Saturday, July 19, 2014

A House for a Gardener and a Seamstress

Once upon a time on the Western edge of San Francisco a gardener and his seamstress wife shared a cozy 1929 row house with two German Shepherds, several planting starts and a wide assortment of fabrics.  Having a place to call their own in the city they loved was a dream come true.  When they bought the house in 2003 they embraced the charm of their new home that had not been changed in any way since it was built.  Before moving in they hired a contractor to upgrade a few items like the electrical system, new light fixtures, refinish the oak floors and painting.  It wasn’t long though that they realized they hadn’t done enough.
The cottage by the shore.

For eleven years they lived and entertained with an outdated kitchen and bath. In the summer the house would easily overheat and in winter it would often be cold and damp.  In 1929 insulation was seldom installed in houses, after all was this not a Mediterranean climate?  During these years they dreamed, discussed and disagreed about various possible additions, alternatives and alterations.  Friends, family and clients, the mailman, the butcher, and the baker all listened to the continuously changing remodel that had yet to begin.  The couple’s heated design debates became the talk of the town.  The gardener and seamstress spent 10 years shaking spade and scissor at each other until a magical architectural wizard rode into town and broke the evil spell their outmoded surroundings had placed on them.

The architectural wizard envisioned a modern house of transparency and lightness connecting inside to out.  A house allied to culture and site, respecting the past.  A collaboration between gardener, seamstress and magical architect! It was a restoration, renovation and renewal with an end result that would enhance comfort, satisfaction, aspiration, productivity and wellness.  What the couple wanted yet didn’t realize until their eyes were opened by the supremely gifted mage was a space in which they could live a fulfilled, romantic and creative life as they entered a new chapter. 

The wizard knew about the magic in nature and light.
The architect explained that the restoration involved keeping as much of the existing fabric of the house as possible. Noticing the couple had a deep respect for the contribution of earlier generations and that a master with an eye to many fine details built this house, the wizard went to work.  The plan retained and repaired the original fa├žade with its large picture window.  To protect and facilitate maintenance of this fragile piece a small balcony and awning of glass was suggested and accepted.  Other upgrades to the front included a modern interpretation of a colonial entry court and additional exterior lighting.  With a wave of his wand, concrete was removed  for planting beds with native grasses for the wizard had also noticed the couple had a deep connection to the natural world.  This he suspected but didn’t articulate was due to a long-standing appreciation of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Connecting inside to outside.

Passive heating and cooling makes bedrooms cozy.
Next the wizard explained that the renovation involved upgrading the systems and assemblies.  Insulation, high efficiency zoned heating, tank less water heater, photovoltaic roofing panels, direct and indirect lighting, water saving plumbing, structural system strengthening and sustainable materials were installed.  Passive cooling and heating strategies including cross ventilation and solar heat storage were implemented into the design as well.  This was quite a lot for the couple to understand since they were not versed in the magical teachings of environment transformation.  But the architect was skilled at explaining these things in the common tongue.  What he said was that they would now be warm in winter and cool in summer, their utility bills would go down and they could live their later years without financial worry.
Remodeled bedroom doubles as library.

The sewing center
Finally the architectural wizard explained renewal.  What he suggested was redesign of the existing kitchen, bath, spatial connections, and additions. And he collaborated with the gardener on exterior landscaping.  Final additions included three new bathrooms, enlarged existing bedrooms, a multipurpose family room with laundry and sewing center; and a penthouse master suite. 
The landscaping included an outdoors kitchen, benches, a brick on sand terrace, raised ergonomic kitchen garden, new lawn panels and a green roof adjacent the master suite. 
The master suite is filled with light and views.
All this increased the couple’s renown throughout the city as they could now have their friends visit for extended stays and celebrations with their neighbors.  With so much room there was space for gathering and space for quiet contemplation and spade and scissor were never shaken between the couple ever again.

The gardener and the seamstress now live and work in harmony with their surroundings and will continue to live happily ever after because of their wise choice of wizard.
A glass box connecting in and out.

A house of transparency and lightness.

