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Posts by Alan Butler

99% Invisible

I would like to highly recommend the podcast series 99% Invisible produced by Roman Mars in Oakland. It is self described as “A tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”. The Podcasts range in length from 10 to 30 minutes and are totally fascinating. You can learn more about it at Check it out. This kind of effort deserves our support. It is partially underwritten by AIA SF.  You can get it through the iTunes store  for free.



Li Ka Shing Center at Stanford. Site of the 2012 SCUP Pacific Region Conference

Having just returned from the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP) Pacific Regional Conference at Stanford University, it’s my opinion that that SCUP puts on some of the best meetings I’ve ever attended.  With attendance limited, the conference is much more collegial than most. It’s a nice blend of design professionals and college and university planners – all of whom are extremely friendly.  Within a day you begin to greet familiar faces and occasionally someone will come up and say: “Didn’t I see you in Seattle last year?”

During the course of the conference, the attendees met in the Li Ka Shing Center in the Stanford Medical School, a fabulous new teaching center with some of the most advanced instructional technology around. It was nice to rub elbows with medical students rather than be in an anonymous hotel ballroom. Two Norman Foster buildings on the new Medical School Quadrangle bracketed the center where we met.

In addition to touring the facilities on the Stanford campus, I went on tours of the new UCSF Mission Bay campus and the Google campus in Mountain View.

At UCSF we learned about the layering of public and interactive space from macro to micro scale. New lab buildings serving 500- 600 staff are designed so that researchers, often immersed in very individual projects, will encounter each other on a regular basis. The center focuses on cross-disciplinary discovery and “translational” research facilities that link research to ground floor clinics serving patients.

At Google I learned that if you are lucky enough to get a job there, you might never buy groceries or cook again! Goggle provides up to three full free meals a day, unlimited snacks in the Micro Kitchens on each floor and has 26 cafes on the Mountain View campus. I never realized that there were 15,000 people in Mountain View helping to answer my “Google” enquiries.  This is not to mention their offices in 60 countries.

The individual presentations during the conference proper were informative and generally fast paced, providing a lot of information about master planning and higher education facility design. The three days I spent there were totally engaging and I came back with lots of information to share with our team at TLCD Architecture.

Flamingos devouring T-Rex at the Googleplex in Mountain View

UCSF Mission Bay Campus

Incredible Walk

Trying to take advantage of our recent fabulous January weather, on Sunday I took one of the most beautiful urban walks in the U.S. The walk from the Palace of Fine Arts along the Chrissy Field waterfront to Fort Point  in San Francisco was just incredible. The walk ends under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge and  the bridge is in view  the whole time. It is two miles each way and an easy flat walk. Worth a trip to San Francisco.

Two mile route from the Palace of Fine Arts to the Golden Gate Bridge

The Palace of Fine Arts has just been restored and is absolutely beautiful. It is well worth a visit in itself. The scale of  the structures is immense and the reflecting pool provides a beautiful vista of the complex.

The Uglies

I found an interesting document on the San Mateo Community College website about common oversights that create “The Uglies”  This is something that we all could spend a few minutes looking at.


The Uglies-San Mateo CCD

From the document:

Okay, so “The Uglies” is not exactly the best way to characterize what’s going on in these photos.

• But there are other things going on that we want to call to your attention, and ask that you do not replicate these conditions in our facilities! These examples illustrate conditions that are:
– Difficult to maintain
– Difficult to operate
– Not durable enough for our institutional or environmental conditions
– And yes, some really are just ugly



I think that almost every architect has more than one sketchbook in a bookcase at home with one or two sketches and good intentions to fill the rest of it. I bet I have ten or more and some of them have not been opened for a decade or more. My last two trips to Italy, I have finally gotten over my inhibitions (what if I do a bad drawing!?) and carved out the time to sketch regularly. This fall, while my wife Margaret was in Italian language classes, I went out and walked, took pictures and sat and sketched. My goal was to do at least one sketch each day. Linked on Flickr are some of the sketches I did.

We spent ten days in Rome, then travelled northeast about 3 ½ hours by bus to the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche province. It is a vital and economically robust town of 60,000 with a medieval core that dates from the 11th and 12th century. We stayed in an architect’s home overlooking the town that that had been converted to a B&B by his nephew, so you will see lots of views of the towers from above. Urbino was our next stop and focused around a renaissance fortress on a hilltop that is every travel photographers dream. Our last stop was Ferrara, a town about the size of Santa Rosa with an intact walled core dating from medieval and renaissance times. Sketching was a relaxing way of making myself sit quietly in one place for a while and really contributed to making this into a true vacation. I’ve got a couple of slide shows scheduled in January to show both the historic and contemporary facets of our trip.


Check out the Obelisk

The 60' Obelisk on Santa Rosa Avenue

It is not the Piazza di Popolo in Rome or the Place de Corncorde in Paris, in fact it is in front of the Nissan dealership on Santa Rosa Avenue. This weekend a 60 foot obelisk was set in place. It is a 52′ structure with a tube steel frame and welded bicycle parts sitting on an eight foot base.  The sculpture was  commissioned by Santa Rosa Nissan as part of their 1% for art contribution. The sculpture was created by Petaluma artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector. Former TLCD architect Danny Strening did the permit drawings and Kevin Zucco of  ZFA was the structural engineer. It is a pretty remarkable and sizable structure. Be sure to check it out. There was an article in the Press Democrat online version yesterday.


