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Posts from the ‘ArchNews’ Category

Member News – August 2017

Exhibition: Reading Materials, Assemblages by Laura Hartman

Save the date!
Reception: September 9, 5-7pm
Exhibition Run: September 7 – November 4


Introducing Mervin & McNair Architects

As Patrick and Alissa begin their 14th year working together, they are pleased to announce that Patrick Mervin + Associates has become Mervin & McNair Architects.

Their office will have a new name and a new look, but will continue to provide the same professional, high quality architectural services that our clients and consultants have come to expect.



CoolTechStuff: Countour

Larry Mortimer, AIA

If any of you are Sci-Fi fans you may remember a movie from 2000 called Red Planet.  Not a great movie, but not a bad one either.  What I remember most about it was a cool gadget that mapped the inside of an alien structure.  Well here is a new gadget from Pittsburgh-based startup, Kaarta called Contour that will do almost the same thing.  If you’re interested in seeing the movie you can rent it on Amazon Prime or see it on Netflix (DVD only) – it’s full of other cool devices too.

What Does It Do:  Contour scans the interior or exterior of a building in real time and produces a 3D mapped model of the space/structure.

What does it cost:  Don’t know yet.

When will it be available:  Don’t know yet.

How Does it Work:  This lightweight, battery-powered, hand-held device uses a circular LIDAR (light imaging, detection, and ranging) scanner to record a space or structure as you walk through or around it. It does this quickly and in real time (a 110,000 sq ft space can be scanned in about 2.5 hours).  As you scan, a 7” touchscreen display shows you what has been scanned and what still needs to be scanned, so you don’t leave the site with incomplete information.  Contour scans distances up to 20 meters (65’), and exports the 3D model in Point Cloud Model formats (.ias and .ply) that can be imported into many CAD programs.

Conclusion:  Contour looks like an ideal device for architects to quickly scan interiors and exteriors of buildings, as well as building sites. There are several companies working on similar 3D mapping devices but where Contour stands out is its ability to do the mapping in real time, and display a visual image of the data on the touchscreen so you can instantly see if you missed anything.

More Info:

More Fire Disasters

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Oakland Construction Site Fire, Alta Waverly – The most recent fire in Oakland shows the vulnerability of buildings under construction. They are easy targets for a catastrophic fire. There have been several major fires in the Bay Area associated with buildings under construction: Santana Row, 2002, San Francisco, China Basin 2014, and Emeryville 2016. All of these were wood framed construction with just the framing up. Fortunately in all of these cases, there was no loss of life. So how does one protect a structure under construction?

Chapter 33 of the California Building Code addresses safety during construction. Also, NFPA-241, which is referenced in the code, is the Standards for Safeguarding Construction, Alterations and Demolition Operations. This would include hazard awareness, ignition prevention and fire protection during construction, mainly water supply and fire department access. The most common cause of construction site fire is associated with “hot work” like welding and grinding of metal. But when it is arson, the code is silent. This becomes a security issue.

Grenfell Tower, London – It is still too early to draw any conclusions from this fire and what went wrong, but the first thing people ask is can this happen in the USA? This should not happen if the construction follows the building codes. Our code, for about the last 20 years, does not permit, or at least limits, combustible construction on or in high-rise buildings. High-rise buildings continue to be the safest type of construction we have. There are a lot of questions about whether there was an operating fire alarm and sprinkler system in the Grenfell Tower.

One of the discussion lines has been on the egress approach and whether shelter in place is appropriate. The standard for evacuation of a high-rise building associated with a fire is to alarm the floor below and two floors above. Setting off the fire alarm system for the entire building would overwhelm the egress system (enclosed stairs). It has been calculated and tested through evacuation drills that for a large high-rise it could take hours to evacuate the entire building. If and when there are high-rise fires, they are usually contained to the floor of origin by the sprinkler system. So this methodology does work. If for any reason the fire expands, the fire department will make the call to expand the evacuation if necessary.

