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A Walk in the Park: Five Critical Concepts for Design of Urban Spaces to Maximize Social and Ecological Benefits

Thursday, October 4, 2018
Free AIA Members / $3 Guests
Location: Bishop Floyd L. Begin Plaza, 2251 San Pablo Ave, Oakland

The renovation of Bishop Floyd L. Begin Plaza is one of the newest open-space contributions to Uptown Oakland. The plaza neighborhood has long served as a center of immigration into Oakland. Surrounded by the historic Greyhound bus station, social service support agencies, affordable family and senior housing, veteran’s services, offices, old and new residents, and within walking distance of downtown, the new plaza serves a truly diverse community. The site, originally designed as a forecourt to Oakland’s first Cathedral, became underutilized and abused for years after the Cathedral was declared un-salvageable due to structural damage from the 1989 earthquake.

Join principal designer and Allied Member, Peter Wolfe, landscape architect, on a tour and discussion of the newly renovated plaza.

About the Speaker:

Peter Wolfe, landscape architect and Allied Member, began his career over 30 years ago, after travels throughout North America and the world visiting great places. He received his MLA from Harvard Graduate School of Design. His current practice focuses on placemaking and sustainable environments for private, public, and institutional clients throughout the Bay Area.

Learning Objectives:

After completing this program participants will…

  1. Be able to identify at least three crime prevention techniques through environmental design.
  2. List at least three effective public outreach methodologies.
  3. Learn features, materials and finish selections for difficult sites.
  4. Be able to identify landscapes for pollinators and learn about beneficial insects.

Toeing the Line: Codes

Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

It happened again. I recently got an email in which the sender wrote “tow the line.” Then, minutes later, someone asked me why the code has maximum toe clearance dimensions. Let’s clear up both toe problems once and for all.

First and more importantly (bad grammar is so irksome), it’s “toe the line.” Don’t confuse it with nautical tow lines…it’s about feet. The phrase originated with soldiers lining up in the military or runners in track and field events, where officials would call out “toe the line!” to get the runners ready. Either way, it’s the digits of the feet lined up in a row like this:

Although I’m glad to talk about this little phraseological pet peeve of mine, not many people ask me about it, but many DO ask me about the other toe line: the area under a sink or other element that provides space for a wheelchair rider’s toes and foot rests. Here’s the diagram from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California Building Code (CBC):

And what confuses many people is that the toe clearance is 6” max. People ask, “why not give more space for people’s toes?” That’s fine, I say. Toes deserve all the space we can give them. But despite Figure 11B-306.2 (above) looking like a counter or implying a lavatory, the code is referring here to maneuvering space. It’s telling you the depth of toe-level space you can include in the 60-inch “circular space” as defined in 11B-304.3.1. (By the way, this is what most people just call turning space…or very inaccurately call “the 60 inch turning radius.” Another pet peeve of mine…that would be a 120 inch diameter!)

Here’s a diagram that’s more helpful for thinking about the turning space. Imagine this pile of forms sliding in and out of a restroom, kitchen, work areas, etc. That’s where the 9 inch maximum toe space depth (and the corresponding 27” maximum knee space depth) should be applied.

This is how the code describes this in 11B-306.2.4 (but since there are no accompanying figures, it’s usually overlooked): “Space extending greater than 6 inches (152 mm) beyond the available knee clearance at 9 inches (229 mm) above the finish floor or ground shall not be considered toe clearance.”

Bonus Tip: A lavatory is not a sink.

A related confusion is that the CBC differs from the ADA in sinks. We have these two definitions (Chapter 2) in California:

LAVATORY. A fixed bowl or basin with running water and drainpipe, as in a toilet or bathing facility, for washing or bathing purposes. (As differentiated from the definition of “Sink”.)

SINK. A fixed bowl or basin with running water and drainpipe, as in a kitchen or laundry, for washing dishes, clothing, etc. (As differentiated from the definition of “Lavatory”.)

So whereas kitchen sinks and work counters need to have the clearances shown above, a bathroom lavatory in California needs a thinner front edge, to allow for more ability to get in nice and close. To remember this, picture someone in a wheelchair washing their face in the bathroom – they need to get in closer than when they’re reaching out and washing dishes in a kitchen sink.