Friday, April 26, 2013

More News about DIFFA Dining By Design 2012

MTP Architects is proud to be featured in the latest issue of Professional Lighting Design magazine for our contribution to the Design Industry Foundation Fighting Aids, DIFFA.  They chose to write about our table and lighting design in collaboration with Lightswitch Architectural.  We hope you enjoy the article at this link.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

DIFFA Dining By Design 2012

For a third year we have been honored by an invitation to design a table for Design Industries Foundation Fighting Aids event Dining by Design.  We were fortunate to collaborate with the brilliant designers Janell Drouet and Kelly Roberson, Lightswitch Architectural, as well as the talented furniture design/build shop Golden Gate Bridge Furniture Company.
MTP Architects Table

The table celebrates that progress in the search for a cure, as well as the 75 years of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The table and bench bases are fabricated from salvaged Golden Gate Bridge handrail.  The lighting is clean, simple bare lamp pendants with 1920’s antique replica quad loop filament lamps that graphically represent the 31 years of the AIDS struggle. The light bulbs represent a snap shot in time of the struggle, with the center of the pendants peaking at a red lamp, the peak of the epidemic 1995. 

Red light represents the 1995 peak of the epidemic
Some lights are dimmed and others are brighter representing the ratio of 5-year survivor rates for individuals with AIDS.  The 1980’s are presented in the beginning half of the pendant/graph; brighter lamps represent the 1980’s ratio of survivors.  The second half represents this decade and the increase in survivors again showcased by brighter light bulbs. Progress made, through health care, awareness and education, is evidenced by many more bright pendants for this decade.

Event attendees discussing the lighting graph
Your table is a visual showcase of the increase of survivors, progress in the struggle against AIDS that has been made, as well as a re-purposing of Golden Gate Bridge steel; a true historic symbol of what can be accomplished when inspired builders, architects, people unite for a common cause.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


A Brief Introduction By Way Of Reflection
Shortly after WWII, American family, especially Californian, attitudes about homes and home life changed from that of preceding generations. No longer were formality and ordered sequences of living space as desirable as before.  Families were embracing an informality of life style as well as a fondness for nature and out door living.  Americans hit the road in large numbers to visit national parks, historical sites and entertainment centers like never before.  Home design of this period began to express this love of movement and nature as well.  Rooms that once had been separated by walls, doors and hallways now flowed from one to the other with ease and grace.  Kitchens were designed to be efficient like machines to free mom from household management and give her more time with family.  Easy connection to the out of doors, especially backyards, allowed children to move from indoor to outdoor play with peace of mind for mom while accommodating dad’s desire to show off his skill as master of the open fire. 

What American families wanted were homes of simple and functional plan and construction, more open, flowing and responsive to the needs of self-supporting families on the go. Magazines of the time celebrated this change with the pictorial essays, the most memorable of these being the Case Study Homes from 1945 to 1966.  

A post WWII home by Richard Neutra
California architects such as Craig Ellwood, Charles Eames, Richard Neutra and William Wurster pushed the vision of the modern home celebrating a relaxed lifestyle, spatial flow, natural light, integration of indoor and outdoor space, harmony with site, modern materials, integrated technology and modern building techniques. These visionaries who profoundly shaped our attitudes and aesthetic are inspirational to those seeking appropriate solutions to today’s technologically savvy families and their homes.

Today, open and flowing spaces serve to bring the family physically together as a counterpoint to the outward pull of social network technology.  Our deepening desire to live in harmony with nature and community while being environmentally responsible brings greater meaning to integrating indoor and outdoor environments. Even the family “Chef” has taken center stage as the theater of food preparation and sharing brings us together. The home environment is no longer static and ordered but dynamic and varied.

We at MTP Architects ask the question: “How does one’s home express the values, goals and aspirations of a family while fostering well-being, family connectivity and safe harbor? 

MTP Architects’ Approach

For MTP Architects, a custom designed home is filled with creative opportunities with space and form seamlessly integrating one’s vision with architecture, landscape and interior design.  We engage in a “Knowledge Capture” process that is a deliberate departure from the traditional client/architect engagement. Our process balances professional objectivity with personal insights as we seek to understand both quality of life and programmatic issues. Our empathetic approach enables insights into each client’s unique life patterns, vision, values and needs.