There are many other evacuation options now used, including the use of elevators for evacuations. When the fire department deems it necessary to use the elevators for evacuation, it should be in a logical and orderly manner. Since this approach has never been tested in a true emergency to my knowledge, how it works has a lot of unanswered questions. Who get the use of elevators first? How does one know to use the elevators and how do you know when? People are not going to just wait in the elevator lobby.

When evacuation is required, the most vulnerable people are the ones with disabilities. They really have to depend on the shelter in place concept. A visually impaired person would have a tough time finding the exits alone. There is no simple answer to all of these situations. The best is knowledge of your surroundings and having a plan for self preservation. This is most important for people with disabilities.


Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

When we’re designing complex buildings, Means of Egress should be one of the first things we start with. This doesn’t sound exciting, but understanding the basic needs of how to get your building’s occupants out of various spaces and to the Public Way will create the framework for your entire design. There’s nothing worse than getting a great schematic design together, then realizing you don’t have enough exit stairs, or that another rated corridor is needed right where you wanted something else to happen.

One of the benefits of having that framework early is that you can incorporate the ideas of an Accessible Means of Egress well, per Section 1009 of the CBC. This can be a philosophically vexing issue. On the one hand, the ability to exit the building the way you came in is ideal. This is cognitively clear, and in an emergency situation, clarity is critical. But for people with disabilities in a multistory building that often means elevators and the front door.

But what if it’s an older building and that front door is the only accessible entrance and exit? Then someone with a disability might be confronted with stairwells, rated corridors, and stairs at a side or rear exit door. That can be a pretty terrible situation in the midst of a chaotic evacuation during an earthquake or fire. So what to do?

Well, if you think about exiting early on, you’ll have a fighting chance to incorporate better accessible means of egress into your design. So maybe that second exit on the side of your building, with a couple of steps, can be designed with none. Then all people can use it’s impossible to use the accessible entrance lobby. When we are providing  Areas of Refuge in stairwells (Section 1009.3), think about larger wheelchairs and the possibility of having more people in wheelchairs than the code requires. Or someone might have an attendant with them who wants to stay in that space. So make that space larger than the minimum so that that a larger electric wheelchair, or an attendant with someone in a wheelchair, isn’t in the way of the rest of the occupants going down the stairwell.

And when you do introduce an exit component such as an Area of Refuge or Exterior Area for Assisted Rescue (Section 1009.7), take particular care to make your signage extra clear, since the layperson with a disability is generally not aware of these code devices. That will make your buildings safer, more usable, and help everyone exit them in an orderly fashion when needed.

Member Profile: Juta Cinco, Assoc. AIA

In 2006 I moved to the Northeast for the first time, to attend Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I graduated with an MArch I degree in 2010. The intense demands of school were alleviated by the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series in 2007 and the Boston Celtics the NBA championship in 2008. What luck, right?

I moved to San Francisco shortly after graduating and lived in the city from 2010-2014. Although it was the tail end of the recession, I was fortunate to find not only jobs but great mentors along the way. The late Ken Kao, from Kao Design Group, was the first. His thoughtfulness and intelligence guided my path into the professional world of architecture. Following KDG, steps of growth involved working with Byron Kuth and Elizabeth Ranieri at Kuth/Ranieri Architects. I learned a tremendous amount from them, especially about the rigor involved in creating solutions to design problems. I tested this rigor at Studios Architecture with a team led by Tom Yee and Jerry Griffin (and Justin Glover later). Our four-year collaboration resulted in the recently opened Shanghai International Dance Center. This was my first lead design work, focusing on the main building’s lobby and auditorium. Also a first, since 1954, was the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series in 2010. They followed with two more championships during the time I lived in the city, one in 2012 and another in 2014. Is this really happening?

Capping the decade have been two more career opportunities. First, a BIM consulting
company called Modulus Consulting, led by Peter Michealson, provided an opportunity for me to
explore BIM management using the most up-to-date technology. They think a couple of steps
ahead. The second opportunity is my current job with Mark Cavagnero Associates. I have held
their work up on a pedestal since moving to the Bay Area.

My wife, daughter and I now reside in Oakland. We settled here in late 2014. We love
the city and are proud to call it home. The city returned the favor when the Golden State
Warriors won the NBA Championships in 2015. And, as we all know, they just recently claimed
another one. This is really happening.

