Tag Archive | "architecture"

downtown hole

Wandering around downtown, you never know what you’ll discover.

two backhoes

For instance, I spotted this hole in the ground downtown. At the corner of L St. & Tuolumne. Two backhoes and a bobcat sit resting after the destruction. They’re going to have to dig their way out.


What was a building is now sculptural piles of broken concrete and twisted rebar.

sculpture 2

I’d rather write about construction and what new designs are in store for Fresno.


This was the site of the Cornerstone Youth Center. I’m not sure if it was being used recently. Cornerstone Church is one of the largest property owners in Downtown Fresno. While I don’t know much of the facts, I offer these visuals to explore. Meanwhile I’ll try to find out if Cornerstone still owns the site and plans to develop a new building, or if they sold it to another party that will develop it.

birds eye

This is what used to be here. Not really an architectural gem, so I’m not sad to see it go.

View Larger Map

Demolition is a complicated concept for me. On one hand the process is somewhat beautiful to me. The is also the creative aspect of imagining what might go in its place. On the other hand, knowing Fresno development, the site may sit vacant for years, another missing tooth in Downtown’s smile.

What do you think should go in this building’s place? What functions should it have? How tall should it be?

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super signage

luauWhile searching for a news article from the Fresno Bee, I stumbled upon an amazing resource. It was a webpage called Super Signage Fresno, CA. I’ve had a little obsession about signage for the past couple of months.

Unfortunately, THE FRESNAN stole my thunder and posted this early today. He pulled it from my twitter feed when I discovered the site yesterday. Mike has become an archop groupie giving the site his Bloggiest Moment of the Week for two weeks in a row. With lots of link love, I’ll let this one pass. But Mike, remember, the built environment is the realm of archop, stray too far and we will school you.

cedarlanesNow that that little blog warfare is out of the way… Digging deeper into the site called www.agilitynut.com, we see that Deborah Jane has collected an amazing inventory of Roadside Architecture from across the country. You can search type and even browse signage by place. There are even a sampling some of my favorite architectural styles including Art Deco and Mid-Century. I have not read much about the author yet. So, I’m wondering what is her method is for collecting all of this data. But one thing is sure, we’ll continue to use it at a resource.

ivorytIn the sampling of Art Deco architecture. I saw this building. While slurping some Pho you may have noticed this architectural gem called the Ivory Tower. “The Ivory Tower stands in the parking lot of the Mayfair Shopping Center. The shopping center was built in 1945 and has since been remodeled. This remaining structure was used as the Administration Building and might also have contained a clothes shop.”

Take some time exploring the site. I’m sure it not comprehensive, so what are your favorites? What was missed?

dalebrosI’m amazing in how much articulation there used to be in signage. It was part of the architecture not just the lighted boxed with replaceable copy that is so prevalent today. How do we get back to that? Where are the missed opportunities?

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100th comment

I put a little competition out there this week. It was that whoever posted the 100th comment on this site would win. The prize was that we’d write about the house of the commenter’s choice. We left it open, it could be the commenter’s house that they’d like know more about or to showcase to the community. It may be a house that intrigues them and always wondered about. We will post photos and commentary about the style, neighborhood, etc. Maybe even include historical info about past or present residents.

Inspiration for this came when my neighbor Hank Delcore remarked about some similar features that our homes’ have. My wife and I had done some research about our house before we bought it and knew it was Minimal Traditional style. Hank’s home is the same style. He was satisfied that he knew a little more about his house, and that he could be more “architecturally hip” in talking about it.

birdsong home The winner was Michael Birdsong with a comment on the 1st Draft of Tower District streetscape design. His choice was to have his home in the Tower District written about because he wants to know more about it’s style. Stay tuned for a story about the house pictured.

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theory thursday: BLDGBLOG book

bldgblog-bookToday, I received a copy of BLDGBLOG BOOK by Geoff Manaugh. I was intending to purchase a copy through Amazon, but then the economy caught up with me. Luckily, Mike Osegueda writer with the Fresno Bee and blogger for FresnoBeeHive received a press copy from Chronicle Books. Through twitter mikeoz wrote “i got it in the mail yesterday. (I get all kinds of odd books). i’ll give it to you.”

And indeed it is a weird book. BLDGBLOG began as a blog focused on but not limited to architecture. While we are familiar with old media going to new media. However New media going to old media? A blog becoming a book? To top it off it’s on my favorite topic: architecture and the built and unbuilt environment.

Why is this a theory thursday? Well with a table of contents like 1)Architecture, Conjecture, Urban Speculation; 2)The Underground; 3)Redesigning the Sky; 4)Music Sound Noise; and 5)Landscape Futures; you can imagine it is chock full of theory. I plan to fully explore the ideas and blog/review about it as I go.

I hope Geoff Manaugh will forgive me for not purchasing his book. Maybe he’ll forgive me for putting a press copy to good use and hopefully inspiring some Fresnans to purchase a copy.

Here is the abstract:

Far from being limited to the construct of our built environment, architecture has long been considered a venue for tracing human thought – how we perceive and judge our world is recognizable in the buildings we create. Challenging us to look beyond the present paths of thinking and into the future of architecture is Geoff Manaugh, creator of the popular website BLDGBLOG.

Read by millions since its launch in 200, BLDGBLOG is the leading voice in speculation about architecture, landscape and the built environment. Now The BLDGBLOG Book distills author Geoff Manaugh’s unique ideas, offering an enthusiastic guide to the future of architecture, with stunning images and exclusive new content. From underground exploration to climate change, via the music of icebergs, J. G. Ballard, and tectonic warfare, this is a fascinating and unpredictable.”

Also inspiring is the first paragraph:

I started BLDGBLOG in the summer of 2004, inspired more or less by four things: I was writing a novel about surveillance, terrorism, independent film, and the London Underground; I was auditing a course about Archigram, the 1960s British pop-architectural supergroup that once dreamt of bolt-on instant cities, “mobile villages,” and inflatable utopias; I was reading a lot of J. G. Ballard (Super-Cannes, Concrete Island, The Drowned World, Crash); and I was feeling generally hemmed in by the city in which I lived. Whil my initial impulse might have been to complain – noting every little thing about the world that bothered me – I decided, in fact, to do the opposite: I made a conscious decision to write only about the things that interested me.