We have come to refer to our professional practice as “Life Space”. Places to think, work, live and have fun are the pillars of “Life Space”. It is about our clients and their unique ways of experiencing HOME. “Life Space” is, by design, an extension and manifestation of each client brought about through the skills of an architect rather than imposed by the architect. “Life Space” moves at the client’s pace and gives physical form to their vision and aspirations.

We have completed a variety of home types from new construction in rural and urban areas, to large and small remodels and additions, including gourmet kitchens, spa like baths and industrial lofts. Our knowledge of sustainable issues enable cost affective, cost saving design solutions unique to each home. Our integration of indoor/outdoor space seamlessly expands one’s living area by visually connecting to landscape and physically accessing patios and gardens.

Showcased here are three different clients with unique visions of HOME. What is constant is their seamless flow and movement, attention to detail, elegance of simplicity, celebration of materials, use of natural light and site/landscape integration. Most significantly, each home is a unique expression of our client’s full participation in the design process.  They proudly see themselves in the final design solution. 


High Chaparral Residence

The design approach to this home in Ramona, California, was a direct result of intensive collaboration with our client. The project scope was to build a completely new structure atop the existing home’s footprint. The new home would achieve a range of functional and quality of life goals established and prioritized by the owner. Its architecture, planning and interior design realize a minimalist environment well suited to their contemporary lifestyles. Of equal importance was the client’s passionate desire to create a home in harmony with it’s unique high chaparral setting, responsive to nature’s extreme forces, completely sustainable and “off the grid”. 

Subsequent to an intense series of visioning sessions, MTP Architects developed a range of alternative design alternatives, which were incorporated into a Comparative Analysis Matrix juxtaposing client vision and goals to schedule and budget. This served as an invaluable decision-making tool helping the client to determine best value respective of monies invested. The result is the home showcased in this brief.  The architectural solution playfully masses forms representing the original tract home with modern forms of the new additions. References to the former house include pitched roofs and salvaged brick.  

The first floor areas are communal and support family gatherings. These spaces graciously embrace sculpted seating and landscape at the home’s front entrance as well as outdoor cooking areas and pool at the rear.   

The upper floor private zone is a pinwheel in which closets and bathrooms separate bedrooms from each other. All have two balconies to capture natural light and enhance passive ventilation. The roofs of the modern additions are flat to support cost effective photo-voltaic panels.

The central atrium is denoted by a channel glass slab and provides ventilation and natural light deep into the interior spaces. The architecture’s massing and window openings respond to the desert’s extreme climate and severe weather conditions. Deep overhangs of form; decks and roof accomplish shading of interior space. Clerestories provide indirect day lighting and ventilation.  Indoor / Outdoor spaces flow seamlessly together enabling the family to experience outdoor areas as integral living space.

 The interior space is intended to foster graceful flow, easy maintenance and uncluttered elements. The approach to the interior design is minimalist yet frames family heirlooms as distinct and treasured artifacts to punctuate the modern furniture and fixtures. All space opens to both the adjacent gardens, light filled atrium and sculptural stair reinforcing the concept of spatial connectivity and, metaphorically, family togetherness.


Alvarado Road Residence

Perched on a Berkeley hillside overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the Alvarado Road House was commissioned by a self-made patriarch to house his family of five and to host and entertain his large extended family. Borrowing from the traditional California hillside house, the architecture uses platforms to navigate the steep hillside. These platforms also create stages for entertainment venues during social events. In this modern interpretation of a venerable archetype, native building materials such as stucco, stone, and terra cotta evoke traditional building methods used by early settlers. Inside the house, the client and the architect worked together to create a rich palette of materials that reinforces the client’s achievements and cultural identity.

 Due to the steep up sloping site conditions the design team determined early in the planning process that the most economical means of construction would be a series of stepped platforms that followed the contours of the hillside setting.  This solution allows different uses to cascade down from the top of the site. 