I am looking forward to the next decade. I am excited to see what I can learn from and
contribute to the Mark Cavagnero team. And, now that Oakland is home, I root for the yellow
and green to clinch a major league title.

Want to Help Restore a Healthy Climate?

By: Cate Leger, Principal, Leger Wanaselja Architecture and Commissioner, Berkeley Energy Commission

Electrify your buildings

For decades, gas has been the fuel of choice for environmental and climate conscious buildings that can’t include solar power.  However to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, not only do we need to improve energy efficiency, but building operation needs to switch entirely from gas to low-emission electricity. (1)

Even now, due to improvements in the fuel mix and technology developments,  electricity is the best option for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from our homes, apartments and commercial buildings in California.

Electricity delivered to the site is much cleaner

In the past, inefficiencies in generation and transmission of electricity meant that only about a third of the energy from the combusted fossil fuel source made it to the building.  So, when drawing power from the grid, electric resistance space or water heaters had to be 3 times as efficient as gas heaters to do the job with the same amount of GHG emissions.  Electric resistance, even though it is able to turn 99% of the electricity into heat, was no match for gas appliances.

Now, due to California’s requirements for renewable energy, close to a third of electricity provided by PG&E is currently generated by renewables.(2)  What this means is that today in PG&E territory,  the GHG emissions associated with operating conventional electric resistance appliances are close to, and in some cases lower than, those from gas appliances.  Because of continuing increases in solar and wind, gas appliances will perform worse and worse by comparison over time.(3)

The Problems with Gas

New research is showing that our aging gas infrastructure in California is leaking gas that is supposed to be delivered to our buildings—the equivalent of one Aliso Canyon blowout per year.(4)   There is also the risk of explosions, especially during earthquakes.

Gas also poses problems inside buildings, particularly as we improve the air tightness of the envelope.  Fossil fuel combustion appliances, including gas stoves, are among the primary sources of indoor air pollution.

A Revolution in Electric Heating

While electricity is getting cleaner, widespread development of heat pump heating technologies have improved the performance of electric heaters, making them vastly more efficient.  Heat pumps, the equipment used in refrigerators and air conditioners, have been deployed in space and water heaters with efficiencies as much as 3 or 4 times greater than electric resistance and gas.(5)  This is accomplished because the heat pumps are using the energy not to heat the air or water but to transfer existing heat from one medium to another.

While there are still improvements to be made in the refrigerants used in most heat pumps, when heat pumps are deployed instead of gas, GHG emissions are reduced dramatically.(6)

Electric water heaters also have the added value (which can be significant) of being demand responsive–leveling out the supply/demand cycles of the electric grid.  Heating water is responsible for about a quarter  of the state’s residential energy use and electric water heaters can be programmed to draw energy only during peak solar generation, storing that energy through the evening when electricity demand is greatest.(7,8)

Current Barriers to Electrification

While the state has set ambitious goals for reducing GHGs, several specific energy policies are in conflict.  The assumptions for title 24 energy performance analysis still favor gas space and water heating. Retail prices for gas do not reflect the GHG emissions of gas compared to electricity, or the grid benefits of flexible electric loads like electric water heaters.  And finally, state regulations prevent utilities from offering rebates under the state energy efficiency program when switching from gas to electric fuel.(9)  There are a variety of reasons for these conflicting policies, however they give the impression that using gas is better for the environment than electricity.

There are many challenges for energy providers to switching from fossil fuels to renewably generated electricity, such as energy storage.  However, solutions are also being developed at the same dizzying pace that renewables are being added.  These concerns should not obscure the significant improvements that have already been made in the electricity supply and the importance of shifting building operation from gas to electricity.

The Path Forward

Building operation accounts for approximately 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Shifting to all electric operation is an essential part of lowering that percentage and returning to a healthy climate.