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Critique: Tower District Streetscape Design Charrette

bikes smHank Delcore, Ph.D., and Kiel Famellos-Schmidt
also found at http://theanthroguys.com

Saturday from 10am to 2pm, about a hundred Tower District residents and business owners gathered for a design charrette put on by the City of Fresno planning department and MW Steele Group. Steele has the contract for planning a redesigned Tower District streetscape as part of the Tower District Specific Plan. Saturday’s event was a day of community input, with Steele returning this Tuesday night to present some design alternatives.

Blong smWe laud City Councilman Blong Xiong, the city, various Tower District advocates, and the Steele Group for putting on this event. Mark Steele and his team listened, took some hard questions, and were willing to engage in some good give and take.

As professionals in participatory design and community design methods, we also noted some things about the program that can inhibit the quality of community input and seriously limit the degree of real community participation in the design process. This critique is intended to increase the quality of design charrettes and community input in Fresno as well as raise awareness about the potential of participatory design.

Expert focus of the event
mark 2smThe organizers stated that the day was all about the participants, but in practice, the more consistent emphasis was on the expert status of the architects/planners vis a vis the participants. After an introductory presentation on the distinctiveness of the Tower by two long-time Tower advocates, Mark Steele took the stage and talked mostly about his firm and their approach to the project. He presented his goals for the project, despite acknowledging that the day was about understanding our goals and aspirations. His associate, Diego Velasco, followed with the firm’s views of the strengths and challenges of the Tower District – again, topics that the charrette was supposed to probe. Expert statements are not the best way to begin an event meant to foster community participation in the planning and design process.

table 12smIt wasn’t until 11:15am that the twelve tables of participants were unleashed on the first design drill. By that time, some participants had already turned their attention away from the stage and were fingering the maps, stickers and other supplies on the tables. An hour is too long for facilitators to dominate the stage at a four hour event. The long lead-in both cut down the time for participants by a quarter, and set a strong expert-focused – not participant-focused – tone.

The tower district is a very diverse place. It is called home by many including: African American, Asian, Caucasian, Latino, young and old, the progressive community, and the GBLTQ community. Economically, there is a mix of home owners and renters, working class through upper class and even homeless. As well, Tower is a destination for those throughout Fresno and beyond in search of unique cultural, entertainment and dining experiences.

The participants at the charrette were overwhelmingly white and weighted toward local property and business owners; the average age looked to be about 50. Conspicuously absent were youths and Latinos, two large and important resident/user groups in the Tower. Tower visitors from other neighborhoods were also missing. Those who attended are important, but they are already the most likely people to have their voices and preferences heard in this process, and they have a partial view of issues at stake in the streetscape. For example, there were probably relatively fewer public transportation users among the participants than some other Tower constituencies, an important point when it comes to redesigning bus stops and associated features like sidewalks and bike racks.

Jay presents table 11's results for Design Drill B: Mapping the Tower Existing Conditions

Jay presents results of Design Drill B: Mapping the Tower Existing Conditions for table 11

Tight format, short time
For each design drill, the participants had 15 minutes to work through complex issues, like recommending placement of street furniture and other features all across the Tower District business core. Each exercise time was followed by 30 minutes of often repetitive presentations from each table to the entire group. The design charrette had us wrestling with important and potentially highly creative design issues, but the format was too tight.

Constrained approach to community participation
Finally, with the design alternatives meeting coming up Tuesday, we wonder how much of Saturday’s charrette can really be incorporated into the process. Again, we agree that Mark Steele and his colleagues (and by extension the city) are sincerely trying to listen. But it’s hard to believe that Steele and company didn’t already have some designs in mind or drawn up before the charrette. If not, then they would have to work day and night from Saturday afternoon till Tuesday night to synthesize ideas from a hundred participants and come up with some design alternative to present – and even then, this time frame is probably too tight. Surely they are working with the charrette data right now, but they also probably had some designs already laid on and ready for their return to Fresno Tuesday night. This raises the question: how much community input can really be incorporated when the goals, strengths, challenges and preliminary design work have all already been done before the community is consulted? (In fairness, Mark has said that the design alternatives they will present Tuesday night will not be very detailed; we’re sincerely curious about the firm’s process for analyzing charrette data and incorporating it into their designs.)

What We Would Do
In our experience, facilitating dozens of participatory design charrettes, as well as observation of other charrettes and research of best practices, here’s how a truly participatory design charrette might look:

Participant focus
At one point Saturday, Mark Steele said, “today we’re gonna make you into streetscape designers.” In other words, the experts were ready to teach us how to do something of what they do. But a community design event shouldn’t be about transferring knowledge about design practice from experts to community members. Instead, we start from the principle that everyone is a designer already, without expert help. In other words, we all have design ideas and practices related to our surroundings, including our streetscapes. A community design charrette should be aimed at unlocking the design insights we already have (or could have, in the right context), and making those insights available to professional designers. Professional designers apply their experience and expertise to produce the actual design, inspired by community input.

In practice, a participant focus means that you deemphasize the role of expert or facilitator. No long and potentially intimidating statements of who has what degree or affiliation or expertise; instead, you dive right into the participatory design exercises and maximize the time that the participants have at center stage.

Recruitment means diversity
If you open the event up to “concerned citizens and business owners,” you tend to get a self-selected group of the usual suspects, as we saw on Saturday. Instead, we recommend targeted recruitment among all user groups to ensure a diversity of participants in the design process. This of course takes more work upfront in recruiting and screening. The result is much more useful data that can more accurately influence the design process.

Loosen up the format, take your time
Getting true participation takes time and flexibility. We would have recommended a series of three participatory design charrettes, with smaller yet more diverse participants, and more creative exercises involving, perhaps, larger scale prototyping and methods drawn from theatre and the arts — this is after all the Tower! (Diego said that they considered a skit-making exercise but time constraints precluded it.) Participants could act out common Tower interactions with streetscape props. Examples we bounced around included: the bus stop, the sidewalk café, the tower rat hangout, bar hopping, Rogue, etc. This would give the designers data about our culture and spatial needs. Using audio and visual recording, can capture both the data and the process through which it was produced for later analysis.