What are Plug Loads?

You may see this device plugged into workstations, copy machines and other office equipment in the next few weeks. It is one of three of these devices I have on loan from the PG&E Energy Center in San Francisco. It measures the kilowatt hours used by any electrical device and can calculate costs on an annual, monthly or weekly basis. I have become increasingly interested in “phantom loads”, all that power that is consumed while our office machines wait to be used.  For example the Resource Station by my office has a computer, monitor and two scanners and is almost always left on 24 hours a day. Last night in the fourteen hours it was on while nobody was in the office it drew 2.26 kilowatt hours. Doesn’t sound like much but in the 6,256 hours it is left on when nobody is in the office it uses $177 dollars worth of electricity each year. This is 938 KWH per year which would probably be equivalent of  a pretty high residential monthly power bill.

There are lots of emerging technologies that I hope we will use in the new office. Some are as simple as occupancy sensors attached to plug strips which shut off all non essential power if you leave your desk for a period of time. We are  using  this at the new Yuba Center in Clear Lake.  New building wide  systems, similar to what we are using for daylight controls in our more sophisticated buildings, can sweep off circuits after hours and are intelligent enough to know if someone is working in that part of the building.

In the meantime think about all those transformers and devices sucking power around the office. If you can turn off a printer or copier on the way out as well as your computer we’d be  all the better. We are the best occupancy sensor devices. I’ll be tallying up the frightening numbers and showing some of the control systems  coming to the fore in  a Wine Wednesday presentation in coming  months.

Jaime’s First Post from the Gulf: May 7, 2010


Sorry I have not been able to blog. We are in an area without Internet. Yes it turns out there are still places in the world without internet access. I’m using someone’s computer with a Verizon card.

To date, we have set up a center in Sulfur, LA. We have 3 birds in custody. The oil is staying off shore but slowly moving inland toward the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. We took a pounding 3 hour boat trip today out to some offshore islands; North Island, Northwest Island and the Chandeleur Islands. All the islands in this area are packed with 300-400 brown pelicans. All three islands are also double boomed to protect the birds, but this only works if the birds stay on the islands…ya right! I am heading up a team that is going out to the islands to stay for 4-5 days to monitor the situation. The oil is about 1/4 mile off shore and moving fast. We passed over a lot of oil today, more than the media is talking about.

I will fill you in more when I get back from the islands.

Thanks again for everything.


I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

-Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted, 14 August 1966

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”

–       Ansel Adams

Editors Note: These photos were ones I found on the internet as Jaime is having difficulties posting from his current locale. You also might want to check out the IBRRC Blog for the latest information on their activities. Jaime is one of 16 staffers from IBRRC onsite in the gulf.  aB

The photos below are of the recently set up Fort Jackson Oiled Bird Rescue Center, set up in the last week by IBRRC.


Off to the Gulf

While we will be sleeping Tuesday night, Jaime will be on a red-eye flight heading for Louisiana. Monday morning a call came from his past life asking if he could help with bird rescue at the Gulf of Mexico as the BP spill approached the shoreline. Prior to his life in architecture Jaime was  a wildlife  biologist with the International Bird Rescue Research Center. For the next two weeks  he will be helping organize bird rescue centers and training volunteers for what promises to be an extended environmental crisis in the gulf.  You might want to check  out this link on the IBRRC site: It is a bio of Jaime’s past work on bird rescues at oil spill sites.

In an email exchange Monday, I asked Jaime how they would deal with a spill this big?  Every day the blown out well is pouring multiple Exxon Valdez tank loads into the gulf. Jaime replied: “I am not sure. Each time is different. Hopefully they are pulling in lessons learned from past spills and applying them to this one. Part of the issue is that although the product spilt is the same each time,  the environment is different and requires new solutions to a similar problem. With all of the marshland, mangrove forest and swamp exposed to the gulf,  this is going to be challenging. It will be interesting to see what kind of defense BP and the Coast Guard is mounting against the slick”.

So while we feel exhausted from hitting the return key for long hours, we can think of Jaime working what will likely be  twenty-hour wet and oily days. We wish him all the best and hope for blog posts from the front.


Rainmakers sure Did!

I attended our semi-annual Rainmakers roundtable  in Boston April 8-10.  Talk about making rain, I arrived in balmy 85+ weather and as soon as the group started arriving the weather turned cold. On Friday the group took the downpour tour of some newer Boston projects including the Norman Foster addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Rowing Club Boathouse, Gehry’s Strata Center (pictured), Saarinen’s Chapel at MIT and the new addition to the Media Lab at MIT by Fumihiko Maki. I’ll be showing photos of these projects and a few more at Wine Wednesday, April 21 at 5:00 p.m. Umbrellas not required.


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