  1.     “Deep carbon reductions in California require electrification and integration across economic sectors,” Max Wei, etc. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 014038 (10pp)
  2.     California Renewables Portfolio Standard, Current Renewables Procurement Status, CPUC
  3.     Greenhouse Gas Emissions Factors:  Guidance for PG&E Customers, November 2015 show GHG emissions per MWh of electricity dropped from 620 lbs of CO2 in 2003 to an estimated 349 in 2017.  The guidance projects GHG emissions to continue to drop to 290 lbs in 2020.
  4.    CARB and CPUC Joint Staff Report, January 2017
  5.     Sanden CO2 heat pump water heaters
  6.     Under the Kigali Agreement of November 2016 countries and corporations globally agreed to a phase out of all refrigerants with high global warming potential.
  7.    Energy use:
  8.    Gurlaskie G., Duke Energy, Feb. 2017, Heat Pump Water Heaters for Demand Response
  9.     “The Role of Electrification in Achieving Long-term Climate Goals for the U.S.” by Rachel Golden,  June 2016, UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Group

Firm Profile: Cheng+Snyder

Cheng+Snyder is an Oakland-based, multi-disciplinary design studio founded by Irene Cheng and Brett Snyder. The firm produces work at a wide range of scales, from books to buildings to everything in between. Known for their innovative iPhone app that allows users to see visionary, but unbuilt architecture (Museum of the Phantom City), the team works on self-initiated research projects as well as client-based architectural and urban design services.

Recent work includes the Sunnyside House, a stealth renovation of a Craftsman in Piedmont, #OurChangingClimate, an award winning participatory project focused on local responses to climate change, and Smart Sidewalks, a winning entry to the NYC Reinvent Payphones competition.

Irene Cheng is an architectural historian, critic, and designer. Her research focuses on the intersections of architecture, cultural history, politics, and the history of science. Her current book project, entitled “The Shape of Utopia: The Architecture of Radical Reform in Nineteenth-Century America,” explores the geometry of architectural projects affiliated with anarchist, socialist, abolitionist, free love, spiritualist, and other radical antebellum movements.

Brett Snyder is an architect and designer and an Associate Professor at The University of California Davis, where he focuses on the increasingly complex relationship between architecture and media. Prior to founding his design firm, Snyder was a project architect at Steven Holl Architects in New York.

Whether working on an architectural project, a design object, or a research venture, Cheng + Snyder believe design is a medium to provoke fresh thinking about the status quo.

Photo Credits (top to bottom): Carlos Chavarría, Brett Snyder, Beth Ferguson

Project Profile: San Ramon Custom Home

Architect: James P Gibbon, AIA

This custom home is designed for a growing family. Located on Tassajara Road near San Ramon, it is set to be completed in late 2019 and occupied in early 2020. It is being designed in the twentieth century modern architectural motif. At present, the project is in the production drawing stage.

The house is two stories above the basement garage. It includes indoor and exterior pools, a roof skydeck, solar panels and wind turbines for supplemental energy. The home consists of 20,000 sq. ft. of living space with a 2,500 sq. ft. six car garage. The property consists of six acres of sloped site with a high plateau where the home will be located. The site will include a 12,000 sq. ft. fish pond, tram lift and roadway bridge to the home. The house is designed in a 1930’s modern architectural style, unlike other homes in San Ramon.

The entrance is oriented to the East to maximize privacy. The home is designed to meet the requirements of the family for ample living and entertainment space. It is designed to accommodate three or four generations of family members in the Indian tradition of each generation taking care of its elders in the home.

The home will have eight bedrooms, each with a bathroom and walk-in closet. It will include a media room, wine cellar and a lap pool in the solarium. It will have a porte-cochere, a two-story grand entry staircase and a garden wall. There will be an elevator and central stairway that provides access to four levels of the house. The home will includes two laundry rooms, a home office, a study, a full service pantry and butler’s pantry. There will be fully covered balconies on the main and upper levels, positioned at strategic locations around the home to provide sheltered exterior living space.

