The career of an architect has its highs and lows. If we are lucky and engaged in our profession we get a chance to design some great buildings. I have been both fortunate and proud of what I have done in the last three decades of practice. Every so often an event occurs that really gives you a sense of the value of what we do.
This morning I attended an end of the year breakfast presented by the Friends of the Petaluma Campus Trust. In the course of the presentation, three first generation college students spoke; Kim Baptista, a full-time parent and cancer survivor; W. Jamar Minor, an Air Force veteran and transplant from Akron, Ohio, and Adriana Lopez Torres, a Mexican born “Dreamer” raised in rural Marin County. The stories of the opportunities and support that the college and staff have been able to provide them with were extremely moving. Even more impressive was their own determination to push on despite a host of cultural, physical and financial obstacles. It was their teachers, counselors, and staff that really made this happen. As architects we just provided a good place for those things to happen. Their lives will be truly different from those of their parents and the college has made it possible.
For nearly 30 years I have been working on the development of the Petaluma Campus of Santa Rosa Junior College. When I began, the campus was a group of portable buildings behind the giant plaster chicken at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds. In 1995, I was immensely proud to be at the dedication of the first phase of the new campus built on a forty-acre site in east Petaluma. Almost 15 years later I was even more proud as the second phase of the campus’ development ushered in a new era for Petaluma, providing a full range of community college opportunities. As with most building dedications, we accept the accolades, head home, and don’t often get a chance to appreciate the post-occupancy life of the buildings. Hearing the student’s personal stories reminds me of how proud I am to have played a part in an institution that can have such transformative results. It is personal stories like these that really make my professional life worthwhile.
Replacing entry signage and more than an acre of gopher infested turf at West Valley College in Saratoga seems most appropriate given Governor Brown’s recent statewide mandate for a 25% cut in water use. This project was conceived to highlight the identity of West Valley College on the main approach to campus. It also aimed to replace the turf with drought resistant plantings. The project, led by TLCD Architecture ultimately added a few more unexpected and interesting elements.
The signs themselves are bold new statements of West Valley College’s identity and take a fresh approach to the campus’ existing trademark logo. Designer Dickson Keyser of the GNU Group created sculptural leaf elements that stand out from the body of the three new signs and add animation to the ensemble. The 60 foot long main sign and the two electronic reader boards are made of self-healing Cor-Ten steel and merge seamlessly with the drought tolerant landscaping and the storm water recharge basin at the base of the site.
The West Valley Campus is centered on a meandering creek lined with stunning, mature oak trees. Many of these trees have reached the end of their life cycle and are dying off. At the top of the Entry Project, Quadriga Landscape Architecture established an “Oak Nursery”. Over time this nursery will provide stock to replant the deceased trees, keeping the oak lined central spaces of campus vibrant and alive.
Two historic palms were relocated from the location of the original farmhouse that preceded the college, when the site was orchard lands. They have been moved from an unnoticed location in the middle of a parking lot to create a fresh reminder of the history of the land.
The two reader boards are intended to announce campus events. WVC Director of Communications and Technology, Scott Ludwig, has programmed them with inspiring words that rotate on ten-minute cycles. Scott told me yesterday that students now walk up to him a spontaneously exclaim “Collaborate!” or other words of the moment, taking their cues from the reader boards.
The campus and nearby community has taken notice of the change and is appreciative of the dynamism of the statement. Over time, as they discover the other elements, it will become an even richer experience.
“Before” view of West Valley College Entry
“After” view of West Valley College Entry
Sonoma County Regional Parks opened a spectacular new park, North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, that links the Bennett Valley/Sonoma Mountain Road region with Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. My wife and I took to the trails and captured some of the beauty of this newest addition to our regional park system.
The park has one main trail leading to the western border of Jack London State Park near the top of Sonoma Mountain. Most hikers appeared to be doing the 2.2 mile hike up to the Bennett Valley Overlook about half way up the trail. The trails are new and while the trek is all up hill the grades are quite reasonable. There is about 800 feet elevation gain to the Overlook and about another 300 to the park boundary.