Another method we thought would be useful is to have different tables focus on different areas of the project area. With twelve tables of participants at the event all focused on the same design drills never more focused than the entire project area, a lot of redundant results were produced. The area is easily broken into six overlapping parts. Each area is then worked on by two tables. This would get all of the project area equal focus. At Hank’s table and the three tables Kiel facilitated, we noticed input was light at the edges. Also at the 1”=30’ scale aerial photo that was the last of the design drills, it was hard to definitively place streetscape elements and furniture represented by stickers in our tool pallet that included: sidewalk cafes, potted plants, streetlights, handicap ramps, benches, bike racks, etc.

Some of these measures would increase costs at the event level. However, we have Fresno-area expertise to accomplish participatory design and planning work and the savings from keeping the work local would more than pay for the changes we suggest.

True participation
Let’s face it, whenever we create something, we become wedded to it: we want to defend it, sometimes not even consciously. From talking with Mark, and Diego, observing how the community was prompted, and the tight timeline, it seems much of the design is already in place. Community consultation should take place before any designer digs into a project or puts pencil to paper.

While we value and honor the expertise of MW Steele Group and the work done by the City of Fresno and the Tower community, this is our honest assessment of the design charrette process and how it could be improved upon. Please attend the next meeting Tuesday, July 28th 7-9pm at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre, where the design alternatives will be presented.

Related posts
Tower District Streetscape Plan
Q & A with Diego Velasco
Tower District Streetscape charrette video
Bored in Fresno? Become an Anthropologist
ArcHop Construction Proceeds

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theory thursday: An Authenticity of ‘Rootedness’

Dear Archop Nation,

I was intrigued by the recent ‘Theory Thursday’ post concerning the concept of authenticity. Below is my attempt to further the discussion.

mantleThe notion of authenticity has in it the idea of a pure, genuine original, a sort of Platonic ideal – ‘this is an authentic 1952 Tops Mickey Mantle Rookie card, all others are copies, replicas, or fakes’. A thing’s authenticity is a measure of its faithfulness to the original; and its value is measured by the degree to which it approximates the original. The authentic rookie baseball card is a far greater prize than the re-issued anniversary edition.

Eiffel-TowerApplying this model of authenticity to the built environment sheds light on a notion of authenticity that enables us to assess the building’s value. If an exact replica of the Eiffel tower were erected today in Buenos Aires, it is doubtful that it would become the same symbol of national identity and pride for Argentinians that it has for Parisians.

london-bridgeIf the London bridge was removed from its original location and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona –then it would be an abhorrent grafting that stripped a historic structure of any meaningful contextual significance.


What is clear from the above examples is that the measure of a building’s authenticity is inseparably wed to its time, its place, its people, its cultural milieu. It is not so much the degree of faithfulness to the original that matters, but, rather, the degree to which a building is faithful to the environment in which it exists. It is this notion of “rootedness” that provides us with a meaningful tool for assessing the value of authenticity for a built work.

Perhaps no living architect embodies this notion of “rootedness” better than the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. When asked what idea he is most concerned with communicating to his students, Mercut replied:

They must think that every project they do is worthy of being. Their work has to speak about place, technology, climate, structure, materials. They must work honestly, with heart and mind, rather than structuring what is a visual delight alone. Their work has to have roots. I think what we admire
most about architecture of all periods is rootedness, authenticity. We recognize authenticity, and we recognize the five-minute flash. The authentic lives on; the flash quickly dies.

Almost all of Mercutt’s work has been done in his native geographic region. He does not have a single high rise, flashy concert hall or show piece museum on his resume, yet he has received the two highest professional honors that can be bestowed upon an architect – the AIA Gold Medal and the Pritzker Prize. What he has left is a trail of thoughtful, progressive, sustainable ‘gifts’ to his clients and fellow Australians. I offer his Marie Short House, built in Kempsey in 1975, as a model of an authentic building rooted in its environment. A May 2007 New York Times article entitled “The Native Builder” features the building.

murcottOur challenge as designers will be two-fold. First, we must study, comprehend and recognize what is unique to our culture, our area, our people. Second, we must share and celebrate these findings in the public forum that is our local built environment. Beauty will have no choice but to follow; and we will all have reason to smile. I will be listening with open eyes and mind.


Michael Pinheiro

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Historic Preservation Commission

Today on the Fresno City Council agenda is a proposal by Mayor Ashley Swearengin to amending the Fresno Municipal Code relating to the Historic Preservation Commission.

That is not as drastic as it may sound and maybe a good modification. In fact, her bid for election as mayor was supported by several prominent local architects. With that and their continued advisement, Mayor Swearengin is well suited for improving Fresno’s built environment and making changes to City policy to support that.

The proposal by the Mayor is to amend the Historic Preservation Ordinance that governs the Commission to clarify residency requirements.

“The proposed amendment to Fresno Municipal Code Section 12-1605 would require five (5) of the seven (7) members of the Historic Preservation Commission to be a resident of the City of Fresno, but would allow two (2) of the seven (7) commission members, as long as they had the historical background described in Section 12-1605, to reside outside of Fresno but within the State of California.”

The story broke Monday through The Business Journal. This proposal was not a surprise given what I’d heard in the City Hall Lobby after the June meeting of the Commission. I had been there to report about 1, 2 items in front of the commission during that meeting. The commission has all 7 seats currently filled. However, 2 commisioners terms (4 years) are expired. It was a frustration of the preservation community during the Autry administration that there was never a full commission. There has been a change from that with the Swearengin administration, as 3 new members have been appointed since she took office.

Architect and commission co-chair, Chris Johnson AIA stated that:

“My understanding is that filling this commission with the energy and expertise needed to sustain it over a long haul is the issue. Protecting Fresno’s history goes beyond the city ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ and currently the Mayor is precluded by the city attorney at having individuals that do not live in the City limits serve on the HPC.” A co-author of the current Ordinance, Johnson continues, “There is no language clarifying this issue in the ordinance so the language proposed will provide clarity and give the Mayor more flexibility to fill the commission with the best possible candidates in and around Fresno.”

If you’re in to this kinda stuff, here is a PDF of the current Historic Preservation Ordinance. And here is a PDF of the Mayor’s proposed amendment to the Ordinance.

The County of Fresno also has a historic preservation counterpart. But I must admit I know little about it. Historical Landmarks & Records Commission

Share your thoughts here:

What are the benefits or pitfalls of allowing county residents on this City Commission?