Dinning Room cascades to Reception Hall

 Starting with the dinning and kitchen on the highest level of the ground floor the plan flows down the hillside to the reception hall then riffles to a library/performance/bar intermediate landing, finally arriving at the large metaphorical pool of the living area with it’s floor to ceiling glass walls and vaulted ceiling.  

Living Room
The plan is a  reversed 7 allowing each room ample views and light. All rooms in the home have a direct connection to the gardens and numerous terraces surrounding the home providing multiple vantage points from which to observe the Golden Gate Bridge and the full breadth of the San Francisco Bay. 
The family’s private quarters and a guest suite are found on the upper floor.  The guest suite is separated from the private areas by a landing off the stair that serves as an informal gathering area.  Each family bedroom suite has a direct connection to the outdoors, the pool, spa and pool house with outdoor shower.  In summary the home is a celebration of materials, spatial flow, nature, sunlight, views, family gatherings, entertaining, culture, history and all the magnificent attributes of the San Francisco Bay Area.


Orinda Ranch Residence

 When our clients told us they had purchased a new home and wanted to collaborate with us to improve and upgrade the structure we were elated.  What an opportunity, we get to join together with people we like, to design a new and comfortable home for a family with a growing child located a few steps from the local elementary school and with a creek in the back yard as well.  That was until we saw the home for the first time.  It was literally falling down.  The exterior siding was the lowest grade plywood available and hadn’t been sealed for years.  One of the bathrooms was actually falling off the house, the floor having completely caved in and an exterior wall leaning precariously outward.  Everywhere we looked were signs of water intrusion and rot. 

Further investigation revealed a plan that was totally unsuitable for a family home.  The kitchen located at the rear of the house with no connection to the garage, not even through a back door!  Other issues discovered during our examination were a lack of connection and flow from room to room, poor connection to outdoor areas and a general lack of daylight entering deep into the house.
Plan after remodel showing connection from Garage to Kitchen
 Our clients overlooked all these deficiencies for they were confidant all could be corrected by creativity and collaborative problem solving.  The design team went to work and soon realized the structure itself provided the solutions to the planning.  At the rear of the garage was a covered patio that also abutted the family room.  This area was large enough to accommodate a mudroom, washing/sewing room and kitchen without any alterations to the roof.  Once the kitchen was relocated its former location lent itself to becoming a commodious bath and thus a new master suite was created.  Double doors were added to rooms facing the rear yard and the connection to the outdoors was improved.  Walls were removed to enhance flow and spatial connection.  All the windows and siding were replaced and the decrepit bathroom repaired.

The replacement windows and doors were larger and more efficient allowing more daylight to enter deep.  The new siding incorporated a series of horizontal elements to amplify "connection" in this California Ranch Style home.  Connection with the site, landscape, and neighborhood was thus established  where once there was none.  Everyone was very pleased with the results and our clients were right in assuming creativity and collaboration could find the solution they needed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


An important architectural influence may soon disappear.

Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City

It saddens me to share this story posted on A/N Blog about the Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City.  As I've mentioned in several posts this singular building by John M. Johansen had a great influence on me as an adolescent growing up in Oklahoma.  Johansen's playful Brutalist architecture opened my mind to new possibilities and realities outside the prosaic architecture of Oklahoma City of that time.

The two parties negotiating the purchase of the building have come to an impasse in their negotiations.   Hopefully the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and Children's Museum will still come to terms before it's too late.  For more on the story go here.  



"Stage Center started as the home of Mummers Theater, which was a popular theatrical company in the 1960s that was outgrowing the warehouse it called home. With downtown undergoing a complete makeover led by the renowned architect I.M. Pei, the theater sought out a similar talent to come up with a design that would be just as eye-catching as the Myriad Gardens.
A $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation in 1963 made just such a hiring possible for the theater. John M. Johansen had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and was one of the “Harvard Five” — five Harvard-educated architects who had led the modernist movement by creating showcases for their work in New Canaan, Conn.
The theater, 400 W California, opened in 1970 and earned international praise from the architecture world and is featured in architectural textbooks. It closed due to flooding in 2010." As quoted from NewsOK

A proposal to convert Stage Center into a children’s museum is shown in this conceptual drawing.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Building Addition Analysis by MTP Architects for a Global Technology Company
    Not too long ago I had the unexpected pleasure of learning just how valuable my design services can be to a client. My client and friend Mark spoke of the value design added to his firm. He thanked me for the efficient plan, maximizing of useable space, ease of permitting and construction, strong design aesthetic and several million dollars of additional valuation.