The beginning of the walk is wooded, gradually opening up as you gain elevation. With the fog last Friday morning it was stunning to look down on the layers of clouds lying in the valleys. From the Overlook there is a wide view looking from Mt. Taylor and sweeping eastward to Hood Mountain in the east.
The new park is very popular right now and while getting in during the morning was achievable for most of those I talked too, the rangers were turning away people in the afternoons. There is a narrow access road leading into the park from Sonoma Mountain Road. The turn is just short of three miles from Bennett Valley Road.
We saw about a dozen different types of wildflowers in bloom and I expect that in a few weeks it should be an even better display. Definitely worth the trip!
One year ago TLCD Architecture purchased an Universal LS 6.60 laser-cutting machine. This amazing piece of equipment can cut and etch wood, cardboard, plastic and metal with precision cuts to 3/1,000 of an inch. We are still exploring all the options of what this technology can do.
The laser cutter is being used primarily for producing architectural models. It can take digital files and make incredibly precise cuts at a small scale. Something very difficult to do with an X-Acto knife… and with fewer sliced fingertips!
We are currently exploring the ability to do rapid prototyping, which means we can easily explore multiple design options in model form very quickly. This process took many hours of hand cutting in the past and rarely produced more than one option.
This last week Nick Diggins and Carl Servais from our office experimented with a new workflow made possible by the Dynamo scripting software now available within the Revit modeling software that is our mainstay architectural design tool. They created eight different versions of a complex perforated 3-D form for centerpieces for our holiday party at DeTurk Round Barn. With the scripting software, Revit output can be prepared for the laser cutter quickly and design options created and manufactured with the laser-cutter.
One exciting possibility is that the models can be scaled up and architectural designs can be fabricated at large scale with CNC Routing machines for wood and softer materials, and plasma cutters for metal and other more durable materials. Forms that were nearly impossible to conceive of or too expensive to fabricate by hand are now easily accessible. The possibilities are endless!
Watch the video we produced on our GoPro of this fabrication process. Rapid Prototyping: Captured on Video
By Alan Butler, Principal TLCD Architecture
In today’s world it’s rare to stay anywhere for 30 years, so it’s with great excitement that we celebrate the 30th work anniversary of my friend and partner Don Tomasi. Our paths nearly crossed in the summer of 1984 when unbeknownst to each other, Don and I were working and living on the same street in Seattle, Washington. Later that year, Don returned to Santa Rosa to work for his father at Tomasi Architects. The following year in 1985, I returned to Santa Rosa and began working at Lawry Coker DeSilva Architects… located at the other end of Sonoma Avenue as Tomasi Architects. Although blocks apart, it would be another few years before we met.
In 1993 the two firms merged to form Tomasi Lawry Coker DeSilva Architects later to become TLCD Architecture. In the ensuing 21 years that we’ve worked together, the firm has grown to become a premier design firm in the North Bay region. It is under Don’s design leadership that the firm has evolved to produce a wide range of innovative and finely crafted projects in the education, healthcare, civic and commercial realms.
DeTurk Round Barn
To mark this occasion, we started the day with cake and champagne at the office, and then Don will fly down to Los Angeles with TLCD Architect Kevin Teel to accept an AIA California Council Design Award for the DeTurk Round Barn project located in Santa Rosa. This is the 7th award for this notable historical project, and the first AIACC award for the firm. Not a bad way to celebrate a milestone work anniversary!
It’s been quite a ride, and next year TLCD celebrates its 50th year of practice since Don’s father founded the firm in 1965. In spring 2015, we will be moving our office to the Museum on the Square building in downtown Santa Rosa. Like so many other projects he has been involved with, I believe Don’s vision for Museum on the Square will be a transformative event in the life of our city.