Here’s the figure showing the lavatory requirement in 11B-306.3:The requirement is for 29 inches clear at the front of the lavatory. Since the maximum top-of-lavatory dimension is 34 inches, this results in a sink that’s at most five inches high at the front. This is a very difficult requirement to meet with a wall-hung sink; probably 95% of the ones on the market that say they are “ADA Compliant” have a front edge that’s over five inches tall. So beware those little wheelchair symbols on cut sheets! They often don’t work in the Golden State!

Duravit, Wet Style, and Barclay have California-complying sinks, and with great contemporary designs to boot (including some by Philippe Starck), and many have drains in the very rear, which is a plus for added knee space:

It’s tempting to just do a countertop with a shallow bowl in it to meet the depth requirement. Resist this, because the countertop inevitably winds up splashed and perennially wet. Not only does this look messy, but it’s a nightmare for the sleeves of people using wheelchairs, shorter people and kids. But if you must, set your countertop below 34 inches so that if the undermount sinks you specified winds up being value engineered out during construction and replaced with self-rimming ones, you don’t wind up out of compliance…the required 34” maximum measurement is to the sink rim, not the countertop.

As I always say, we should take any opportunity to provide MORE space than the code minimums require. If you can provide more knee space, then someone in an electric wheelchair with a joystick out front, or someone in a high-seated scooter who pulls up sideways and needs more knee space when they turn their seat 90 degrees is going to thank you. Who knows – that might just be you or a family member one day. So let’s make better, more flexible architecture…and not just toe the line.

Randy Agno: Allied Member Profile

Randy Agno, Allied Member

If you are an architect, designer, engineer, specification writer, general contractor, or window and door installer, I speak your language.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Architectural Engineering and a MBA.

As a long-time architectural consultant in the building industry, I have worked for many strong companies: Andersen Windows, Kelly-Moore Paint Company, Masco Corp (Behr Paint). I have also worked for DuPont as a building science specialist.

I am a published author and have written many industry white papers, articles, as well as two books.

Additionally, I am a licensed contractor in California and have been established since 2003. I was even fortunate enough to work as a contractor for ABC Network’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” on the Cadigan-Scott Family Residence in Livermore.

I can’t wait to get to know you and your business and I am excited to find out how I, and All Weather, can help contribute to your ongoing success!

About All Weather:

For almost 50 years All Weather has hand-crafted exceptional custom aluminum windows and doors. Utilizing the highest quality materials and applying the superior workmanship of true artisans, we have breathed life into thousands of building projects all along the west coast and beyond.

Over the decades, All Weather’s ability to provide creative solutions to challenging projects has been the company’s cornerstone and is what continues to set All Weather apart from our competitors. In fact, that is our primary purpose: to offer custom products for our clientele, not to compete with mass quantity producers.

We believe in service beyond expectation and achieve this by listening to you. We want you to understand that whether this is your first project with us, or your hundredth, our pledge remains the same: we are here to support you by providing expert product knowledge, a world-class customer service experience and on-time delivery of the best aluminum windows and doors on the planet.

Now under third generation family ownership, our desire to foster deep and meaningful relationships in order to drive All Weather’s growth and prosperity remains unwavering. We value you, your business and the opportunity to make each of your projects more amazing with our stunning windows and doors.


Welcome to All Weather.

Build Positive: Carbon Positive Buildings and the Global Impact Initiative

A Committee on the Environment Presentation

Thursday, September 20, 2018
Free and open to all.

Build Positive: Carbon Positive Buildings and the Global Impact Initiative sponsored by Carbon Leadership Forum. Larry Strain, FAIA will give a brief presentation and lead discussion on decarbonizing the built environment, mostly focusing on building reuse and upgrading existing buildings – the big picture on why this is what we need to be focusing on. Also, he will report on the Global Climate Action Summit – week of September 10.

Larry is a founding Principal at Siegel & Strain Architects and co-author of the Total Carbon Study in 2016. He is on the research team for the Embodied Carbon Benchmarking project.