     Mark first hired me to help his company expand its workspace and improve its workplace efficiency. Along the way, we discovered that we could use design to express the creative nature of their work and help them better communicate their corporate values with clients and staff. According to Mark's business broker, the overall design and work environment enhanced the company's identity and added significant value to bottom line. Here are a few examples of how good design can be measured:

    Utilization rates: Mark wanted to move into an existing single story office building. Utilization is measured by net useable square feet divided by gross square feet. My planning studies indicated that the amount of "usable" square feet could be increased. Maximizing the amount of "useable" square footage increased the available workspace at no additional rent cost.

    Operational-maintenance costs: The existing lighting system had some shortcomings; its color was orange and the fixtures made noise. I investigated and recommended a lighting retrofit as a part of the design. The retrofit would provide balanced color similar to daylight, make no noise and lower operating costs. Reducing the monthly lighting expense wasn't the only value derived from the retrofit. The improved work environment added to employee comfort and productivity increasing revenue.

Office Corridor illustrating lighting retrofit and daylight principles
    Approvals processes: My knowledge of the permitting process helped save time allowing the company to begin using the offices sooner. I conferred building department staff to identify the process and the relevant information required to get permits. I made sure all the application steps were identified, documents were properly filled out, applications were properly filed, and the inspections were scheduled. The time saved allowed the construction schedule to be accelerated.

    Speed: I employ state-of-the-art computer technology for design and construction services. My use of computers and BIM (building information model) allow more design options explored, production times reduced and communications are increased. More importantly, I've implemented systems and procedures that increase office productivity. The result of this combination of technology, systems and procedures allows me to produce high quality design, permit and construction documents in very short time frames. Early delivery lowers the cost to the client.

    Employee satisfaction: My efficient department layouts, recommended lighting system, furniture system selection, and the finishes and colors I specified for Mark's company improved employee comfort, satisfaction, productivity, aspiration and wellness. This in turn lowered staffing costs. Needless to say the principals noticed a marked increase in profitability.

     In the above examples, the value design imparts to a client is tangible and measurable. Value can be measured in at least three basic categories; use of space, costs savings and additional revenue. Within each category are several areas that have financial impact on a company.
An MTP Architects Law Office Client


A commitment to education has been a driving force throughout my life.  With a deep appreciation of the educational opportunities afforded me, I remain an active supporter of my colleges at the University of Idaho and UC Berkeley.  I give back monetarily as well as through volunteer efforts, which included serving as the founding director of the College of Arts & Architecture Foundation.   Most recently I had the opportunity to provide pro bono services for a non-profit working with Autistic children.  This is their story.

A BIA student and teacher

Deanne Detmers and Hillary Baldi founded behavioral Intervention Association (BIA) in 1993.  Recognizing a void in the services to families of Autistic children, BIA dedicated itself to providing individualized home and community based programs, consulting services and training workshops that focus on intervention plans for children diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASP).  Simply put, BIA works with families to create a supportive teaching environment that embraces human dignity and affects positive change for Autistic students.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to live to his or her full potential.  BIA helps facilitate this by creating individualized and appropriate curriculum.

BIA’s teaching methods emphasize dignity and privacy, freedom and choice.  The highly trained staff conducts home visits to interact with and teach children with ASP and to provide tools to their parents.  The purpose of these home based learning sessions is to teach communications skills, appropriate play behavior, language skills, social skills with peers and classroom competence.  The resulting positive change in the child’s behavior not only allows them to interact successfully in social settings but also to be “main streamed” into school.  As part of their expanding services, BIA has recently begun implementing clinical programs to instruct children and parents.

Their growth is what brought us together.  I had the opportunity to assist BIA in finding new and more efficient offices in pursuit of their passion, educating Autistic children.  To learn more about BIA’s programs and services visit or call 510.652.7445.