Season 2:

Episode 25

November 9, 2021

Cowboy Heaven with Faith Rose

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Today we will be speaking with Faith Rose, a founding partner of O’Neill Rose Architects, a design firm based in Brooklyn. Her firm builds projects that have distinct physical, cultural, and historical conditions that create rich and meaningful spaces. She shares how her projects use a versatile approach to creating space that reflects and frames her client’s aspirations. One such project is Cowboy Heaven, a vacation home project in Big Sky. This Montana-style log cabin is a place for residents to experience resort living that allows them to immerse themselves in outdoor activities. We will also be speaking with Faith about creating alternative ways of living that move beyond the traditional single-family home.

There has been a demographic shift underway in the U.S. for decades now that has driven an interest in alternatives to the single-family home. Faith’s work on the Cowboy Heaven and other cutting-edge projects are at this forefront, challenging the notion of the traditional family home. In this way, she connects her clients with the experience of the place. Today we will be discussing Faith’s journey into architectural design including her experience entering into the public sector of New York City. Join us on this week’s episode as we dive into these topics and talk to Faith about her work all over the country.

About Faith Rose

Faith is a founding partner of O’Neill Rose Architects, a design firm based in Brooklyn. She works with her partner Dennis O’Neill to create residential projects in both urban and rural contexts which have been featured in New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and Wallpaper Mag. Previously she served as the Executive Director of the New York City Public Design Commission, under Mayor DeBlasio, and headed the Design Excellence Program at the NYC Department of Design and Construction, under Mayor Bloomberg. Faith also received her Masters of Architecture from Yale University and her Bachelor of Arts from Amherst College. From 2004 to 2014 Faith directed New York City’s Design Excellence Program at the Department of Design and Construction under the Bloomberg Administration, overseeing over 200 projects.

[00:00:00] Announcer: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes. From the famous and soon-to-be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design. And now your host award-winning architect-turned entrepreneur Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:00:59] Atif Qadir: This is American building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now let’s build something.

Today, our guest is architect, Faith Rose. Faith is a founding partner of O’Neill Rose Architects, a design firm based in Brooklyn. The firm focuses on residential projects in both urban and rural contexts across the country. And their work has been featured in New York magazine, the Wall Street Journaland Wallpaper. Previously, she served as the executive director of the New York City Public Design commission under Mayor de Blasio and headed the design excellence program at the New York City department of design and construction under Mayor Bloomberg.

She is a member of the board of AIA New York and has taught at Yale, RISD, and Temple. Today, we’ll be talking about Cowboy Heaven, a vacation home project in Big Sky, Montana. More broadly, we will discuss alternative ways of living beyond the typical American single family home. So thank you so much for being here with us, Faith.

[00:02:17] Faith Rose: Sure.

[00:02:19] Atif Qadir: So let’s get started. So you studied classical piano and then Russian literature at Amherst and then architectural design at Yale. Talk about your interest in these different types of arts and what took you from one to the next and what similarities they might have together?

[00:02:38] Faith Rose: So, it actually took a long time for me to figure out how those three things were connected. I was for awhile, a little bit embarrassed by the apparent zigs and zags that I had taken. You know, I was not a kid who knew what they wanted to do their whole life. You know, I grew up in a very musical family. My parents are classical musicians. My sisters are professional musicians and, you know, it was really just the first art form that I knew. And I think what I have always been interested in is people and culture and the way various cultures express themselves.

So, you know, I actually, I think that’s one of the reasons why I have a secret love of fairy tales. You know, if you look at music and literature and architecture all as a language and a means by which your culture expresses themselves, it starts to make sense that I was sort of trying on these different modes of focusing on the things that I sort of inherently find really interesting about life. And I think the fact that architecture ended up being my final destination is because there’s something really direct and palpable about it. And it’s really sort of immediately tied to the physicality of the place.

[00:03:58] Atif Qadir: So after studying architecture in New Haven, you came to New York to work in the public sector. What did you expect when you entered the public sector work and what perhaps surprised you?

[00:04:13] Faith Rose: Well, you know, to tell you the truth, I did not expect to find myself in the public sector. My first job out of grad school was working for a professor of mine, Debra Burke, and I sort of thought I would do what all architects did and just continue working in the private sector. I sort of fell into public sector, not by accident, but not necessarily by design either. And so when I got there, it was like this completely and utterly foreign world.

It was different than anything I ever expected in many, many ways. The people that I was working with, the number of people, you know, I was in an agency with 3000 people, which just seems so vast to me. And actually I absolutely loved it, and I felt like it was an environment that I was really thriving in. And, you know, I think I was there at a really specific time.

The mayor, mayor Bloomberg had just embraced a design excellence initiative based on the federal GSA program that Ed Finer started, and I worked for this amazing commissioner, commissioner Burney of, uh, the department of design and construction. And it was just this moment in time that was really exhilarating. It felt really sort of new and hopeful and meaningful this idea of like mining this deep field of architectural talent that New York has and sort of harnessing it to produce world-class public buildings. It was great. And you know, I also think on another level, I loved working with the sort of extensive cast characters and all the stakeholders for each project.