Member News – September 2018

Member Firms Featured

ODS Architecture was featured on the cover of RD – Residential Design magazine.  Click here to read the issue:

Member Promotions

Robert Williamson, AIA has accepted a new role at HOK as Principal, Western Regional Leader of Science and Tech.

New Member Firm Location

Design Draw Build has moved into a new office at 2866 Webster Street, Oakland. You’re invited to celebrate the office opening with live music and food/drinks with friends, clients and co-workers on Friday, October 5 at 5:30pm. RSVP to

Mariani Lodge, Rebuilding in Yolo County: Project Profile

The Mariani’s Napa County home was one of thousands destroyed in the early morning hours of Oct 9, 2017, as the Atlas Fire consumed +50,000 acres. Once the fires were contained, they looked at the charred remains of their family home and decided to rebuild on a farm they owned in Yolo County in order to be closer to family.

They worked with Brendan Kelly, Amie MacPhee, and Kerry Morgan of Cultivate Studio, an Architecture and Landscape practice with offices in San Francisco and Green Valley, to come up with a site plan and the first structures. Together, they transformed this site bordering Putah Creek into a welcoming and functional place for multiple generations. The Lodge structure is meant to recall the simple agricultural form of a barn that allows for large scale entertainment while providing a lot of shade and cross ventilation during hot summer days. The roof is standing seam metal, the siding is board and batten, and the floors are bluestone.

In rethinking their lives after such a devastating loss, the Mariani’s went back to “first principles” instead of just trying to rebuild a home that was meant for an earlier time in their lives. Since they now are able to spend more time traveling the most important part of rebuilding was to provide a place in which to to return that could fit their large family and recall their long tradition of living in and around working agricultural landscapes. With bedrooms and other private spaces being handled elsewhere on the property, this building is already hosting bbqs and relaxing pool parties. Scheduled to be complete in late September, it’s already starting to feel like home.

Construction started in February with Tim Senior General Contractors and Mozzafari Engineering handling the Structural design. Cultivate LLC performed all the site planning, architecture, and landscape duties.

Mariani Lodge – South Elevation (Brendan Kelly, AIA)

Swatt|Miers Architects: Firm Profile

Swatt|Miers Architects was formed as a merger of two long-established San Francisco Bay Area firms, Swatt Architects and George Miers and Associates, with the goal of creating a practice that consistently creates beautiful, sustainable and user-responsive buildings. We offer our clients the highest level of design, management and principle-oriented services.

The firm is directed by Robert Swatt, FAIA and George Miers, AIA and led by six principals.  Robert Swatt established Swatt Architects in 1975 after working in the offices of renowned architects Cesar Pelli and Howard A. Friedman.  George Miers founded George Miers & Associates in 1982 after serving as Studio Director at Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz and Project Designers at Skidmore Ownings and Merrill.  Our twenty-five person firm is based in Emeryville.

One of the basic goals of our firm has been to maintain a varied design practice marked by a diversity of building types and sizes for private, civic, institutional and corporate clients on commercial, residential, and educational projects throughout the world. The firm’s dedication to design excellence, combined with the highest level of service to clients, has contributed to the recognition Swatt | Miers Architects has received, with over 80 local, regional and national design awards.

We enjoy transforming older buildings and spaces and creating ‘new life.’ We have created success in this endeavor on small additions to large-scale corporate headquarters, religious buildings, institutional buildings and multi-family and single family homes.  We are recognized for our contemporary, warm and inviting modernism. We’re also know for sensitive planning in which buildings are knitted into the landscape and creating site environments which seem inevitable as solutions to their surroundings.

One of the firm’s most notable and widely published projects are the teahouses completed in 2009.  The client’s desire was to create a place where he could simply retreat into nature.  The sculptural interpretation of a simple tree house has succeeded in a magnificent tribute to the beauty of nature. Viewed from afar or viewed from within, the teahouses appear at one with their sites inextricably connected to the native California landscape.

