid of.  In a matter of weeks he dies from some fast moving cancer.

The dream home dream, and everything else has just come crashing down around this most wonderful woman.  The whole team is devastated.  Several strange weeks on the job site later, I still can’t get my head around this, but the work has to continue, the project needs to be finished, if only for resale value so she has some level of security.  As….  the dream is gone now.

Courageously, she picks up the control again, and through her grief successfully completes the project as designed.  I will forever be in awe of her ability to be steadfast in clearly a very bad situation.  A strong person for sure, one of the strongest I’ve met.    L – we miss you.

We remain good friends, I don’t call or visit as much as I probably should – and now, after writing this, I think I’d like to come by for another late afternoon wine visit…

This photo is of her favorite spot in the house, it was my favorite spot on the site.  After learning about them and their habits and lifestyle, I knew that this spot had to be their kitchen table.

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what’s that you say?

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Welcome to my first blog, and my first blog post.  I’m an architect in private practice, and have been doing it for a very long time.  As such, I have a lot to tell.

I have stories…   many stories to tell – and it’s time I told them.

Bear with me while I figure out WordPress (particularly the fonts – this one is killing me).

Yeah that’s me, at a current project site.  A project that took about 2 years to process thru the City of San Diego….       yeah, 2 years.

Stay tuned, it could get interesting…
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