Museum on the Square
I am glad we finally made the journey down the block and got together. I am proud to have been Don’s partner during many of his 30 years in practice. The relationship has always been rewarding and we have been blessed to find a group of talented people to work with. Happy 30th anniversary and here’s to many more!
Selexx Chief CNC Router at Sonoma Country Pine
Alan Butler AIA
As architects, it’s critical to keep up with new materials and emerging fabrication techniques. The materials we use, the way they go together and their application in buildings is constantly changing. In an effort to better understand the potential of new fabrication tools, TLCD Architecture purchased a laser cutter at the beginning of 2014. Small, but powerful and precise, it’s an incredible tool for making mockups and architectural models. We can cut wood, plastics and paper up to ½” thick and and to a maximum size of 18”x 24”. We are now able to quickly produce models and look at various design options very quickly versus the time consuming process of hand cutting mat board with a utility knife. Recently, we’ve been experimenting with designs for screen elements at our new office in the Museum on the Square building in downtown Santa Rosa. We’ve been producing some beautiful prototypes of the screens, but the question arises… how do we make the full size version?
So as any curious design firm would do, we set out exploring. Last week, Nick Diggins and I visited Gus Dering’s cabinet shop in Cotati to see a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) Router in action. The shop is called Sonoma Country Pine, but we didn’t see any cabinetmakers with hand planes making colonial style cabinets. Rather we saw the Selexx Chief CNC Router in action. This machine has an eight bit rotating tool head that can cut, drill and route all the parts for a cabinet body in a matter of minutes. The machine holds the plywood in place with the suction of two vacuum pumps, through a sacrificial layer of low density fiberboard. With incredible precision it can cut all the parts to tolerances of thousandths of an inch. Because of the sophisticated programming there is little waste, sometimes only the sawdust from the router bit! The machine is so precise, it can produce “miter folded” applications leaving the last 3/1000th of the veneer face in tack, so plywood sheets can be folded with seamless corners. With the CNC Router, Gus produces cabinet parts for his own shop and several others.
A few days prior, Nick Diggins and TLCD Principal, Don Tomasi visited the shop of Klaus Rappensberger, a Sonoma County sculptor and craftsman. They discussed the option of making screens from sheet steel and cutting the screen patterns with a water jet cutter. We are now considering what we can produce in-house with our laser cutter, or possible options with these other digital technologies. The possibilities and potential are endless. The more we understand, the more we can do.
Entry plaza to The Center for Sciences and Innovation at Trinity University
By Alan Butler AIA, LEED AP
Project-based learning is at the forefront of teaching in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) disciplines in both K-12 and Higher Education. A new generation of innovative science buildings are being designed that support this new active learning pedagogy.
This past week I attended a conference in San Antonio, Texas on creating STEM buildings for Higher Education institutions. We heard from faculty, architects and educational thinkers about the evolution of science education and laboratory design and toured the new Center for the Sciences and Innovation at Trinity University. Their new STEM building embodied many of the concepts we explored together during interactive conference sessions.
What are the hallmarks of a 21st century science teaching facility? Foremost they are about active and project-based learning. These are environments where students become agents of their own learning and work both collaboratively and individually to solve real world problems. The buildings are transparent and accommodating, making science visible and blurring the boundaries between the laboratory and the classroom. With plenty of “soft spaces” they become a magnet for students and build a supportive community of science learners.
At the Center for The Sciences and Innovation at Trinity University we saw labs with floor to ceiling glass, making the activity of the labs less mysterious and immensely inviting. On every floor, formal and informal study spaces were full of science (and non-science) students who inhabit the building almost around the clock. Write up spaces, separate but housed within the labs, become the places where, it was pointed out, all the data from the labs is transformed into learning. These are also spaces where students can study, collaborate and meet with faculty.
While the entire building is a beacon, reaching out to the greater campus community, the highlight of the facility is the Innovation Studio, a multi-modal maker space surrounded by shops, computer design labs and meeting spaces. The Innovation Studio, which is part of the Engineering Department, reaches out to all the sciences and the greater campus as a place for students to make their projects real. This facility will have strong links to the Business and Entrepreneurship programs within the University.