Architect – James P Gibbon, AIA

Structural Engineer – CHG Engineers

Civil Engineer – Debolt Civil Engineering

Soils Engineering – John Campbell + Associates

Title 24 – West Coast Energy Design

ArchNews July 2017

July ArchNews is out now! Click the links below to read each article:

Project Profile: Daniel M Swain, Architect
The Power of Design (and Designers): Architecture Camp with the Fam 1st Foundation
 Photosynthetic Materials Presentation Ushers In Renewed AIA East Bay COTE
Building Code Issues: Building Code and Spell Check
CoolTechStuff: Cone – Live Color Picker
Members News
Firm Profile: Ignition Architecture
Member Profile: Matthew Cortez, Assoc. AIA
Allied Member Profile:
 Mary Loumeau, Allied Member

Member News – July 2017

New Websites for Summer! 

Andrew Lee, AIA and Veronica Hinckley-Reck, AIA announce their firms’ new sites: Andrew Lee Architecture and Ignition Architecture.


Member Promotions

Kim Butt, AIA has accepted a position of Associate Principal with Carey & Co.







Gary Struthers, AIA is now a project architect at Pyatok Architecture & Urban Design.





Jeremiah Tolbert, AIA Featured

Jeremiah Tolber, AIA was featured in Beast Mode’s Father’s Day email with his two daughters.


Codes: Building Code and Spell Check

Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

How many of you have attended a seminar on the ADA and/or California Building Code (CBC) Chapter 11 and have been bored out of your mind?

This is because a code-based approach to design is about as interesting as a spell check based approach to writing.

Think about it. We have code requirements for every element: floors, walls, roofs and everything in between. When you design those elements, do you feel satisfied with your work if it’s merely code compliant? Do you look to the building code for design inspiration Of course not.

I try to share the underlying principles of accessible design so that architects will be able to design experiences that engage and delight people, or are so seamless that people are free to focus on the wider beauty of your architecture.

Let’s talk about seamless entrance sequences. I am often called in to design or retrofit an existing building entrance. This is because when people are doing alteration to an existing building, CBC chapter 11B-Section 202.4 requires the following:

“When alterations or additions are made to existing buildings or facilities, an accessible path of travel to the specific area of alteration or addition shall be provided. The primary accessible path of travel shall include:

1. A primary entrance to the building or facility,

2. Toilet and bathing facilities serving the area,

3. Drinking fountains serving the area,

4. Public telephones serving the area, and

5. Signs”

So you start at the primary entrance. Very often, the architect or contractor is trying to connect the sidewalk level with the entrance level, so they turn to the tool prescribed by code: The Ramp. Then they start trying to carve the ramp into the stairs, along with the required landings and the whole thing quickly becomes ugly and expensive.

But wait…push the ramp out of your mind for just a minute, and look at the ground plane. Where is it closest in elevation to the building entrance? Can you connect those two points with a gentle walkway? Here’s an example where a level walkway through a former planting strip became an effortless entrance to the Berkeley YWCA, and because it wasn’t a ramp requiring handrails, the edge could become a much-used seat wall.

I can’t tell you how many times I have eliminated the need for ramps completely by constructing level or near level walkways between two points. I suspect that architects and contractors overlook these solutions so often because when one thinks about accessible level changes, our minds naturally go to the code-prescribed ramp.

So back up. Keep in mind that we’re finding architectural solutions to code accessibility, with architecture first – not the other way around. You’re better than spell check.


Kerwin Lee, Architect, CASp

Kerwin’s Comments – The key to using the code is not to just read the text, but to understand the  “intent” of the code. If you understand why the code wants something, you can be better in achieving what the code requires and creating a great design. Sometimes it requires bending the standard interpretation of what the code requires, but meeting the intent. Ask yourself what is the code trying to achieve here? Whether it is life safety or accessibility, it is the same. A lot of accessibility requirements are as simple as getting from point A to point B. As a design, we create the experience of getting from point A to point B. That should be no different for people with disabilities. The first thought is that the experience should be the same for all users, even if the physical aspects may be different. A child in a playground that is in a wheelchair may not be able to use every piece of play equipment, but should be able to experience what is happening. Being with other kids is a big part of the experience. This applies to all elements of the physical environment. The basic original intent of all accessibility requirements is to allow the people with disabilities to be a part of society: inclusion not exclusion.