Could this create more City / County cross pollination?

Could this set precedent for other City of Fresno commissions such as the Planning Commission?

What is needed to spur more civic engagement so that there is actually competition for these commission appointments?

Post updated 7/16/09 with facts from Kevin Enns-Rempel’s comment.

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at the table

The Business Journal has been contacting me allot lately for information about architecture in the San Joaquin Valley. Most of this interaction has happened because of Twitter. I think this is fantastic. One of archop’s goals has been to get architecture more regularly and accurately feature in local media. The Business Journal is setting the bar.

Most recently, Gabriel Dillard contacted me to request my employer’s participation on an Executive Roundtable focused on architecture. I diligently passed on the questionnaire to Russ Taylor AIA, partner and architect at the Taylor Teter Partnership. I also passed the questionnaire off to the board members of AIA San Joaquin.

After transcribing Russ’s responses, I put my fingers to the keys to put down some of my thoughts on the questions from an archop perspective. While I’m not a licensed architect or an executive, I fired it off to Gabriel. Below are my responses to his questions.

1. Please tell us a little about your firm.

archop is a project of the American Institute of Architects: San Joaquin Chapter. It was launched in October of 2007 as a response to the need for an improved built environment in Fresno and the greater San Joaquin Valley. The program emphasizes the importance of quality architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning by: showcasing gallery exhibitions; designing and building full scale installations; holding panel discussions on relevant architectural topics; and organizing public workshops for outreach, educational and research purposes.

2. How has the economic downturn affected business?

As a not for profit effort aimed at improving our built environment we find ourselves surrounded problems that need solutions, public art, homelessness, inner city park space. We have been able to tackle these problems with a budget under $5,000 per year. Financial donations have become increasingly rare. Our response to that is to identify scrap or surplus building materials and utilize those in our installations. Substantial contributors include: Western Building Materials, Patton Air Conditioning, Better Flooring, CBC Lighting, Shipman Fabrication, Trinity Construction, and White Pine Lumber. Economic issues have also increased our volunteer base.

3. What advice would you give business owners trying to find the right architect for their project?

While experience, referrals, and past performance should remain architect selection tools, I’d add web content is an interesting litmus test. Our world is increasingly digital and that will not change. An architecture firm with well designed web site (functionally and aesthetically) and developed web communication tools, understands the ways this technology has changed today’s economy.

4. What are the current trends in architectural design in this area, and what can we expect in the future?

I see two current trends in the region. The first is rampant in our city. That is what I call artificially flavored architecture. It is the use of branded styles that are only skin deep. Examples are Tuscan and Italianate which hardly resemble their European counterparts and achieve their look with veneers and foam details. They are popular simply because of marketing and pop culture.

A trend that gives me hope is the acceptance of sustainable design strategies into the mainstream market place. I want this to develop further and a new local vernacular will emerge that embraces our climate and locally available materials.

5. What kinds of clients are you serving these days?

We do not serve clients in the traditional fashion. In this sense my inspiration comes from my former employer Public Architecture. We treat the entire public as our clients. It is our responsibility to engage and educate the public so that they can recognize good and bad design in their daily lives and call upon political leaders, developers, and architects to provide a quality and healthy built environment for our city and region.

We are also pursuing design workshop projects with the Institute of Public Anthropology (1, 2) and research grant partnerships.

6. What kinds of projects are you designing these days?

To date archop has held 7 exhibits, 5 panel discussions, 4 public workshops, and built 2 installations. The current installation is the redevelopment on an underused park in central Fresno underneath a freeway overpass. The park will demonstrate successful planning strategies to invigorate the park and low water low maintenance landscape to ensure long term sustainability.

If you are involved in architecture feel free to answer any of the above questions in the comments. All others comment on what you’ve read here if so inspired.

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theory thursday:architecture cluster

To build without engaging the “cluster” is impossible. To design without engaging the “cluster” is a missed opportunity.

Though it had been published several years prior, I can recall being captivated by the notion of “clusters” in Michael Porter’s article in the Harvard Business Review called “Clusters And The New Economics of Competition”. As Porter has described it, clusters are geographic concentration of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field. As I had interpreted it, the “architecture cluster” is the network of interrelated professionals – with whom I was responsible to be exchanging information with.

As architects, we are traditionally very good at exchanging information among our peers – essentially only a single sector within the “architecture cluster.” This phenomenon can perhaps be traced back to our days in studio when the entire design process was transparent to our colleagues, professors and critics alike. This form of information exchange is embedded in our working models and should remain. However, where I see huge potential for improvement is within the “architecture cluster.”

Recognizing the value that other professionals can add to our design process is the first step. As mentioned, architecture can not be realized without the participation of interrelated disciplines such as; finance, development, engineering, planning, environmental sciences, marketing, journalism, product design, product suppliers, construction, etc. We share space within the “architecture cluster” with these professionals but too often exclude them from the design process.

In Porter’s article, he draws upon the example of the California Wine Cluster. Among the 680 commercial wineries, it includes grape growers, suppliers, irrigation utilities, harvesting equipment suppliers, label printers, advertising firms, etc. Recognizing all too well that without one of these components, the availability of wine to the consumer would be compromised.

Admittedly, it will most often be the architect’s responsibility to organize and engage the related disciplines when working on a new project but with digital communication and social media marketing tools available to us today, this is significantly easier to organize and facilitate.

As always, I welcome the opportunity for this to be more of an open dialogue. Perhaps a suggestion to others who are contributing to this topic to think back on projects in which information was exchanged within the “architecture cluster” and how beneficial the information was to the help deliver a successful project……….

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theory thursday: value of critique

Yesterday, our humble website strode clear over a milestone. For the first time we had over 100 visits to the site in a single day. By midnight, we actually had 184 visits. Our previous high was 79 visits, set on April 14th during National Architecture Week.

We built this website back in January with the help of Paprika Studios to feature the steadily growing archop exhibits. We also wished to introduce content that can’t be found in any other Fresno media. That is critiques and commentaries about Fresno’s built environment, uniquely focused on design. Other local media report on architecture and the built environment. The focus is often on economics or reported as a current event, rather than exploring the implication for the built environment. The question of ‘why does that building look that way?’ or ‘is that a good or successful design?’ or ‘what does this building say about us and our city?’ rarely get explored. Also the question of ‘who is the architect?’ is left unanswered.

