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Posts from the ‘ArchNews’ Category

The Last Word: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

I’ve been doing CoolTech articles for over seven years now.  As some of you know, I’m in the process of building a house in Sonoma County.  With the start of construction my available time will be sharply reduced, so this will be my last CoolTech article.  What I thought I would leave you with is a list of some of the internet resources I’ve relied on over the years to inspire my articles.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and is in no particular order, but there are some gems in there.  If you don’t know them, I hope you will check them out.  This site is just like the name implies a site to see new gadgets.  Some will be of interest, most will not.  This site has two sections “Shop” and “Journal.”  The “Shop” section is full of high-priced stuff that I don’t need, but the “Journal” section does have some interesting articles under the headings of: Architecture, Art and Design.  I can’t remember ever using anything from this site in a CoolTech article.  It’s more of a literary blog, but with cool illustrations.  It’s a good site to visit to relax and get your mind off of work.  This site can be a big time-sink.  You never know what you will find there, but I guarantee you will be entertained.  Lost at E Minor is a site that I occasionally find something I might use in my column.  Of the ten sections, I usually look in the “Tech” section.  Here I usually look in the “Products” section for something to write about.  Some of the products listed have PDF, DWG and BIM files available for download.  Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster and teaches forecasting at Stanford University and chairs the Future Studies and Forecasting track at Singularity University.  Check out his essays for interesting topics on the future.  I never know what I’m going to find here, but you can be sure it will be cutting edge.  I subscribe (free) so I get a short email very day with 4 or 5 articles I can click on if they look interesting.  DeZeen is an online magazine (it’s a free subscription).    There is a daily issue and a weekly issue.  It’s heavy on futuristic architecture but also has many tech articles.  You’ve probably heard of Ray Kurzweil and his theory of the singularity (when machines with artificial intelligence become smarter than humans).  There are interesting articles and essays here.  Very interesting articles on:  Energy, Space, Science, Technology, Military, Medicine, Robotics, Quantum Computers and Artificial Intelligence.  This one is a little hit or miss.  I sometimes find something interesting under the “Field Guide” or “Design” headings. This is another hit or miss site. The “Tech” or “Design” headings sometimes have interesting articles.  Just as the name implies, this is a site devoted to mobile devices, apps, and accessories.  It does a good job of covering both the Android and iOS platforms.  Good for architecture news, related apps and more.  If you’ve never listened to a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk, I encourage you to do so.  Most talks are 5 to 15 minutes long and are on a wide variety of topics.  I read Wired magazine every month.  Each issue will have a common thought provoking topic that runs through most of the articles in that issue.

I also get ideas from the radio (mostly NPR), television (mostly PBS) and newspapers (mostly the SF Chronicle, and NY Times).  I’ve enjoyed writing these articles, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.


Next Time You Design A House: Codes

Erick Mikiten, AIA, LEED-AP

This month we’re going to consider accessibility in housing. The ADA and CBC don’t directly apply to single-family homes, but you could easily argue that this locus of family and life needs more attention. After all, one of an architect’s jobs is to help clients anticipate their needs. Recent research has begun to illustrate the intersection between disabilities and aging, which has significant implications on residential design goals.

It’s easy to assume that people with disabilities are in a separate group, but the fact is that most of us will move into that group during some part of our lives, some temporarily and others permanently. Aging shows us, in incremental degrees, where our homes fail us. Even for a young person, a fall or an accident can reveal the many barriers that exist in our homes to performing simple everyday tasks.

Consider this: 17 percent of women aged 16 to 64 have one or more disabilities. For the 65 and over group, it’s 43 percent. And of course that increases over time.

It’s not just the percentage of people who experience periods of disability. It’s also important for an architect to at least understand common disabilities and design with some sensitivity. For example, 27 percent of people over 65 report having a lot of trouble hearing. What does this have to do with design? Blaring televisions are a common complaint between residents of a household, so an architect could consider sound attenuation strategies in the rooms most likely to contain a television. Resilient channels between the wall board and the studs can make a difference. So can insulation in the interior wall cavities. There are STC (Sound Transmission Coefficient) requirements for walls and floor/ceiling assemblies that are required by the CBC between dwelling units, but why not apply some of those to single-family homes as well?