From elected officials to community members, to just the people who are working for these various agencies, you know, FDNY, all the libraries, you know, it was just, it was a very large and very interesting world and it was thrilling to sort of ferry a design idea through the impact that policy might have or politics, or just even the funding process, you know? And really just the physical requirements of a public building that it’s going to be used by hundreds of thousands of people. It felt really good to sort of be a part of that.

[00:06:29] Atif Qadir: I think what you described is probably one of the coolest parts about working on a public project, this idea of the size and the scale and the impact. So when I worked at Turner Construction, both of the projects I worked on were public sector projects. So it was the Medgar Evers college, their science building in Brooklyn, and then also the New York police academy in Queens. So I think…

[00:06:51] Faith Rose: Oh, I didn’t know you worked on that. I worked on that.

[00:06:56] Atif Qadir: David Burney, he’s an AIA member as well. He’s a licensed architect. He’s definitely come to that. He’s come to that construction site. I think it might’ve actually showed him around when he came. So there’s definitely a small world, but I definitely appreciate what you talked about in terms of the big projects.

[00:07:13] Faith Rose: Yeah. The other thing that’s really gratifying about that is like the clients that you have, or are the people of New York, you know, other people who in their private life aren’t hiring architects. So it’s really nice.

[00:07:25] Atif Qadir: And your partner at your current firm is one of your classmates at Yale, that’s Devin O’Neill. How did you meet Devin and how did you go about deciding to start a firm together?

[00:07:36] Faith Rose: So the truth of the matter is we only knew each other marginally at Yale. We are very, very different personality types. It wasn’t really, until we bumped into each other down in Astor Place one day and struck up a conversation after I had already graduated. And the rest is history. We have two kids, we have a firm.

[00:07:58] Atif Qadir: Oh wait, you’re married as well.

[00:07:59] Faith Rose: Oh yeah.

[00:08:00] Atif Qadir: Oh, got it.

[00:08:02] Faith Rose: We’re that boring architecture couple who can’t talk about anything else.

[00:08:09] Atif Qadir: Wait, do you guys talk about other stuff?

[00:08:11] Faith Rose: No. Well, we talk about our kids.

[00:08:15] Atif Qadir: That comes with the course. That’s understandable. I’m interested in personality differences. How do you describe your personality versus Devin’s?

[00:08:23] Faith Rose: Well, I think the main difference is a sort of a really straightforward one, which is the I’m a hundred percent extrovert and he’s a hundred percent introvert. Okay. Yeah. So. I think that underneath it all, once you get past that, we’re very similar in our outlook and the things that we, our values, you know, but the personalities quite different.

[00:08:45] Atif Qadir: How do you make that a strength in a firm say, if you are trying to attract a certain client or in terms of management of your office, do you find those two things are very complimentary, those personalities?

[00:08:58] Faith Rose: You know, I think everything in life, you just have to be really intentional about how things play out. You know, I think we’re both sort of aware of the good direction that these things would go in and also sort of like maybe the not so good direction where I’m start doing one thing and he’s stuck doing something else.

So, we actually, we just make sure that we’re both spent feeling fulfilled and also doing our fair share of all that. So everyone has to do accounting some of the time. That’s basically everyone has cleaned up their own coffee.

[00:09:32] Atif Qadir: Cowboy Heaven might be the most fun named at project that we’ve talked about this season. So it’s located in big sky in Montana and talk to us about this beautiful wild place and what inspiration you drew from the land?

[00:09:48] Faith Rose: Yeah, so full disclosure, that is not our name. That’s the name of the neighborhood is Cowboy Heaven.

[00:09:54] Atif Qadir: Ah, got it. Okay.

[00:09:56] Faith Rose: More than happy to call the project this too. And it really is kind of heaven. You know, I think that might be the most favorite part of our country for me. And I think in part it’s because the scale is just so different than what I grew up with on the east coast. It’s, it’s just so big and so all inspiring. And every time I go out there, I feel elevated.

And you know, it’s funny though, as I’m thinking about what we drew from it for this project. You know, one of the things that we found really inspiring, it’s actually very prosaic. I wonder if you’ve done any driving out there in Montana and Idaho, you know, you’re driving along this highway. You’re not seeing a lot of buildings.

You’re maybe seeing antelope or cattle, you know, and then you see these incredibly long, delicate Sladek fences that sort of they’re sort of slanted and they look precarious and they sort of hug the contours of the hills. And, you know, I didn’t know until I had spent a winter there that those are snow fences and the reason for them being there is that they, they catch the snow and sort of create drifts. So as the wind blows the snow across these open lands, they sort of stop it at intervals. And, you know, I think we found them really poetic. And I think we’ve really loved the idea of something that would catch the snow because snow is so important there. And so…

[00:11:29] Atif Qadir: As a water source or what’s the reason? Oh, too because it’s people ski on it. That’s the snow. That’s why you mean it.