In other cities it is common place for newspapers to employ architectural or urban design critics, much like providing readers with food critics or cultural arts critics. John King who writes for the SF Gate and SF Chronicle come to mind. That is not currently the case in Fresno. We intend to change that paradigm here.

The 1st critique I wrote was of Tower Tattoos. That was a success story of good architectural design. That was a small tenant improvement project that we were able to dig into details of the design. It was also the beginning of what I believe is essential for pushing our Fresno’s and the region’s built environment forward.In that post I wrote:

“We need to offer constructive criticism to buildings, architects, and developers that are not preforming. We also need to highlight and reward those that demonstrate high quality design and positively contribute to a healthy and vibrant built environment.”

On Tuesday I wrote what I hope is constructive criticism on the Granville Homes’ L Street Village project. The post was the main driver for site traffic yesterday. It launched our site traffic through the roof (would our roof be a flat glass roof, maybe a sheet metal butterfly roof, or even a green roof?). The post has drawn 247 visits since Tuesday.

This has got me thinking about the theory behind design critique and a driving theory behind the archop effort.

Architectural education is not a pat you on the back, everyone gets a gold star kind of education. It is rigorous and often merciless. Part of that gauntlet is to prepare us for a professional practice that is highly competitive, low in compensation, and high in liability. A profession where creativity, communication, and cool under pressure are equally essential.

Remembering those critiques, I was forced to completely reevaluate things I had accepted as fact. In that process I discovered so much about myself and the built environment we live in. And when you do something right it shines, like an awakening the world is new and makes sense. To impart that on Fresno would be a dream come true.

This is not an effort to be critical for the sake of being critical. It is not intented to be high brow. It is not out of spite or dislike for any person. We will strive to make these critiques constructive and accessible. Please call us out if that is not the case. This is a learning process for us all.

Let us work together toward architecture, landscape and urban planning that is: a steward to the land, authentically Fresno, offers all the amenities we require with the ease we desire, innovating the whole way through.

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critique: L St. and San Joaquin Ave.

Today is the City of Fresno Historic Preservation Commission meeting. There are several interesting items on the agenda, but I’d like to focus on one. Darius Assemi of Granville Homes has asked to meet with the Commission to present a conceptual plan for a mixed-use project at the corner of L Street and San Joaquin Avenue in downtown.


click for larger image

The report to the Commission states that Assemi is seeking Commission and public input prior to incurring additional research and expense. If you are not familiar with the Assemi family and Granville Homes, they have made substantial investments in Downtown, specifically in the Cultural Arts District.

I believe we are at a point in development in downtown Fresno that the question is no longer “development or no development?” The question now is “How do we measure successful development?”

Last week I posted theory thursday: authenticity alluding to some projects that do not evoke authenticity. I believe that this project falls into that category. Some of the things that triggered this is that the proposal included two styles which remind me much more of tract home models than that historic Art & Crafts and Italianate which they are named for. Below are the renderings included in the proposal.

arts-and-craftsArts & Crafts



While this neighborhood has many vacant even severely damaged buildings, several are historic. And the common style represented is Colonial Revival of various forms. Beyond missing the mark historically, I’m of the philosophy that building faux historic buildings near real historic buildings is actually detrimental to the built environment.

There are several reasons I believe this: The level of craftsmanship of the historic resources is unmatched by the economics of and process building today; the history a neighborhood should be a patchwork of different eras leading to today’s contemporary buildings. This should be easily read. By building cheap knock offs of yesterdays buildings today with foam details once hand carved out of solid wood history become very muddy for the passerby.

A contemporary building in this location should take cues from its surroundings. What is the scale of its neighboring buildings? Is there a rhythm set by how the land was parceled? What are the materials used? How do the buildings address the street? All of these elements can help a new building fit into the context of its surrounding without trying to mimic the past.


Beyond style, the planning of the project should be such it builds community. Street life is essential as is pedestrian focus. The plan proposed feels much more like a gated apartment complex. That does not fit the downtown context.

In summery, I encourage Granville Home to continue investing Downtown, however this proposed project marks a turn in the wrong direction.

UPDATE 6-23-09

The Historic Preservation Commission meeting was interesting. I was surprised how willing the commission was to accept the fact that the 3 historic buildings on the site of the Granville proposal would most likely be demolished. They were more interested in preserving the buildings on the West side of the street that were outside the bounds of the proposal.

I found some glimmer of hope in a comment made by architect and commissioner, Chris Johnson AIA “This is not the Historic DemolishionCommission.”

To Mr Assemi’s credit he was open to all input about the design. Comments from the public including a member of the Fulton/Lowell Design Review Committee, a former HPC Commissioner Cam Maloy, and even Historic Preservation project manager, Karana Hattersly-Drayton, were in favor of a third alternative not shown above.

helmThe third design broke the long building in two with a pedestrian walkway and each building used detail elements pulled from different styles. Most notably was a center building that quoted the parapet detail from the Helm Home on the west side of the street. Granville is also planning to renovate the Helm Home.

I spoke publicly about some of the design concerns that I had that are listed above. My comments focused around authenticity, trying to preserve at least one of the building as an anchor to the project and some of the urban planning issues that needed to be addressed regarding activating the street with entry porches activating the street.

The Commission formed a subcommittee that will further advise Granville Homes about the design

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Robin Gay McCline’s last designs

September 22nd, 2008 the City of Fresno Historic Preservation Commission accepted the Mid-Century Modernism Historic Context report prepared by Lauren MacDonald. Robin Gay McCline and his wife Sue were present at the meeting. The report include interviews with Gay, features several of his notable works and a short biography. It was a momentous day for him.

back of House #1, facing Lake Hodges

House #1, back of house facing Lake Hodges


House #1, street view

On the City Hall front steps we talked at length. Gay offered 2 water color paintings as a donation for auction at archop’s anniversary exhibit. With childlike glee Gay also talked about his latest design project. The project was three houses for his family in Del Dios, Escondido, CA. The houses where to replace 3 that had burned in a wide fire. He related how the project had brought back a flood of memories as he tackled a new building code and a design that addressed the dangers of earthquake and wildfires. He loved being back at the drafting table.