Link to expanded White Paper…
Two Slimline tanks that will hold 1,060 Gallons of rainwater.
By Alan Butler AIA
This weekend I installed a thousand gallons of rainwater storage tanks in my side yard. I found some very nice Bushman Slimline tanks that are only 25” wide, fit neatly in my side yard, and still allow me to get by with the trashcans and the wheelbarrow. They collect roughly half of the water from my roof, and with a thousand square feet of roof area I can fill the tanks with 1 3/4 “ of rain. They were a fair amount of work to move around – weighing nearly 300 pounds apiece and being seven feet long and six and a half feet tall, it was a real trick for three of us to unload them. Once we pushed the tanks into place, I installed piping that led from the gutters to the tanks. With piping complete and a light rain on Sunday, I finally heard the satisfying sound of the rainwater flowing into the tanks.
While installing the tanks, one of my neighbors walked by and we started talking about the concept of payback. As with my home, he installed photovoltaic panels on his roof a couple of years ago. He related the story of attending an informational meeting about solar panels just before he put in his system. One member of the audience kept asking: “But what’s the payback?.” He related to me that while a friend of his bought a new Mercedes for $50,000 that same year, he bought a new Prius and his solar panel system. Nobody asked his friend what the payback was on his new Mercedes! My neighbor’s electric bills have dropped dramatically and in approximately seven to ten years the system will have paid for itself. He said even with economic facts in play, it was equally or more important for him to do the right thing. I won’t go into the whole argument about renewable energy, carbon dioxide and our current unsettled weather.
I looked at my utility bill for the first time in detail on Sunday evening. I found that our household uses three to five thousand gallons a month during a normal rainy winter and an astonishing twenty-five thousand gallons a month during the warmest part of the year. A thousand gallons of water probably costs only $15 when you look at all the flat fees and related sewer charges. If we have a really rainy spring and I’m diligent about using my harvested rainwater, my payback for the tanks might be fifteen rather than thirty years. Not a really compelling economic argument but…
I’ve already become a more conscientious consumer as the result of reading my bills carefully for the first time. My bills will likely drop as result. If we have a severe drought and have to cut back or eliminate landscape watering, I’ll be able to keep my lemon trees and vegetable garden going this summer. Unlike the luxury car, it really will pay back in both economic and less tangible, but significant ways. I feel like I’ve made the right decision. I’ll stick with my Toyota Hybrid too!
Six years ago my brother-in-law approached me and said “You should consider joining the board of the Redwood Empire Food Bank. They really need an architect”. I had no idea what those six years would entail when I said yes. This was my first real service on a non-profit board and it came at a time of great change for the organization.
I served the best way I could by helping them conceptualize, fund, and build out a new building to support their growing mission. The Redwood Empire Food Bank serves almost one in six residents of Sonoma County and the regions north. The issue in Northern California is not starving people but food insecurity. It means that the elderly and low wage earners run out of money for food three weeks into the month. It means that thousands of school children come to school hungry and do not have good diets. I means that poor diets are resulting in health problems such as diabetes and obesity that tend to compound the initial problems.
I’ve helped create a lot of buildings in my career but rarely has a project resulted in such immediate and profound results. With their new facility on Brickway Boulevard, more freezer space means that programs such as Range to Table will have a place to store meat products to add much needed protein to the selection of available foods. The newly opened Value Marketplace, the first of its kind in the nation, is a non-profit market serving the food bank’s clients with healthy food in a dignified and helpful environment. These are just a few of many possibilities now available with their new facility.
Yesterday I received my blue plate award for six years of service on the board of the Redwood Empire Food Bank, including two terms as President. It has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and I’m grateful TLCD Architecture has given me the time to dedicate to this effort. I urge all of you to consider how your skills might benefit a non-profit organization like the Food Bank. It has changed the way I look at the world. I know it has already helped many people and will continue to do so.