Mobility challenges can easily arise, so why not put blocking in the bathroom walls so that installation of grab bars can be done in an hour if needed. Blocking should surround the toilet area, bath tub, shower walls, and any long stretch of wall where you could imagine a handrail (or a towel bar, for that matter, which is often used as a grab bar whether you intend it to be or not). My standard approach for showers is to install 1/2” plywood everywhere, behind the tile backer board. That way, nobody has to remember where the 2x blocking is within the wall for a grab bar, to allow attachment at any angle or location, they will have a solid attachment.

Don’t forget doorways. Simply incorporating 36 inch doors can allow someone to remain in his house, even if a walker or wheelchair is needed, short or long term. If that feels too wide for a remodel project where you’d like to match existing doors, specify at least 32 inch doors with swing-clear hinges. Also called offset hinges, these move the door outside the doorway opening, so that the door thickness isn’t in the way.

If you can, include a stair-free entry into the house, or at least consider where a ramp could be added if needed later. Recognize that the entrance will make it possible for guests and aging parents to at least visit. If you have a project with one step, I can pretty much guarantee that you can have a zero-step threshold. Providing cover above for rain can help make this more realistic. And GreenPoints requires entrance rain protection anyway, so you’re “covered” here in two ways.

Don’t forget vision. More than two-thirds of adults over 65 have vision impairments. The causes include cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Architects should anticipate that the need for good lighting will go up as we age, and build in some excess capacity. A great lighting designer friend says “always over-light and dim down.” With LED fixtures this is easy to do and still meet Title 24.

A little advanced planning, thoughtful and totally inconspicuous, can make the difference  between living at home and the incredible upheaval of needing to move (especially if you’re in the midst of dealing with a new disability). Think about your own grand parents – if they are still at home, think about the upheaval for them to have to relocate just because their beloved home doesn’t work for them anymore.

A home that accommodates its owner can also make the difference between being able to care for oneself and needing help from other family members. Having a sense of self-control and independence is a powerful feeling, and can lead to a more positive attitude and better physical health.

And finally, with the huge increase in ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) projects in California and the changes in State ADU Law, there are more people pursuing ADUs with the idea of retiring there or bringing their aging parents in to live there. So it’s all the more important that we as architects ensure that these and other residential projects are designed to be what I call future-proof. So go forth and accessify.

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Kerwin’s Comments

The concept of aging in place is not a new concept. Many senior living facilities have multiple levels of accommodation from independent care, assisted care and beyond. This is just good business practice.

Although the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California Building codes do not directly apply to single family dwellings, they do if you have a public accommodation within the dwelling. If you have a home business and have clients come to you, you are a public accommodation and all the rules for disabled access apply, from parking, to path of travel to even toilets rooms.

1960s Rancher Remodel: Project Profile

This remodel project was an upgrade to a 1960’s rancher in Orinda, designed by Kattenburg Architects. The goal was to replace the small, enclosed original kitchen and nook area and enlarge the space to open onto the reconceived living and dining rooms, creating a great room.  Both the former living and dining room spaces were separated from the kitchen by a long bearing wall that ran the length of the house. Decorative painted wood columns were used to reduce the overall length of the span left when the bearing wall was removed. Both the dining and living room were also flipped and separated from each other by removing the massive 1960’s brick fireplace in what is now the center of the great room.

The remodel project included moving windows and doors to create symmetry and order in the new spaces. Kattenburg Architects raised the kitchen ceiling from 8’ to 9,’ added skylights, a large pantry, a new spacious laundry room and eliminated a maze of small chopped-up spaces. We provided direct access to the garage that no longer required a circuitous passage through the former laundry room. Work also included opening up the home’s stairway to the lower floor with a new wood balustrade and a strategically placed window above it.

The owners found an excellent contractor (JEO Construction) and did a superb job of selecting great finishes such as the granite, monochromatic paint color theme and the exquisite washed-grey wood flooring. Most of the appliances were panelized with matching wood cabinet fronts. LED lighting was used in all recessed can lighting. LED tape lighting was used to light the glass display cabinets between columns, and above the header moldings on the living and dining room side of the great room. A semi-open TV lounge was added in the area behind the fireplace wall in the living room.

Photographer: Indivar Savanathan
Structural Design: Bluestone Engineering,
Energy Consultant: Farber Energy Design
General Contractor: JEO Construction

Greening Your Buildings, Greening Your Practice

Cate Leger, Principal, Leger Wanaselja Architecture

Whether you are looking for small changes or radical rethinking, there are plenty of steps to take to green your buildings and better align your architectural practice with climate and environmental goals.