[00:11:34] Faith Rose: I just think there’s just so much snow there. So in those cases, those are like, uh, ranches. I think we’re, they’re catching us know. And I think that that’s to sort of prevent really, really deep snow dress that cattle can get lost in, or that block the road. Or whatever, it’s just, it’s like snow control and it’s been around forever.

And so it’s like this also sort of like this romantic and nostalgic symbol of the west, you know, certainly Cowboys themselves. But so we were sort of like really in transplant, this sort of concept of being able to catch snow, which seems like a very sort of uncatchable thing. And the result of that in the project is that we developed this rain screen that is reminiscent of the dump dizzy of the fence and the sort of vertical slats. And it’s out of *inaudible* and it’s this basket and you’ve have like dark, dark burned wood and winter, the snow patches in and catches the edge of it and sort of sticks. And so it makes us like incredible high contrast filigree that makes the building feel really almost impermanent. It’s really neat.

[00:12:46] Atif Qadir: And then the prompt that you received from your client for this project, what do they ask you to do? And what was your process in getting to some of these really beautiful design details like you just mentioned?

[00:13:00] Faith Rose: So this is a great client. We love this client. This is our fourth project with them. It’s sort of like a dream client because they love design too. And they love architecture and they love ideas. They’re sort of very open-minded in their own work and also in the way they contract with us and very inventive. And so the actual prompt was really straightforward. They. Wanted us to design a house that let them experience and engage in outdoor activities.

And so, you know, I think one of the things that. When we were thinking about, okay, so how are the different ways that they can engage in this outdoors, especially in winter time, although this is a beautiful place in the summer as well. And so we thought, well, let’s think about the different ways in which the house can touch the ground or the different ways you enter and exit the house.

So for instance, an entrance that is parallel to a ski trail. That’s about literally only 10 feet away. So you can actually just come down the trail and swoop up into the house. Oh, why don’t you get your skis off in the house if you want, or just outside of it. And then you can swoop back down onto the trail.

And then there’s another exit from, they have this big bunk house because they love to have people around. So there’s this big bunk room that can cause a lot of people and it opens up to this like big nestled fire pit. That’s built into the side of the hill because the wind is like, uh, it’s fairly normal to get 50 mile per hour winds down the slope.

So, you know, and then you have the main living space is sort of at this apex it’s sort of like perched above all of this and it opens up the, this like almost 360 view of mountains and the valley, you can see all the way to Enes. It’s pretty amazing.

[00:14:57] Atif Qadir: So the form of the house is very beautiful and very sculptural and it’s framed in steel. Could you tell us about the process of working with a structural engineer and a steel contractor on the structure, the skeleton, the building, and how it inspired your designs?

[00:15:15] Faith Rose: Yeah, sure. So this is an extreme environment and the structure has to do a lot of things and it has to be pretty beefy, you know, and there’s some significant snow loads, which is why a lot of the buildings out there you see have these like massive, heavy roofs, you know, It’s also on a fault line. So it has the same seismic requirements as San Francisco.

So, so there’s a lot to be asked of the steel structure. And, you know, on top of that, I think the two design goals that we had for this deal one was to make this building feel really light, almost like it’s perched on this lake. We wanted it to almost make you think of speed, the way skiing is all about speed.

So it’s just sort of perched on this steep steep site. And we also were sorted using the bron of steel to make some sort of bold gestures. So, you know, we had to work really closely with the engineer to figure out how to sort of like bury the structure within the floor and the ceiling so that it was like held, held back or held inside of the building envelope so that what you’re seeing on the outside is actually very thin and light. And so everything sort of stepped back.

And then there are other moments, like for instance, the top level is actually the entire floor is a truss. And so that allows us to can’t deliver portions of it in ways that sort of breakdown scale or like at one moment, the cantilever is over the main entrance.

So it’s sort of a protected exterior space. So A. You know, that’s a lot of collaboration with the engineer in terms of the design. And then it’s a lot of collaboration with the fabricator in terms of making sure that you can actually make this work. And it wasn’t rocket science, but it’s not something that is used extensively on single family homes.

But the fabricator did three dimensional, like had a 3d shop drawing model. And especially because we’re working remotely, we’re in Brooklyn, that was you know, invaluable in terms of sort of making sure that it was doing the right thing. And the three of us, the engineer and the fabricator and our office went over every single piece of steel before a single one was ordered. So it’s nice. We love collaborating with people who know more stuff than we do.

[00:17:50] Atif Qadir: I think one of the coolest parts of any architect is, is that there’s an element of knowing our particular domain of expertise, but also knowing enough about all the rest of the people that are a part of the process.

[00:18:01] Faith Rose: Yeah. It’s that saying master of none, but that first part that’s about with

[00:18:06] Atif Qadir: Jack of all trades.

[00:18:06] Faith Rose: Jack of all trades, master of none. Yeah. I actually think that’s a really important thing that an architect needs to be able to do is identify what they don’t know.