House #2, Lex stands in front


House #2 - back of house

Three days later Gay passed away. He was honored at the anniversary exhibit were his 2 donated paintings were displayed along with flowers and a memory book. The books cover was pieces of sheet metal from the Snake Wall installation.

In the book 14 architects shared their memories of Gay and condolences to Sue. I delivered the book to Sue during the memorial service that was held at the Fresno Art Museum.

IÂ received a thank you card from Sue. She thanked archop for honoring Gay and for giving the book to the family. They appreciate its design and kind words it contained. Sue said that the book will remain in their family.

Sue also included progress photos of the houses that were the last buildings Gay designed. The same houses we had discussed on the steps of City Hall. It was touching to know that the family is completing these houses and will live in them.

I will not review that designs of these lovely houses at this time. Instead I’d like to let these pictures sink in. But I will say, when I first saw the rear of House #1, I was immediately reminded of the Vanna Venturi House. A postmodern house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, designed by Robert Venturi. But not being familiar enough with Gay’s design a can not say if that similarity is only skin deep.

Below is Gay’s biography from the Mid-Century Modernism Historic Context report prepared by Lauren MacDonald.

Robin Gay McCline (1928-2008)
Born: Frenso, CA
Education: University of California Berkeley, Architecture (1951)

Robin Gay McCline was born in Fresno, California on March 1, 1928. McCline served in the U.S. Army Air Force and attended college on the G.I. Bill. After completing studies in architecture at the University of California Berkeley in 1951 McCline went to work for David Horn as a draftsman from 1951-1956. He worked in the firm of Robert Stevens AIA in 1957. Later that same year McCline started his own firm with James A. Oakes, called James A Oakes & Gay McCline, Associate Architects. In addition to his architectural achievements McCline spent approximately 23 years as an instructor at Fresno City College, between the years 1963 and 2002 teaching courses related to the study of architecture in the schools Technical and Industrial Division. He has also acted as a part-time instructor of watercolor in the Humanities Division (2000-2002). Gay McCline is a renowned watercolorist frequently showing works at local galleries and museums, including the Fresno Art Museum, Plum’s Gallery, Door Gallery and Rollf’s Gallery to name a few.

Gay McCline was a member of the Artist League of Fresno, Fresno Art Museum, and American Institute of Architects. He has been the recipient of awards, including the A.I.A. award of merit in 1962 for his work on the McKinley Medical Center, Fresno, CA, located at 410 W. McKinley; Fresno Arts Council Horizon Award.

Principal Works:

Guarantee Savings Bank, under Robert Stevens (1958)
Torburn Davies Medical Offices, 159 North Thesta, Fresno, Ca (1960)
McKinley Medical Center, Fresno (1962)
Mills Residence 1313 W. San Bruno, Fresno (1958)
Houses #1, 2 & 3 Del Dios, Ca (2008)

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Fresno City Hall architect, Arthur Erickson (1924-2009)

arthur-ericksonProminent Canadian architect Arthur Erickson died Wednesday May 20th at the age of 84. He was living in a Vancouver B.C. suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This was brought to my attention through an article in Washington Post (requires login), same article without pictures on HeraldNet (no login required).

Erickson was a very accomplished architect and designed several controversial buildings including the Canadian Embassy in Washington and Fresno City Hall.

In Fresno, conversations about architecture often stray to the question “So, what do you think about City Hall?” and they are often delivered in a loaded tone. My response is that I admire the building’s bravery, in breaking from the tradition of NeoClassical and Beaux-Arts styles overused for civic building in the United States. Further I appreciate that it took on an Organic feel the building embraces.

fresno-city-hall-birdseyeThe angular metal roof line references the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east. A gap at the peak reinforce that reference and reads through to the interior as a skylight in council chambers. The roof juts out over pedestrian walk ways, and becomes landscape. There is strong formality with symmetrical and grand sweeping entries up to the second floor and council chambers.

fresno-city-hall-interiorThe council chambers, I find particularly beautiful. Polished metal, soft wood and natural light pouring in the the sky light above make the space uplifting no mater what the topic is on the dais.

The building of course is not with out it’s flaws. And I imagine some might share those thoughts here. But there was a review written about the the Canadian Embassy in Washington that I feel also pertains to Fresno City Hall: “Erickson has given us a powerful building in a place that calls for one, and there is as well a certain entrancing, poetic quality in its forceful contradictions,” Forgey wrote in The Post in 1988. “His building is an edgy, flawed masterpiece … but a masterpiece.”

William Patnaude FAIA was the local project architect and construction administrator of Fresno City Hall. The creation is as much his as Mr. Erickson’s. I will update with Mr. Patnaude’s thoughts on Erickson next week.

I’d like to close with an excerpt from Mr. Erickson’s 1986 AIA Gold Medal Citation

“Global architect, Arthur Charles Erickson is a passionate advocate of cultural awareness, and a fervent explorer of human and natural environments. His buildings, though remarkably diverse, share deep respect for the context, incomparable freshness and grace, and the dramatic use of space and light. He has brought to his work an understanding of the community of man that, when filtered through his insightful mind and fertile imagination, gives birth to a singular architecture that is in dialogue with the world.”

Photos courtesy of www.arthurerickson.com and Mark Darley / Esto www.esto.com

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Fultonia Live/Work Village

Fresno to Welcome The Fultonia Live/Work Village

Fresno, CA – Nestled in an area between downtown Fresno and the Tower District will be The Fultonia Live/Work Village, a mixed-use development that offers 39 units of quality, moderately-priced housing and 10 commercial spaces.

Project design and information

Those who don’t wish to pay substantial sums of money for premium housing may find a home at The Fultonia Live/Work Village. The redevelopment, in an area that is being proposed as the SOTOW District, or South of Tower, also gives professionals and entrepreneurs the chance to invest in live/work units to reduce travel to and from work.

Developer TFS Investments, LLC, is about to begin construction on the project, at the site of what originally was a 39-unit low-income apartment complex along with 10 retail/office spaces located along Fulton Street that has fallen into disrepair. The goal is to take that same property and redevelop it entirely, and breathe new life into it as well as encourage the rest of the blighted neighborhood to make improvements as well.

“For the Fultonia project, providing quality, affordable housing is our number one focus,” said Terance Frazier, owner of TFS Investments. “At TFS Investments, we are doing the right thing and developing a bustling community where there wasn’t one before.”