 Tea Houses. Photograph by Tim Griffith

On a larger scale, the Black Mountain Project in the San Carlos Hills currently in the “Planning Approval” phase consists of sixty-eight modular units assembled on site constructed foundations.  While modular designs are generally limited to flat sites, an overriding design has been to carefully integrate the buildings with the site’s unique physical characteristics, including the steep topography, trees, views to the Bay and in relationship with the surrounding neighborhoods and homes.

Black Mountain Project. Rendering by Markus Lui

Recently completed, the Amara Residence is a new family home in Atherton. This home is located on a flat corner lot with beautiful mature trees along the perimeter of the property, affording privacy on all sides.  The main house plan forms an ‘L’ shape with the public spaces on the ground floor opening up to expansive landscaped areas and a swimming pool.  Deep cantilevers with trellises provide sun protection for the interiors and create beautiful dappled light patterns for the outdoor spaces.

Amara House. Photography by Russell Abraham

Now is the Time for 100% Renewable Energy: Green

Cate Leger, Principal, Leger Wanaselja Architecture

It has never been easier or more important to shift to 100% renewable electricity to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

For a limited time, cities around the bay are again offering the SunShares program, providing the best deals in solar PV installations and electric cars and free guidance on how to shift to 100% renewable electricity.  By aggregating purchases, Sunshares is able to reduce solar installation costs by as much as 15%.  The program also offers pre-vetted solar installers and discounts on select zero-emission vehicles.  There are several online and in-person events to learn about options and ask questions.

Even with the current national political climate, the economics just keep getting better for 100% renewable electricity.  Costs for solar installation, batteries and electric cars keep dropping and federal tax credits and state and federal rebates continue to be offered.   Most homeowners will find it economically advantageous to install solar.  This is especially true if coupled with shifts from gas to electric demands, for example, swapping out gas water heaters, dryers, and cars for electric ones.  Coupled with solar PV installation, financial incentives are also possible for electric panel upgrades and EV chargers.  Registration is open now through November 15.

For renters and those not able to take advantage of the solar PV program, it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well by simply opting to purchase 100% renewable electricity from local energy providers. SunShares also offers guidance on 100% renewable electricity purchase options.

To sign up or for more information visit

YAF Firm Tour: Gyroscope Inc.

Thursday, September 13, 2018
Free and open to all Young Architects
Location: 283 Fourth Street #201, Oakland

Join the Young Architects Forum for a firm tour, drinks and light food and a round-table discussion at Gyroscope Inc. in downtown Oakland.

Gyroscope is an award-winning studio of creative designers who work closely with their clients to create innovative learning environments. They offer strategic planning, exhibit and graphic design, public art, and architectural services for museums, libraries, visitor centers and other cultural institutions.

Building an Exterior Wall (With Wood): SFF

SFF Round Table Discussion (Highly Interactive)

Thursday, September 6, 2018
Free AIA Members / $3 Guests

1.5 CES LUs

SFF Host:  Gregory True, AIA

Gregory True, AIA has built and designed a lot of walls during his decades as a licensed contractor and architect.  He admires building projects that meld design ideas, structure, materials, and an efficient building process to achieve their goals.  He is curious to know what his colleagues, with an interest in this topic, have to share.

Evolving building code & energy requirements demand more from the building envelope.   Wood frame exterior walls not only provide structure, but must provide the multiple barriers that protect from water and air infiltration, provide thermal comfort and prevent the deterioration that occurs when moisture is absorbed into the wall.  Some projects require fire protection. Many experts have differing opinions on what products, strategies and details work best.   It’s likely that on any given project, the designer, code enforcement agency, the contractor and tradesmen all would have input on the best way to meet that project’s requirements.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Gain a broader perspective on trusted strategies and products for water and air barriers, including housewrap, integrated air & water barriers, rainscreens and structural sheathing with air and water barriers.
  2. Learn how your peer’s thinking about thermal barriers has evolved with respect to fiberglass batts,  continuous Insulation and closed or open cell polyurethane products.
  3. Learn about innovative wall sections that have enabled unique project solutions
  4. Learn via highly interactive conversation, the range of knowledge your peers possess and where that leaves you relative to your standard of care.