[00:18:17] Atif Qadir: And even when you think about it, our licensing exams, it was seven exams for me now it’s super easy. It’s only six. Was it seven for you?

[00:18:25] Faith Rose: It was nine. We had nine

[00:18:25] Atif Qadir: Okay, got it. Yeah. So I think that if I remember correctly, a number of them actually were for the allied fields. Like there was definitely one exam that was just MEP with mechanical, electrical, plumbing. There’s one of those definitely just structural. There’s I think there’s definitely one that was like civil insight.

So I think that even our licensing process is reflective of that as well. Yeah. So we talked about the snow and in particular, the impact that it has in terms of the physical experience of being here, talk to us about the glass. So what about the, the curtain wall? What are the facade choices that you had to wrap this building?

[00:19:01] Faith Rose: So that’s interesting. I mean, so the glass is another area where we’re really pushing the envelope. We have worked a lot with steel windows, obviously here, they have to be thermally broken. And so. You know, I think a lot of times where you come up against the limit is actually not the steel frame, but the actual size of the glass and what can be manufactured, you know?

And so I think you’ll see that a lot of the facades have punched openings and then matters. It’s sort of like this very large opening. And so that’s actually sort of an engineering fee. Getting the steel structure to allow openings like that. And then in terms of the glass itself.

[00:19:44] Atif Qadir: Faith, could you just explain for listeners who may not know, what does a punched opening mean?

[00:19:48] Faith Rose: For me, a punched opening is sort of like where you have a very solid wall and and it looks like somebody poked a hole through it to create a window.

[00:19:56] Atif Qadir: Like a brick wall, for example.

[00:19:58] Faith Rose: Like a brick wall. And often actually the wall is structural and that’s why you can only punch a level of opening in it. And whereas like glass facade is more like a curtain wall where the, the structure is elsewhere, and it allows you to just literally put a curtain of glass up against like the whole expanse of a wall.

[00:20:15] Atif Qadir: Cool.

[00:20:16] Faith Rose: And obviously there’s a lot of windows there, so there’s a lot of engineering that went into it into the actual lasing itself, as much as the steel frame. And it was, you know, it was pretty heroic to get it on site as well, because it involves cranes and upmost caution.

[00:20:34] Atif Qadir: My guess is that there are the, oftentimes it’s the logistics of a construction that might be forgotten or not focused on in the beginning. But I would imagine that if it’s a large piece of glass, it needs a crane like you described. If you have a crane, it needs a large enough road to get you to the site in order to be able to actually locate the crane and all those logistical aspects.

 Was any of that out of the norm for this project, or it was pretty standard for the types of projects that were happening up there?

[00:20:59] Faith Rose: It’s a bit out of the norm for us, but thank goodness it was not out of the norm for the contractor, who’s fantastic. OSM, they’ve been amazing. They are just a very, totally run outfit. They’re so great when it comes to scheduling and, you know, because we’re remote and they’re used to working with architects on either coast. They even, they send us drone footage every week.

[00:21:21] Atif Qadir: Oh, sweet.

[00:21:22] Faith Rose: Yeah. And they have cameras mounted on different vantage points on the trees around so they’re constantly sending us updates. They’ve been such a joy to work with.

[00:21:31] Atif Qadir: And then walk us through the project cause you mentioned this one aspect of being able to ski right into the project and ski out, and then the fire pit built into the hill. As you enter the building, perhaps from the main entrance, what would, what would we be seeing and what would we be observing along the way?

[00:21:48] Faith Rose: So one of the things that’s kind of fun about this project is that, you know, we thought a lot about this section, but we also thought a lot about the temporal quality, because you know, you can have up to 15 feet of snow.

It starts to snow in September and it comes to snow and it can snow as late as. So it’s so alive and you know, it’s warm in June and you know, you can’t really see past April because it gets too warm, but it’s still snowing. So, and there’s all been 10 to 15 feet of snow on the ground. And so

[00:22:22] Atif Qadir: Wait 10 to 15 feet, not inches, right?

[00:22:26] Faith Rose: Oh no. Feet. Feet. Maybe 15 is a little drastic, but so if you look at the house, you see that the whole first floor is granite. And we think of that as the base with this sort of like beautiful wooden delicate thing perched on top. But what’s really fascinating is that the ground plane basically can shift by up to 15 feet depending on the weather.

So we sort of were thinking, well, the relationship of the house to the ground plane can change over the course of the year, which is pretty. So the other thing that we thought a lot about is as I mentioned before the scale there is, and that’s like, obviously the sky in big sky is very big, but the mountains are big.

Everything’s big. It’s very steep. The weather is really extreme. Like it’s just really, really extreme. And, you know, on the one hand, the house responds to this. But on the other hand, we felt like we should mitigate this too, because like, we’re just people who are going to be living here, not giants, you know?