Project manager is Tyco General, Inc., which has experience in managing numerous types of commercial construction projects.

The finished results will be a bright, colorful complex of buildings, complete with palm trees, banners and apartment balconies. The storefronts will house such businesses as retail shops, offices and small restaurants, and a large central courtyard plaza will be a place to gather and enjoy sunny days.

“Terance and TFS Investments has a bold vision for affordable housing that will not only help families who need assistance, but will provide investment and energy in

communities that need it most,” said Preston Prince, executive director of the Housing Authorities of the City and County of Fresno.

TFS Investments owner Terance Frazier, Fresno City Council President Cynthia Sterling, and Executive Director of the Housing Authorities of the City and County of Fresno Preston Prince, will take part in a press conference this Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the site, located at 532-614 Fulton St. in Fresno, 93721, to kick off construction on the project.


TFS Investments, LLC is one of central California’s leading real estate investment firms. TFS Investments is also known as an experienced commercial and residential real estate developer. Some of the company’s current projects include a twenty acre development in Pflugerville, Texas, the development of 120 acres in southeast Fresno and a nine acre development in central Fresno.

Tyco General, Inc. is a full service Design/Build general contracting firm and has been serving California since 1998. It has been involved in many types of commercial construction projects.

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critique: Tower Tattoos

street-night-01aThis week in an email from Craig Scharton, Director of Downtown and Community Revitalization of the City of Fresno. He asked: “As some of the area’s leaders in architectural thought, what do you think the role of architectural criticism should be? Is it possible to raise consciousness about our built environment, standards of design and professional aspiration through this activity?”

In short, my response to Craig was that architectural criticism is essential for pushing our Fresno’s and the region’s built environment forward. We need to offer constructive criticism to buildings, architects, and developers that are not preforming. We also need to highlight and reward those that demonstrate high quality design and positively contribute to a healthy and vibrant built environment.

Craig’s question was timely because I was planning to begin writing critiques here. This fits within our mission of improving our built environment through education and discourse about architectural topics.


For this first critique I’ve chosen to review a building that is small in scale but very ambitious in design. I first took notice of Tower Tattoos when graphic designer Jodi Bearden brought an excellent sign design to the Tower District Design Review Committee. The design was to be applied to the building’s original blade sign on the parapet. In neon and art deco font read Tower Tattoos. The committee unanimously approved the sign with great praise. Since then I’ve kept my eye on the shop as they renovated the space at 716 E. Olive Ave.

1st Impressions

counter02aI first ventured into the shop in response to a twitter request from Travis Sheridan who needed some liquid pain relief for his new tattoo. As I walked in the door I smiled, because I could immediately read the amount of thought and care that was put in to the renovation.

entryday-aThe furniture seemed carefully chosen and well placed. There is a lounge area up against the storefront. Two men carried on a casual conversation in comfort, the street life carrying on just over their shoulders.

What caught my attention next was the front glass counter and display case in the form of an S curve. The jewelry within was well lit and lights01asparkled like gems and candy. Blue lights made the entire display glow.

The display counter is mirror by a soffit hanging from the ceiling. This is an elaborate space high hanging retro hanging lights and a guilded medallion in the ceiling. This feature obviously had some untold workstation02ahistory behind it.

Beyond the counter the space opens up with an expose barrel vaulted ceiling, steel trusses and skylights. The polished concrete floor is reminiscent of terrazzo and leads back to the 10 work stations where the artist puts needle to skin.

workstation01aEach work station is clean and open, surrounded by a partial height wall with a vintage dentist chair in the center and a stainless steel counter and sink with hands free infrared faucet. Artwork and knickknacks personalizes each tattoo artist’s work station. While watching distracting Travis getting a tattoo of Ferdinand the Bull, I had a good view of the artist at work through the tilted mirror.

Design Process

After this experience I knew I needed to dig into the thought behind each design move and uncover the motivation of Tower Tattoos owner & tattoo artist Kimberly Bearden.

With 18 years of tattooing experience, Kimberly opened her own 1 artist shop at 1140 Van Ness in 2001. A colleague once dubbed her the “Martha Stewart of tattooing.” She took it as a compliment that alluded to her craftiness, attention to detail, do it yourself approach, and enthusiastic spirit leading to success.

before02aThe Tower Tattoos staff grew to 8 in the small space leading to the need to expand. When searching for a new building she wanted something authentic, unlike the “strip mall architecture” building that she had leased space in. She loathed the low T Bar ceiling and square spaces.In 2006 she found what she was looking for in the building previously occupied by Lou Gentiles Flower Basket.

Kimberly hired architect Andy Lucas for the initial design work and code consultation. As the project progressed the design team became a family affair. She was helped by her sister, a graphic designer and her father a retired surveyor and city planner who worked for Fresno, Clovis, and Sanger.

work-aMost of the designing happened around her kitchen table. There she cut out scale furniture and moved around on an empty base plan of building. She worked through different scenarios remembering all the inefficiencies she had experienced tattooing in different spaces.

Designed around furniture and efficient work spaces. She strove to unite beauty and function. For example, the sky lights brighten up the space and make the experience more inviting and pleasing for the customers. But the natural light also creates ideal lighting conditions for tattooing. Kimberly said “The artists want an eagle eye view to see through the layers of skin for accurate work and in sunlight the ink shows it natural color.” She continued “That is difficult to achieve with artificial light.” Those conditions have attracted many artist that wish to tattoo in the space.

recycled materials

Also of note are the amount of reused and re-purposed materials used throughout the space. This came from the necessity to be economical and Kimberly’s love of the vintage art deco aesthetic. Wood framing was reused to build the workstations. The existing concrete floor was ground down exposing the rock aggregate, stained and polished. Furniture came from a variety of sources.

The poor economy was even taken advantage of:Â merchandise shelving came from a closed motorcycle shop; storage shelving from a closed Good Guys; work stations cabinets from the closed Travel Department of American Express’s San Francisco office. EBay and Craigslist were important resources that led to metal carts, light fixtures, vintage furniture, the Ceiling Medallion come from a 1920’s Chinese restaurant in LA, and even the S shaped glass display counter was found through EBay from a remodeling Washington Museum.

Opened space up by removing ceiling and exposing the barrel vault and trusses.