  • Electrify your buildings. Electric appliances are increasingly the best choice for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Switch to electric when appliances or systems need replacing.  Avoid gas infrastructure in new buildings.[1]
  • Make your buildings net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Add solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or sign up for 100% renewable electricity from your electricity provider.[2]
  • Air seal and insulate using low global warming potential, non-organohalogen flame retardant insulation like blown-in cellulose and cork.[3]
  • Avoid carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting, persistent pollutants. With so many products on the market and little information on their safety, Healthy Building Network’s “Homefree“ General Spec Guidance” provides straightforward guidance to help architects and builders avoid some of the worst health concerning chemicals.  For chemical content, check out HNB’s new Chemical Hazards Data Commons. The Living Building Challenge, a third party green building rating system similar to LEED, has a red list of chemicals.
  • Incorporate water conserving appliances and infrastructure. Low flow fixtures are required by the Calgreen building code. Take a step further and install greywater infrastructure and rainwater collection.  Even making projects greywater or rainwater collection ready–with pipe and gutter layout—will make it easier for future owners to install systems.
  • Specify low carbon and carbon sequestering material. Low-carbon materials provide greenhouse gas emissions reductions now, when they are needed most.[4] Ask for low-carbon concrete mixes. Specify Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and other renewable materials such as cork, straw, hemp, and bamboo over plastics and metals. For hardscape and finish surfaces, choose stone over concrete and tile.[5]
  • RECLAIM AND REUSE. Specify FSC certified and reclaimed wood. Not only do FSC certified woods sequester more carbon than their counterparts, but they are better at preserving habitat and right livelihood . Using reclaimed and recycled materials reduces
  • Remodel rather than building new. A renovation and reuse project typically saves between 50 and 75 percent of the embodied carbon emissions compared to constructing a new building.[6] This is especially true if the foundations and structure are preserved, since most embodied carbon resides there.
  • Minimize the size of new buildings. All of the impacts of buildings are reduced when buildings are smaller—fewer materials, less energy to operate, less space to furnish and maintain.
  • Support alternatives to fossil fuel cars. Prioritize transit oriented locations. Provide EV charging and bicycle infrastructure.
  • Sign the AIA 2030 Commitment. The AIA 2030 Commitment program offers architects a way to publicly show their dedication and track progress toward a carbon-neutral future.
  • Join the AIAEB Committee on the Environment. The committee hosts monthly lectures and members shares information on green architecture events and strategies. Participation is open to all.

More ideas for going green at:



[1] Methane leakage from well to appliance infrastructure is worse than thought and combustion appliances are one of the main sources of indoor air pollution. In addition, the dramatic increase of renewables generating electricity on the grid and the development of heat pump technologies for space and water heating make electricity the cleaner source of energy.

[2] Check with your utility provider.  In areas with Community Choice Energy, signing up for 100% renewably generated electricity comes with only a  small premium.  Watch for this option as Alameda County rolls out its East Bay Community Energy in 2018.

[3] Make sure there is adequate ventilation and fresh air as the building envelop gets tighter.

[4] The embodied energy of the building materials can be as much as 50% or more of a new building’s total carbon footprint in the first 20 years of a building’s life.  As it approaches zero net operating energy, these numbers increase, eventually reaching 100%. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions are needed now because of the self-reinforcing loops that GHGs trigger.  Low-carbon construction can reduce the embodied energy by 30 to 50%, with 20% achieved through simple substitutions.

[5] For more on low carbon and carbon sequestering construction see The New Carbon Architecture.



Rod Heisler, Allied Member Profile

Rod Heisler Construction (RHC) is a general contractor located in Oakland which specializes in commercial interiors, luxury residential housing. They also specialize in multi-family, healthcare and educational construction and improvements, primarily in Oakland and San Francisco and extending throughout the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Our beginnings are rooted in a desire to provide exceptional service to our clients by internalizing their goals and adapting that to modern construction tools and processes.

Our focus on providing exceptional service to our clients begins by providing support to our design colleagues – ensuring everyone looks good – so the project runs smoothly and efficiently.  When brought in early, our involvement as pre-construction consultants works to address a wide-range of topics including permitting, budgetary expectations, constructability options and scheduling solutions. Our process works to identify all outstanding issues at the forefront and we prioritize solving them from the biggest, longest duration and largest impact down. The outcome is a  project  on solid conceptual footing  that can be built smoothly and without delays or drama.

As one of our architectural partners recently put it, “it’s been refreshing to see the level of principal-lead involvement and professionalism on this project.”