And so you approach the house from uphill and so our thought was to break the scale down so that as you’re approaching it, it doesn’t seem ginormous. It seems like human scale, not mountain scale, which not all the houses around there do, you know, there is a sort of a mansion goal there. But one of the reasons that that top level cantilevers and it’s just like, it looks like a monopoly house.

It’s like, literally the prototypical cabin shape, you know, and was to break down the scale and then you pass under it to have this like, um, sort of like protected entryway. That’s sort of also a human scale. And as you walk into the entrance, the exterior material, They also transitioned to the inside, but they sort of change in terms of texture and scale to sort of indicate that you’re transitioning into the inside.

So I think Devin and I often will think about the choreography of like typical human movement when we design. So we’re always trying to sort of like, you should always be able to sort of triangulate where you are in order to feel like you’re located somewhere and we’ll often use view in order to sort of orient.

So in this case, you know, like many faces, like many people and like many architects, we thought of the entrance as like a moment of sort of compression of making feel you’ve arrived and the materials are all very textured and it’s sort of protected. And then you walk immediately into this like crazy expensive boomerang shape that has this two angle glass wall that’s angled horizontally and vertically. So it just feels like you’re being fun back out across the valley to the mountains and it’s ultra dramatic view. So I guess that’s the progression of sort of going from outside to inside to looking back outside again.

[00:25:27] Atif Qadir: And what were some of the interior finish materials that you chose?

[00:25:30] Faith Rose: Well, the floor is all the same granite as the exterior base. And then there’s a lot of wood. There’s a lot of Ash, both on the walls and on some of the other, some of the bedroom floors. And then plaster. We are a big fan of plaster as are these clients.

[00:25:48] Atif Qadir: Why plaster in particular is that I know that it’s drywall. And if you want to be more environmentally sensitive, it’s a homeless sewed, but there’s so few people that are experts in plaster anymore. Like for example, when I redeveloped a townhouse in Hoboken, we had to get like the one Italian dude from Brooklyn to come in and restore this 1890s townhouse. Why that decision then?

[00:26:08] Faith Rose: Well, so as a material plaster, there’s nothing like it. It captures light. There’s a depth to it that you don’t get, you know, you can kind of make it any shape you want, but there are still people out there who know how to plaster.

And, you know, that’s also something that Devin and I have loved over the years is finding the artisans to work with and then, then sort of creating relationship that sort of extends. I mean, we weren’t able to use any of our local artisans there because it’s Montana, but our contractor was able to find skilled people there too. I mean, this is stupid to say in a way, but it’s nice to think that you’re keeping something alive as well by using it. Yeah.

[00:26:50] Atif Qadir: Yeah. I think that absolutely makes a lot of sense. Particularly if you work in historic redevelopment, this idea of rather than throwing something out, restoring it or replicating a certain process that would have been there. I think it’s pretty cool.

[00:27:02] Faith Rose: Yeah. and part of it is serendipity. I mean, we have this sort of project that has these really sculptural skylights. And it’s just that the guy that we worked with, who we’d worked with forever he’s Polish, he was unbelievable. And we had this opportunity to access a bunch of light. And so we were like, let’s just do this. Let’s find a way of making, you know, it’s sort of like happened while we were in construction. So take advantage of what you, what you have on hand.

[00:27:31] Atif Qadir: Yes. That makes a lot of sense.

I’m just going to pause here to let our listeners know that next month we will have Peter Brosens of Stolar Capital on the show. Peter is a fellow Columbia University alum and founded his development company at just 25 years old after spending four years at the JBG companies. Subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss that episode or any of the other awesome ones that we have for season two.

So let’s take a bigger picture. So for example, this year I chose to road trip all year across the east coast. So basically an alternate version of work from home, and many of my friends also adopted unusual ways of living because of the pandemic. And then there’s also been many more ways to live just overall, uh, besides the physical location. In terms of a house, for example, like the expectation, uh, for at least for a long time, for me, or for the way that I thought that I would live is that I at a certain age would buy an expensive house in the suburbs, take a massive mortgage, commute two hours a day to a job that I utterly disliked, and I, and that was it. That was, that was the prize. But the pandemic has changed a lot of that.

Could you talk about the way that you’ve seen say clients or other ways that people have been asking about how someone can live in how a home can be designed?

[00:29:02] Faith Rose: Sure. You know, it’s funny, we rented an RV and drove cross country too last summer with our kids, and it was phenomenal. And it was in part because there were no summer camps for them to go to or anything else. And they had been through learning via zoom for a year.

I think it makes me feel a little envious to hear you talking about working sort of from any location. I see yet a lot of my nephews and nieces able to do that. I think, you know, for those of us who already have kids, and a home, it’s a little bit harder, but I also feel like I’m constantly being schooled by people who are younger than me about not…

Like I think more inside the box than I think that I do. And it’s really exciting to see what people, you know, maybe a generation or two younger than me are doing in terms of their lives and in terms of their mobility. And also sort of in how they see society, you know, I think not to get a little dark, but I have never been as aware of my privilege I have in the last two years.

