Monthly Archives: December 2014

Coming of Age in SOMA (South of Market)

Aging in Place

Holidays and the end of the year make me think about ritual and renewal and continuity and change — I am beginning to sound like an alumni magazine!

My office recently moved to San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) tech zone, where I met the future — for a while we were in a glass cubicle on the fourth floor of an “incubator building” full of ambitious web developers near Second and Mission. The five-story 1910-era structure has a cool modern vibe with exposed brick walls, bamboo-topped steel desks, a basement Fussball lounge and the odd Saarinen potato chip chair. It’s Google-lite in miniature.

It and the surrounding streets are teeming with young men and women, occasionally on skateboards or pulling suitcases, or waiting at the entrance to the venerable Palace Hotel as black SUVs, Mercedes, and Town Cars come and go. An urban planner friend tells me that the Nob Hill hotels are now scrambling to compete with SOMA hostelries like the Palace, which are closer to tech hubs like Pinterest, Salesforce, and Twitter, “where everyone wants to be,” as the VISA ad says. At noon the buffets at local Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese eateries are full, while lines for taco trucks parked at the curb start forming by 11:30 with nobody apparently minding the wait because it’s a chance to talk with colleagues and check emails or play Candy Crush Saga.

And suddenly I have realized that I’m a lot older than my neighbors. Indeed, one day the 30-something maintenance worker who restocks the kitchens and bathrooms  on every floor turned to me  – not having spoken to me before – and said with all earnestness: “It’s so inspiring to see a man of your age still working.” Receding gray hair. Still vigorous; not yet stooped. Well, I can see how I stand out – Rip Van Winkle in the middle of freshman rush.

I had never given my age much thought until that moment, except for the time I thought I was a year older than I actually was and my wife kindly corrected me — which was a delightful gift! But now it occurs to me that of course your environment is a powerful determinant for shaping your world view. Duh! And I can remember thinking the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead — who wrote the influential Coming of Age in Samoa — did look awfully old as she walked up the aisle of the Yale Law School Auditorium leaning heavily on her crook-shaped walking stick to lecture our introductory anthropology class. Which reminds me, when our younger daughter was two years old we visited a small state park. In the visitor center the ranger turned to a child near us and asked: “And how old are you, little boy?” The boy replied: “I’m two.” Whereupon our daughter rushed over to him and said: “You’re not two. I’m two.” I guess part of growing up is realizing that there can be two twos, or put another way – that there can be more than one monoculture. Exposure is definitely broadening.

My 94 year-old mother recently settled into a retirement home after more than sixty years living at the end of a long and winding country road. She said: “The really interesting people here are the ones over 100.” (I can only hope…) That was before she started complaining about the food and had one of her sons find her old copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking to give to the chef. “Here,” she said, “This is how you make creamed spinach.”

So what’s next? I’m not ready to leave home yet! But someday, if necessary, it ought to be a place that’s well designed, feels genuine, and is easy to move around in for young and old alike. With good design and decent planning there ought to be a way for younger families and retirees to occupy the same complex. Good light, a stimulating outlook, places to be comfortably together and easily apart — with practical sound-proofing where needed — are among the basics. Such a place certainly doesn’t need a hotel ambience, gurgling fountains, or white marble statues of Hebe, the goddess of youth. There must be a better way. So, as the tryptophan kicks in after your feasting maybe you will dream it up! Meanwhile,

holidayphotoWe’re in the caves at Kenzo Estate, the elegant new Napa Valley winery by Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects. Hey, now that I think of it, a winery is actually a form of “assisted living”! We toast you and the future!



Architecture To Buy Or Eat

Holiday Houses

Time to think about the architecture enthusiasts on your gift list. Luckily I have some suggestions! In 2011 British brothers Robert and Gavin Paisley founded a business called Chisel and Mouse to make a few plaster models of significant buildings. Fast forward to today and the business has burgeoned so that now their offerings include a wonderfully wide range of designs, from Eliel Saarinen’s Helsinki train station to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House. My kind of company! Their architectural sculptures are made of  plaster with fine details like window frames etched in metal. According to their website: “We combine traditional sculpting with CAD and 3D printing to produce our collection.” (Aha! This is the clue to the name of the company!) Models are priced around $215

Winslow Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.23.59 PM (2)

apiece. And they can even model your own home! Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow house from 1893 caught my eye — an early example of his Prairie Style with hipped roof and recessed band around the eaves. The model is 4 inches high, 10 inches wide, 4 inches deep and weighs roughly 5 lbs. Something for your desk as

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you plan your dream house! Or why not dream big — in a diminutive sort of way — and acquire a part of Buckingham Palace, at 10 inches high, 7 inches wide, and 4.5 lbs. I myself am rather partial to the house that modernist architect WilliamLescazeScreen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.59.03 PM (2)

Lescaze — designer of the famous PSFS skyscraper in Philadelphia — built for himself in Manhattan in 1934. It’s probably a little too minimalist for me to live in but would be fun to live with!

If you’re not house-hunting but still a little hungry for something seasonal, how about building a gingerbread house. CEO Jamie Roche and his two children found inspiration in our Plan 896-2 by Jay Shafer and his


Four Lights Tiny Houses, one of which is shown above, and made this version.

Gingerbread tiny house

The gum for the roof is a good idea — otherwise known as a neoprene sealer — and the candy wheels make me hungry. The truck is extra and not edible. To follow the templates for building it click here.

Check out Jamie’s previous design based on a Sea Ranch cabin from last year. Or if you


are even more ambitious you can build the Beach House Plan 479-1 designed by Peter Brachvogel, AIA and Stella Carosso. Architectural designer and Gingerbread_2 photo

Houseplans staffer Monika Strunk made this version. Delightful and delicious! Why not take yours to the Planning Department — maybe it will help expedite things!…You can follow her Templates and Directions on Time To Build. She also offers a few tips: The gingerbread house is drawn at 1/4″= 1’0″ scale, which in real life-scale will yield a 0.25-inch gingerbread wall. (Keeping the gingerbread thickness consistent while rolling out the dough was the biggest challenge). She used pre-made frosting that came with two different decorating nibs (star-shaped and basic); and 1.5 batches of gingerbread dough from a Martha Stewart recipe. It took approximately 2.5 hours to assemble and decorate — most of the time was spent baking and cutting.

So are you ready to fire up the workshop?! Maybe have a little rum-infused eggnog while waiting for the oven to pre-heat…that’s the spirit!