Rod Heisler, Principal
Rod has worked in San Francisco and Oakland since the late 90’s as a carpenter, later as head estimator and eventually as a Principal.  Founding RHC in 2014 allowed Rod to re-examine the business practices and readapt to the new technological and regulatory framework.

Steve Starback, General Manager
Steve has more than 30 years construction experience, including supervising the construction of several towers, schools and ground-up commercial facilities and extends to several large scale rehabilitations and renovations. Steve helps bridge the hand-over from pre-construction to ensure that every project adheres to best practices with regard to management, safety oversight and schedule adherence.

Bryan Collison, Project Manager
Bryan has more than 30 years of construction experience, starting as an woodworker and cabinetmaker, running his own millshop where he did all the drafting and engineering, production budgeting and management, and most recently before joining RHC managing $20M+ residential projects. Bryan provides financial oversight and manages compliance for all our projects.

Alexander Jermyn Architecture: Firm Profile

Alexander Jermyn Architecture has developed a diverse body of work including residential, cultural and commercial projects. The approach to each design problem is with an artistic and technical rigor guided by a commitment to craft in architecture. The work addresses the fundamental problems of space, proportion, light and materials, and their intrinsic properties within architecture. The intensive research for each project guides the design process in lieu of following a stylistic agenda, striving for an architecture from which multiple readings emerge, exploring the associations of program and space, material and detail, complexity and simplicity.

Mendocino Residence (rendering by architect).

The small size and diverse skills of the design team allow the practice to work closely and intensively with clients to provide thoughtful, economical and lasting solutions. The collaborative dialogue between architect, client, and contractor is a core tenet from inception to completion for all work. The meticulous attention to concept and detail guides and refines the design process towards a solution which is architecturally, socially, and contextually coherent. The practice oversees all projects from their conception through construction and collaborates closely with the contractors and artisans who build them. The practice provides full architectural design, construction administration, planning and zoning analysis, as well as interior design services.

The firm was chosen as a Design Vanguard by Architectural Record in 2016, an award for the best emerging architects from around the world. It has also received awards from the AIA and Architecture Magazine.

KT Residence.  Photograph by Robert Vente.

Forward. Photographs by Jeremy Bitterman.


ArchNews May 2018

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

Project Profile: San Benito High School Visual Arts and Performing Arts
Codes: Code Changes Through Legislation
CoolTechStuff: WRLD
Firm Profile: Gyroscope, Inc.
Member Profile: Matt Maneval, AIA
Allied Member Profile:
 Gordon Huether Studio

Member News – May 2018

New Positions

Rachel Flynn, AIA started a new position as Director of Design Management, Planning and Entitlements at Google.






Kerwin Lee, AIA has been appointed to the Building, Fire and Other Code Advisory Committee of the CBSC.






Be a Home Tours Docent!

Pick the house you want to docent in! Early-bird registrants who sign-up in May 2018 to be Home Tours docents get to select which house and shift they get! Docent registration is open now—click here. When the 2018 Home Tours are announced June 1st  everyone registered to volunteer will be given the opportunity to sign up for the house and shift of their choice. Please note: volunteers who sign up after May 31st will be assigned based on need, so register today!


Chapter Member Events

Lowney Architecture invites you to their Artist Happy Hour with Raylene Gorum, on Thursday, May 10 from 5-7pm.


Perkins Eastman and Dougherty Are Joining Forces


Code Changes through Legislation: Codes

Kerwin Lee, AIA, CASp

Changes to the Code come through many channels. We have our national code development process through the International Code Conference (ICC). Legislation created the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is a Civil Rights Law. From the ADA, the basic original guidelines were written into the Act as Appendix 28, CFR Part 36.  A lot of the details/interpretations were created by the Access Board for compliance with the ADA. The latest set of standards (2010) were created by the Access Board. The problem with code language being written into law is that it’s there forever unless the law is changed through legislation. It took 20 years for the original ADA guidelines to be changed.

In our great state of California, our legislation loves to write laws because many of the laws are driven by special interest. There are currently over 4,500 bills being introduced in the state this coming year. Some could have an effect on construction of our built environment. Again, many of the proposed bills stem from current events or a reaction to a disaster.

Here are some of the proposed bills that could affect our work:

AB565 – The bill authorizes city or county alternative building regulations for the conversion of commercial/industrial buildings to joint living/work quarters and includes provisions for housing artists, artisans and other similarly situated individuals.  It is unclear what the real intent of this bill is other than to perhaps encourage live/work occupancies, which the code already addresses. It appears to be more of an attempt to change zoning regulations to allow more live/work occupancies in industrial areas.