Future Goals

The Tower Tattoos plans are so ambitious that Kimberly has more projects planned for the future. She also owns the neighboring building that houses Mr Sushi and H&R Block. She plans to redo the signage above Mr Sushi and the facades of both buildings with strong art deco features. This will further contribute to the Tower District street scape and architectural vibrancy.

counter01aAnother future product is a rear patio enclosed on 3 side by the building and parking lot accessed from Broadway Ave. Overall Kimberly’s ambition and attention to detail are commendable. Tower Tattoos stands above all other tattoo shops that I’ve seen in Fresno and beyond. If you are like me in that you choose your dentist or optometrist based upon architecture, then I encourage you to get your next tattoo at Tower Tattoos and support quality architecture, rewarding those businesses that invest in a quality built environment.

Opening Party

Now that I’ve told you all about my opinions of the building come and see it for yourself. Tonight they will be holding a grand opening party in conjunction with the Central Valley Tattoo Expo. There will be food catered by Chiminello Catering, live music by The Martyrs and tribal dance by Fallen Orchid.

Saturday May 2nd, 11pm

$10 cover-charge

716 E Olive Ave.

Fresno – Tower District

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sustained marketability

This week I received my copy of dwell magazine in the mail. The cover reads “BEYOND GREEN From Niche to Normal” The issue acknowledges what we’ve all witnessed in this last decade; green has gone from extreme to mainstream. And yet there a a few paradoxes I observe.

Most architects have always believed in sustainable design. It has been part of our education for at least the last two generations. Yet many had to shrug off the green horns, so to speak, as they integrated into the practice. They assimilated into the mainstream perception of green as some hippy pseudo science and threw up their hands to market forces.

Today, thanks to predictable and repeatable science, global calamities and the hard work of the few that never gave up on building a better future, green is center stage. And yet many of my friends and associates accept that many products are now being marketed at us with a green label without any real commitment to solving local and global environmental issues. It’s a marketing hook, the green wash. But this is nothing new consumer trends are always being capitalized. The issue that I take with it is that the mainstream architecture industry is tending to jump on this band wagon with out leading the sustainability effort forward. And today we still deal with the same economic issues as before.

The last paradox I’ll bring up is one that Editor-in-Chief of Dwell Sam Grawe writes “In all honesty, I’m pretty sure I’m not sustainable.” We can see very little changes in the fundamentally unsustainable lives that we live day in and out. Thousands of people have become LEED accredited professionals but have yet to work on a LEED building or turn a critical eye on themselves and make the necessary individual sacrifices to insure that Earth can live on as a healthy system.

Looking at myself. I’ve made a commitment to clean transportation by biking and riding the bus. However, many of the buses in the FAX fleet still choke the air with diesel exhaust; I go through roles upon role of paper at my workplace producing construction documents, I specify products I know to be bad for the environment and that the heat and air conditioning can come on in the same day while it is 65-70 degrees outside. At home I use too much water while the canals are dry for many local farmers, and my 1940 home is extremely inefficient with energy. Many of these thing I feel either powerless or too lazy to change.

A frustrating part about this post is that I know much of this has been said before. I don’t have original content to share about this issue, or any light to shine with an insightful question. So I will end with some local project which have caught my eye for their sustainable strategies and design. Most of these projects are LEED certified or greater.

Fresno Cohousing by McCamant & Durrett Architects


Unitarian Universalist Church by McCamant & Durrett Architects


Kern Schools Federal Credit Union by the Taylor Teter Partnership


Art Ecology Architecture office by The Vernal Group


santa-feSanta Fe Depot by Johnson Architecture

“The greenest building is the one that already exists”

Tell me if I missed any well designed local projects that demonstrate sustainability. I’d be happy to post an image and link. And here is a shout out to the Central California Chapter of USGBC They’re fighting the good fight.

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affordable housing & affordable architecture

I’m going to assume that we all agree that affordable housing is necessary. We can also agree that there is a sever lack of affordable housing in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. I could continue studies that demonstrate that we have the highest concentrated poverty in the nation or the lowest on the development index. But I’ll assume that you are already familiar with our region’s issues.

With that clear, I’d like to focus on what architecture’s role is in affordable housing. I’ve long believed that quality designed housing has a huge impact on the health and success of it’s inhabitants. We can see from the poorly designed “projects” of the past the concentrating people in substandard housing solves the shelter issue but creates even more issues of segregation, crime, and poor health.

I believe that the architectural profession should be taking a stronger stance locally and saying “We need to solve these problems and we need to solve them right”

Check back shortly for some examples.

My question to you is: other than pure affordability, what are about the design of housing do you feel would help you have a more healthy, efficient, and sustainable lifestyle?

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national architecture week

National Architecture Week began today. I didn’t want this to go silently unnoticed in Fresno. NAW was created to encourage a public dialogue about architecture. That is the a major goal of archop. We’ve been doing that quarterly since October of 2007. In the spirit of NAW going digital we’re try something new for us, blogging. We want to push many of the discussions we’ve had at our exhibits on to the web. To do that we’ll be posting a new discussion topic everyday this week. going along the line of the Architecture Week topics:

· Monday, the 13th -community revitalization
· Tuesday, the 14th – school construction
· Wednesday, the 15th – affordable housing
· Thursday, the 16th – sustainability
· Friday, the 17th – inclusiveness
· Saturday, the 18th – historic preservation
· Sunday, the 19th – future of the profession

Since I’m a big fan of inclusiveness, I have something cool planned for Friday. Stay tuned. RSS us and check back often.

Kiel Famellos-Schmidt

archop curator

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glowing in the night

Thousands sleeping in tents tonight. A temperate night before days of storm. A beakon sown one night in Febuary. What has happened since then? Is the light fading or is the storm growing?urban-habitation_003photo by Shaunt Yemenjian

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tkc archop

tulare kings county archop

Building on the success of the initial six events held in the Fresno area, the inaugural Tulare/Kings County archop will showcase the work of local architecture firms in an open exhibition. The event will feature a presentation by architect, Dennis Whistler, on the recent renovation that created the 210 Connect Facility.


Monday, March 30

6:00-9:00 p.m. exhibition

7:00 p.m. 210 presentation

210 Connect

210 West Center Street

Visalia, CA

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Paprika Studios