And my kids are very aware of it too, which I think is freaking fantastic. And I think we were really lucky. We came through with our mental and physical health intact, but I don’t think there’s ever been at least that I’ve been where I’ve, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when the inequalities of this country and of our lives, her fame, as clear and as highlighted.

And whether there’s like this trifecta right. It’s like, there’s that hope and housing disparities, police violence, there’s climate change, you know, and I think that all of those things have been brought to light, and sort of brought into a better focus. And I just really hope that this new awareness that we have, and especially the younger generations, I hope they can do better. Like I hope my kids can do better. I see how this affects them. I see how it’s sort of worked its way into their like teenage idealism.

[00:31:12] Atif Qadir: But I think what is probably really highlights is the reality that as architects for a long time, I think the greatest criticism of us is that we are just basically lapdogs for the rich. So we just create fancy things for fancy people. But I think the more that we recognize how much reach we have in the ways people live or are forced to live or the way that our cities and countries are built or the way that they’re forced to be built. I think it allows us to realize that there’s actually a lot more power than particularly we have.

Say, for example, Zaha Hadid. So she was hired to design one of the main stadiums for the World Cup in Cutler, which is next year knowing full well that it was going to be built most likely from conscripted labor, from Bangladesh, from Pakistan, and from Sri Lanka in horrible, horrible working conditions. And when she was asked by a reporter, like, have you even like, maybe even had a conversation with your client about this?

And she said, my responsibility ends at the design and everything else is somebody else’s responsibility. That feels like what someone would say if they were a baby boomer or silent generation. I could not imagine anyone under the age of 40 or under 45 or 50, that could possibly say something like that. Like it just literally is mind numbing to hear someone say that.

[00:32:32] Faith Rose: Yes. I agree.

[00:32:33] Atif Qadir: What I will say has been so interesting from all of these trips that I’ve been taking this year is the cognizance of what you’re talking about. These ideas of privilege, and who’s the short end American public policy. You might find some very surprising perspectives, the most surprising of places.

So for example, the last trip that I took was to West Virginia and I came to realize that the largest worker uprising in U.S. History, it’s called The Battle of Blair Mountain, but it was actually a number of worker uprisings was in West Virginia. There’s a very certain perspective that people have, even if it may seem something different based on voting. But, but that I thought was really fascinating.

[00:33:14] Faith Rose: Honestly, I think that’s like the trip that we took across the country with our kids was better than any history class for just that reason.

[00:33:22] Atif Qadir: Awesome. I completely agree. So I want to talk about bit further from West Virginia is the Choy House in Queens, New York, and that brought three households together through clients. So the three households together under one roof in a very unusual way of living. So tell us about that one.

[00:33:38] Faith Rose: Okay. So we actually are really lucky in that we can sort of, we have projects where we can look more deeply into what it means to create a house. And it’s not just catering to our clients, you know? And so Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in the world.

And it’s sort of like this patchwork of a dozens and dozens of unique communities. And if you were to sort of map the languages spoken in Queens, you would see these sort of intense concentrations. I think there are more than 850 languages spoken in Queens. They’re more than 850 languages represented in Queens library’s collection.

And what’s really crazy about that is if you look at the housing stock in Queens, it’s almost entirely based on this 1950s ideal of like the nuclear American family. So you’ve got this like really intense juxtaposition. And so when we were asked to do the Choy House, it was our client, his wife and kids, his brother, his brother’s wife, and his mother.

So three separate but related families and only our client’s children have been born in America. So they had this like very sort of, uh, this melange of what a house should be. And so we sort of thought to ourselves, how do we create this home that sort of recognizes and honors some communal living traditions that have nothing to do with American culture and everything to do with the culture of where they were living before they came to America.

And then how do we also marry it with some like maybe more American values of privacy and space that the younger generation is gonna want to grow into? And how do we do this all peaceably and how do we do it within the confines of a zoning and code requirements that are very much designed to address a pitched roof, single family residence.

So we ended up carving out sort of sectionally and in plan three separate living spaces. And they were, they were really quite finite, but then there was all of the circulation sort of circulated through all of them. So there were some stairs that sort of connected and circulation paths and like a basic living space on the basement that looked up over this sort of sunken terrace garden that we had made. And it was really fun to see how it was used because the grandmother took care of the kids. And so she was the one who really made the most use of the circulation routes, she and the children.

And honestly my, one of my favorite things about this was her insistence on her garden, which is just like flew in the face of this like vapid American idea of what a yard should be. And instead it’s this terraced garden where she literally grows medicinal herbs. Yes, so that was a very satisfying project.

[00:36:41] Atif Qadir: And when you look at, say a project like Undermountain House, so that ones outside of the city, that’s in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. You design for a family to age in place. And that I think brings to light a lot of other norms or traditions of single family homes that actually aren’t really reflective of ways of making living as an elderly person or aging comfortable.

Could you talk about the process that you took with the design for the Undermountain House?

[00:37:13] Faith Rose: Yeah, aging is not something Americans are very good at talking about. So, you know, this is something that’s near and dear to me. Just because, you know, I’m the youngest of five. My parents are aging and as this becomes something that’s more talked about, there are like really, really straightforward things you can do as a designer to sort of mitigate all of this disruption that comes with aging, you know?

And so and it’s not hard to incorporate it into, like some of those things are just really good design principles anyway. So what we did this case is this site is like this long grassy meadow that slopes down to a pond. It’s sort of ringed by forrested woods. And we were thinking, well, as they start to lose their mobility, how do we make them feel like they’re still in nature and that they’re still moving through it.

And so what we did was we sort of sited the house as if it was sort of stitching through some of the more dynamic areas of the landscape so that all of their primary living was on one floor. But the land moved around them and sort of swelled and shrank. And so, and there’s even a moment where the land passes underneath the house, and it’s also a way we were able to get the runoff to sort of happen more naturally.

And so there’s a little like rain garden that blooms only in the rain season when the water is directed through it. And there are all these little wild flowers. So, you know, it really was about bringing movement to them. And then in terms of the interior, they’re all these aging in place strategies that we were able to incorporate, just, you know, in addition to everything all the main things being on the first floor with the lower level has bedrooms for their children and then ultimately for caretakers.

But the whole space is open. There are no raised thresholds. Rooms are sort of differentiated by volumes that are within the house rather than sort of like walls with doors that are hard to hard to pass through. But I think maybe the most interesting thing for me was how we approached the windows because we learned that it’s really important to have long views and short views of various things.

So they’re like long views of the orchard or the pond. And then they’re, they’re in these very small sprints, short views that capture like wild flowers in the meadow or on the part that sort of is cantilevered out high. It captures the leaves of the tree, you know. And also what we learned was that it’s really important to allow for the temporal quality of daylight inside the house.

So that even if you’re immobile and the same in one room, you can tell the passage of time by how the daylight moves across the objects in the house. So, you know, again, I think this is something that sort of captures the temporal quality of architecture that we’re so interested in and sort of the choreography of movement within space.

[00:40:21] Atif Qadir: One of the other things about a traditional single family home development is the process of construction. So oftentimes what happens is you’ll come to a lot, completely obliterateall of the trees and vegetation grass, and then dig out a foundation and then build from there and then plant everything back again afterwards, which is a very destructive process.

Your project further north in Massachusetts in Keene, New Hampshire. You were designing A-frame style cabins that could be incrementally built and easily broken down using simple natural materials. Could you tell us about that project?

[00:40:59] Faith Rose: Sure. Yeah, you know, a lot of our projects are interested in sort of just sitting very lightly on the ground. Even the previous house, how we dealt with runoff without wildly altering the terrain.

So this is a place that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s a 250 acre biodynamic farm and environmental educational center. And we’ve been working with them for years. Just sort of helping them with their projects. And their mission is to nurture a sense of personal responsibility for the world through engaging in it.

So the idea is that if you want a house, you should probably know how hard it is to build that house and the effect that that house is going to have on the surroundings or the materials that you’re going to use. So for all of the projects that we do with them, we try to make it very simple to build and to use eco-friendly materials that you can get locally. Because it’s very much part of their mission, but also part of what they teach. And everything on that campus should be didactic of that.

So one of the things we recently have been working with them on are new cabins and the fact that they’re A-frames sort of just relates to the history of the camp because some of their A-frames were from the fifties.

What’s been really interesting is to try to understand, like, not just their mission, but also how they operate as a camp with not a ton of money. So, you know, the initial outlay is for the shell of the cabin so that it can be used during their summers as a bunk house. And then as funding becomes more available, it can be winterized.

So nothing is done that has to be undone. And the one place they spent a lot of money upfront was on insulated windows, which you don’t need when it’s a shell, but you will need later on. So it’s sort of fun to be very proactive about the decisions that you make. The other way in which it’s flexible is that when it is winterized, it will be used for their gap year program, and then also just whenever it’s not in use, they rent the cabins. And they have so many people love this place. They come to get married here or they come to spend a weekend here.

And for those two programs, you need a kitchen, but for the summer house, you cannot have a kitchen as a bunkhouse for a summer camp. That would be extremely dangerous, but you know, it’s 750 square feet. So you’re not going to have a separate kitchen that you just locked. And you know, there’s one guy, who’s the facilities manager. So he’s managing all of these buildings. And so we actually designed this really simple demountable wall that can be removed in half an hour by two regular people. And there’s a galley kitchen that sits behind that wall. So sometimes the lack of funding makes incredible invention, you know, and I think that’s one of the reasons we love working with this place so much.

[00:44:04] Atif Qadir: I think sometimes the best projects come when there are significant constraints in them. And, uh, I think it was Leslie Robertson, the structural engineer, who had said some of his favorite clients are the ones that have the best idea of what they want and have a perhaps the least means of actually getting it.

[00:44:23] Faith Rose: The best ideas of what they want least means of getting it, and an awareness of sort of beauty. You sort of need the last one too.

[00:44:33] Atif Qadir: And one other one that I’d like to hear you describe for us is in the other side of the country. So in California. So both of us grew up in the mid Atlantic area. I think for me, a lot of my time was spent outdoors, traipsing around town, doing stuff with my friends. When I go around suburban areas, whether to visit cousins or siblings, it just seems so rare to see a child outside at any given point. Maybe it’s just a matter of aging or might have a different perspective, but that’s something I’ve particularly noted.

I know your project in Bodega Bay in Sonoma county is focused on getting people out of the physical options. So, out of these live work cabins. So they’re meant to be rather minimal such that the artists and residents that are there are immersed in the outdoors, which is a beautiful part of this area of the country. Could you describe that project for us as well?

[00:45:31] Faith Rose: Yeah. I think creature comfort is in part to blame for no one going outside anymore. Like, you know, I’m always so sad and you see these houses with all these beautiful porches and nobody’s on them because everybody has air conditioning now so why sit on the porch, you know, and then…

[00:45:47] Atif Qadir: Oh, you’re right. That’s the whole reason for a porch originally.

[00:45:52] Faith Rose: But then the secondary thing is that you end up talking to your neighbors and you grow the community that way. And now everyone is completely isolated inside.

[00:46:00] Atif Qadir: Now we grow our community through Facebook, right? That’s the way it happens.

[00:46:07] Faith Rose: So this is like another one of those projects that really required us to be inventive. And actually one of my favorite things about these is that it was actually sort of the zoning requirements that, that kept us honest in terms of not making them too comfortable. This is actually, even though it’s an arts colony, it’s on 400 acre ranch.

So there’s a neighboring rancher that actually uses the ranch lands to graze his cattle. And because it’s ranch land there’s land regulations that govern what can and can’t be built. The structures have to meet the requirements for migrant worker housing. They can’t be permanent. So what that means is that they can’t be occupied for more than 90 days.

And once they’re vacant, they have to be moved. And so that basically makes plumbing impossible. I mean, I guess you could provide hookups but we didn’t want to provide for hookups across this beautiful landscape and so we sort of took that limit as a point of sort of creative departure. And, you know, the founder of the colony is a sculptor who makes very large scale sculptures out of wood and timber.

And so he has a certain facility with cranes and forklifts. And so we were like, well, what if we sort of use that idea to assemble a kit of parts that works the way a sculpture would work and you assemble it and disassemble after every 90 days and you can put it anywhere on the land. And so you can experience any part of the land that is the part that speaks to you.

So the sculptor also just had a lot of leftover materials that he wanted us to use. So it was actually great. So we, we created this kit of parts and so because there’s no plumbing here, it’s really just for sleeping and working. And there actually is a big barn already on the site, which is sort of where they have their communal meals and where they have bathroom facilities.

The kit of parts involves a base that’s much bigger than the actual enclosed space. So the base is meant almost like a porch that we were talking about, but almost as an outdoor studio or an outdoor space to sit and think about the work that you want to do. And so we purposely made the interior space as small as it could possibly be and still serve the purpose that it was meant to be, to really literally force the people outside. And it’s just, again, such an incredible site. There’s just rolling grassland and then the Pacific ocean you can . See in the distance.

So the other thing we did was all of the roofs and sort of the kit of parts. They all make these extremely gestural shapes and the relationship of those shapes to the land can be radically different based on where you place it within the hills. So again, it’s sort of like exploring the variety of the built object to its surroundings.

[00:49:20] Atif Qadir: Awesome. And then given all of these cool projects that we’ve just talked about, what do you hope to accomplish as a firm in the next couple of years?

[00:49:28] Faith Rose: You know, I think residential architecture is something that you could explore forever. And it’s, it’s really nice to know your medium and to feel like you’ve been doing it long enough that you really understand what it can do. But having said that we also are currently working on our first major institutional project here. Yes. Which is also very exciting. It’s really exciting to start a different you know building type. So I think we would really love to expand for more educational and cultural projects.

[00:50:02] Atif Qadir: Awesome. So that brings us to the end of our interview. So thank you so much for joining us today on the American Building podcast.

[00:50:10] Faith Rose: Thank you. Thank you. It’s really nice to talk about this stuff.

[00:50:13] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. And then if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever you like to listen.

We all know real estate is a tough industry to make it. So how can professionals stand out and make a name for themselves in today’s world? Hear for me, the team at Michael Graves and many of our spectacular guests like Camila on what we did to make it where we are. Grab our exclusive guide Seven Tips on How to Stand Out in Your Field at

Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind. We must reach beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and help build communities. Today. Faith and I have made donations to the dyslexia awareness foundation founded by actor and advocate, Ameer Baraka, dedicated to raising awareness of dyslexia among both the general public, as well as within prison populations.

I encourage you our listeners to support their worthwhile work as well. My name is Atif Qadirand this has been American Building by Michael Graves.

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