AB1857 – This bill would require the commission to adopt earthquake standards for engineered buildings meeting “immediate occupancy” standards, as defined, to be included in the next triennial edition of the California Building Code, as specified. Until the immediate occupancy standard is adopted, the bill would require the commission to adopt strength and stiffness standards, as defined, for engineered buildings that is 1.5 times the level of the current standard. Here is a case where the legislation includes a design value with little or no engineering basis – why 1.5 times the current standards? The basic intent is to strengthen buildings to withstand an earthquake. Since every value in the code is arbitrary to start with, justification of any number is needed. This proposed bill missed the deadline for the current code cycle and will have to wait until the next cycle to be included, if passed.

AB2911 – This bill would require the State Fire Marshal, by no later than January 31, 2019, in consultation with the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Director of Housing and Community Development, to recommend updated building standards that provide comprehensive site and structure fire risk reduction. This protects structures from fires spreading, as specified, based on lessons learned from the wildfires of 2017 and develops a list of low-cost retrofits that provide comprehensive site and structure fire risk reduction, as provided. This is another knee jerk reaction to a recent event. This bill should look at what more the code can address that is not already in Chapter 7A – Urban/Wildand interface.

There are a number of proposed bills that aim to increase dwellings and allow for more Accessories Dwelling Units (ADUs). AB2939 addresses unlimited ADUs in multi-dwelling zones, so an additional dwelling could be added almost anywhere. SB827 addresses transit-rich housing development exempt density, FAR, parking and height limitations, allowing an automatic 55 to 85 foot height limit. Other proposed bills address housing concerns near colleges and universities. All of these bills will impact local zoning and building authorities. The basic intent is to provide more housing near transit centers, but is a blanket statewide bill needed? Does a small town like Orinda want denser housing in and around their BART Station?

Perhaps bills are a way of getting things done. Some of the proposed bills don’t make much sense and begs the question why do we need this? AB2929 says it will require grab bars in public restroom. Don’t we already have code requirements for this? Other proposed bills reduce permitting fees for all types of construction, not sure if this will spur construction in the state.

AIACC’s Government Regulations program represents the AIA before the State Legislature, regulatory agencies, boards and commissions. Go to their website for more information on proposed and current legislative actions:

WRLD: CoolTechStuff

Larry Mortimer, AIA

With summer approaching I spent some time the other day looking for architecture related travel apps.  You may recall I did an article on an architectural travel app called “Buildings” back in June 2012.  That app had access to a database of over 40,000 buildings, but alas, it appears to be gone.  On the iOS platform it was probably a victim of the upgrade from 32 bit to 64 bit.  I don’t know what happened to it on the Android platform.  However, the 40,000+ building database is still accessible with your browser at

I did find several other architectural related travel apps, but most were related to a specific city or location.  One app that did cover most of the world and was available on both iOS and Android was WRLD.

What Does It Do: WRLD is a mapping program that shows major buildings and structures in 3D superimposed on a 2D map.

System Requirements: Mobile devices using iOS or Android operating systems.

What does it cost: It’s free, and does not have any ads.  As for data, they may collect when we use the app, I read their Terms Of Service and Privacy Policy and am not sure how or if they will use any data collected.

How Does it Work: The app interface is fairly simple.  When zoomed out it looks a bit like Google Earth.  There are five buttons.  A magnifying glass will take you to predetermined locations (such as a major city) or allow you to search for a specific type of location (such as tourist info).  The settings button allows you to set the season and time of day, and get info about the developer.  The bottom left hand button allows you to flatten the 3D buildings or show them in full height.  A compass button shows the orientation of your mobile device, and allows you to return to your current location.  The fifth button allow you to place a marker pin so you can easily return to a specific location.  To move the view, just swipe with one finger in any direction.  To rotate the view, twist with two fingers.  To zoom in or out, simply pinch or expand two fingers.  A few buildings have a symbol of an open door.  Tapping the symbol will take you to a graphic view of the building interior where you can move around, change levels, or exit.

Conclusion: This is a fun app to use with a fairly intuitive interface.  Kids will find this app a great way to explore an unfamiliar city and will love the animated cars, trains and planes that show up in certain views.  I could see using this app to scope out a visit to an unfamiliar urban area.  However once you get outside of the major metropolitan areas there is not much to look at.  For example I tried to find 3D views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Taj Mahal without any luck.

More Info: