Bikes and Brews

Ride 2

What a great name for an event! When I saw the flier float around our office I immediatly grabbed it and knew I would have to roll. TLCD Architecture and many others were invited to join the annual ride to a nearby town of Sebastopol for a destination of good conversations, food and the celebration of bikes..and Beer.



Personally I’d never been to “Hopmonk”, but what a cool venue. We were greeted with ample bike parking for the whole group and a nice laid back outdoor seating area with a great draft list with many local micro’s. Fellow riders from ZFA and I were grubbing down on pulled pork sandwiches and the favorite 4 pack taco platter…amazing! According to local lore they have music there pretty regularly and I could see it being a pretty fun time. Living in Sonoma County (one of the worlds greatest bike and beer destinations) this local gathering was a great reminder of how lucky I am to get to enjoy this place from the speed and freedom of a bike. On the trip back to Santa Rosa, the ZFA crew kicked it into hyper speed as TLCD tried to keep up with the sprint…  Not realizing I was riding with world class riders I now know that I will have to train for next year’s event, and hopefully grab a few notches higher on the list of riders. I will definitely be looking forward to next year’s ride, and thank you ZFA engineering for getting everyone together to enjoy our amazing place to live and work.

Carl Servais Takes on Winter in DC for AIA Grassroots Conference

As the 2015 President of the AIA Redwood Empire Chapter (AIARE), I recently had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC for the annual AIA Grassroots Conference. Over 600 architects and administrative staff gathered together to advocate important legislative issues with our representatives on Capital Hill, to receive leadership training, and to network and collaborate with each other to find ways of better serving the AIA membership. I met with AIA leaders from chapters all around the country, from coastal Louisiana to northern Minnesota. Many of the folks I spoke with had issues similar to what our local chapter faces: how to best serve a diverse set of professionals from a vast geographic area with limited resources and how to motivate and inspire the emerging professionals who will carry the leadership torch of our future. There are no simple or easy answers to these questions, but I met lots of inspiring colleagues and I returned with a renewed sense of focus and energy, and with a handful of ideas that I will bring to my fellow directors on the AIARE Board.

Here are three of the highlights of my trip:

As an architect, of course the first thing I had to do after arriving was to walk the Mall. What I hadn’t realized is how beautifully the many historical buildings and monuments are lit up at night. I grew up in Wisconsin, so the cold winter night was no problem for me.

On the first day of the conference, my schedule didn’t start until the afternoon, so I took advantage of the free time by waiting in line to see oral arguments of the so-called “Obamacare” law at the Supreme Court. I waited for about 2-1/2 hours to get in, and I only got to sit for about 3 minutes in the courtroom, but it was well worth the wait to see the court in action. Fortunately, there were about 200 protestors providing entertainment for everyone waiting in line.

Finally, Wendy Young, the AIARE Executive Director, set up meetings for us to meet with 5th District Congressman Mike Thompson, and 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman. After receiving training from the AIA federal advocacy team about the important legislative issues that were on the table, I was prepared to discuss the following:

1. Protect and enhance the Federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC).

2. Cosponsor the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which encourages states to voluntarily adopt and enforce nationally recognized model building codes for residential and commercial structures in order to qualify for additional post-disaster FEMA grants.

3. Cosponsor the National Design Services Act, which extends to architecture graduates student debt relief in exchange for work in underserved communities.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened and dumped 6 inches of snow the day of my meeting, thereby effectively shutting the government down for the day. We still made the trek up to Capital Hill and had the opportunity to meet with Scott Rasmussen, Congressman Huffman’s Legislative Assistant. I think I made a good, confident presentation of the legislation we were there to promote and I went away feeling great about having advocated for our profession.

Photographing the New North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park

North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, Sonoma County, Alan Butler, TLCD Architecture

Sonoma County Regional Parks opened a spectacular new park, North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, that links the Bennett Valley/Sonoma Mountain Road region with Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. My wife and I took to the trails and captured some of the beauty of this newest addition to our regional park system.

The park has one main trail leading to the western border of Jack London State Park near the top of Sonoma Mountain. Most hikers appeared to be doing the 2.2 mile hike up to the Bennett Valley Overlook about half way up the trail. The trails are new and while the trek is all up hill the grades are quite reasonable. There is about 800 feet elevation gain to the Overlook and about another 300 to the park boundary.

The beginning of the walk is wooded, gradually opening up as you gain elevation. With the fog last Friday morning it was stunning to look down on the layers of clouds lying in the valleys. From the Overlook there is a wide view looking from Mt. Taylor and sweeping eastward to Hood Mountain in the east.

The new park is very popular right now and while getting in during the morning was achievable for most of those I talked too, the rangers were turning away people in the afternoons. There is a narrow access road leading into the park from Sonoma Mountain Road. The turn is just short of three miles from Bennett Valley Road.

We saw about a dozen different types of wildflowers in bloom and I expect that in a few weeks it should be an even better display. Definitely worth the trip!

Welcome to the Beach

We started the surface refinishing of our new office!  As usual photos don’t do it justice. I did manage to sneak in during their lunch hour and take a peek at the transformation in its early stages.  The concrete is taking on a satin feel which is truly remarkable to experience. I wish all concrete could be like this…  Oh and another bonus, having an indoor beach is be pretty cool for office parties too.


Wondering how that giant opening got in this solid concrete box?


Urban Sketching in the Bay Area

By Alan Butler AIA

Last week I took a three day urban sketching and watercolor class in the East Bay. It was taught by Alameda architect David Savellano, He was a great teacher and it exposed me to many new concepts and techniques for both sketching and using watercolor. I have a long way to go, but had a great time sketching at various waterfront locations in Oakland including the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market and along the Alameda Estuary.

The days following allowed me to do some experiments in watercolor in Alameda, San Francisco, and Stanford. Tuesday was a visit to the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park where I took some of the photos shown below, and later sketched on the band concourse. We saw the Richard Diebenkorn show at the DeYoung which I highly recommend. Diebenkorn is perhaps the most highly regarded California artist of the Abstract Expressionist period from the 50’s to the late 70’s. The show covers his Berkeley years in the mid fifties to the mid sixties. This is his most widely liked work and is much more realistically focused work involving figures and landscapes. His use of color and forms is very exciting.

All in all a great week in our own backyard of the Bay Area. Don’t miss the lights on the Oakland Bay bridge after dark!


Incredible Walk

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

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

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



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

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


Rainmakers sure Did!

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


Tolay Lake Park

Tolay Park
Farmstead at Tolay Park

Sunday I took a long (nine mile) walk in one of Sonoma County’s newest parks, Tolay Lake Regional Park. It is on Lakeville Highway southeast of Petaluma and I believe is about 1,700 acres. Tolay Lake is a  seasonal wetland and large parts of the park are still actively grazed. The access to the park is currently limited and you must attend an orientation session to get a pass to the park, currently open on weekends only. This time of year the hills are  fantastically green and there is a fairly easy couple of mile walk up to Three Bridges View Overlook. From the top of the hill you can see a sweep of the bay area from Mt. Diablo and the Carquinez Bridge to downtown San Francisco and around to the west to Novato and Petaluma. If you have the inclination get there soon while everything is  fantastically green!

CHICAGO-Three Buildings

Tuesday at noon I’ll be presenting three buildings I visited in Chicago in early November. The New Modern Wing of the Chicago Art Institute is Renzo Piano’s latest work in the US. The daylighting of the galleries is spectacular. I also visited the Klarchek Information Commons at Loyola University of Chicago. This three story commons sits at the edge of Lake Michigan and uses a very sophisticated natural ventilation system. The Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies is the newest landmark on Michigan Avenue. The faceted  glass facade encloses gallery and library spaces within a daylit lobby. The detailing of this  building is very nice. Hope to see you at noon on Tuesday.–Alan

Possible new client for the TLCD Healthcare Studio

Is this the future of healthcare? If it is someone will need to design these mobile clinics.

Challenges: Create a solar-powered, light weight, camel friendly design.

“Kenya’s camels recently started sporting some unusual apparel: eco-friendly refrigerators! Some of the African country’s camels are carrying the solar-powered mini fridges on their backs as part of a test project that uses camels as mobile health clinics. Organizers hope the eco-friendly transport system will provide a cheap, reliable way of getting much-needed medicines and vaccines to rural communities in Kenya and Ethiopia.”-inhabitant

Necessity is truly the mother of invention. This is a great, check it out!

On The Road with Alan- The Future & Farewell Chicago

Today was the Futures Conference in Chicago. About 55 firm leaders from architecture, engineering and construction were gathered by the consulting firm FMI/AMI. It was an unusual opportunity to meet and speak with the leaders of some of the leading firms in the US. The thrust of the conference was that no one can predict the future, but that if you study probable scenarios you will be better prepared to deal with the multiplicity of futures that might arise. The futures that were developed into scenarios were:
• The Perfect World
• Struggle for Stability
• Building Walls
• Controlled Environment
Almost all agreed that the Struggle for Stability was the most like our current reality though there were elements of all the scenarios in what we are currently dealing with and what we might have to deal with in the future.
The keynote speaker was Watt Wacker (yes that’s for real and he is not a PG&E spokesman for high efficiency light bulbs). In the midst of mostly suits and ties he was the guy with the frizzy blonde fright doo, shorts and Teva sandals. He was really quite good. Between high-level corporate futurists gigs he does things like cook for a hunting pack outfit in Montana and drives an airport shuttle for Avis, just so he can look at the world from a variety of perspectives. When I get a little time, I’ll boil down the essence of the day. All in all it confirmed that we are generally doing the right things and that felt good.
This is it for Chicago. Tomorrow is Orlando and the Health Design Conference. Whew!
FuturesFarewell Chicago

On the Road with Alan-A Walk Through Chicago

Out in Chicago for my last afternoon of walking around downtown Chicago, I encountered some impressively varied architecture. The South Loop area has buildings from the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth that are impressive in their grandeur. Walking through the lobby of the Manadanock Building (the tallest structural masonry building in existence I believe) is like walking into an Edward Hopper painting, nothing has changed in a hundred years except the dress. Blocks away I encountered the new Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. Its folded curtain wall will bring back images from the Monterey Design Conference where the facades resemble drapery. The interior (including a beautiful small library) is beautifully rendered. After sunset I walked back to my hotel on the Miracle Mile, that section of Michigan Avenue that really has the bustle and the lights of a truly great city.Spertus LobbySpertus Stair Detail
Chicago Night SkylineSpertus Ext

On the Road with Alan-Greater Chicago Food Depository

On Wednesday morning I took a tour of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. This food bank is the largest in the country and distributes nearly sixty million pounds of food a year to 600 kitchens and food pantries in the Chicago area. Every time I’m near an established food bank in another region I try to get a tour, looking forward to the Redwood Empire Food Bank’s eventual expansion. The most remarkable thing about this facility is the sheer scale of the operation. The sorting operations were remarkably similar to the automated book sorting systems that I saw at the Seattle Public Library a couple of years ago. Hopefully the Redwood Empire Food Bank’s fund drive is successful as they desperately need a larger facility to handle the volume and demand that is out there.Food Bank ExteriorFood Bank Interior

On the Road with Alan-The Modern Wing

Later today I spent some time at the new Modern Wing of the Chicago Art Institute, This is Renzo Piano’s latest American project. It is dramatic and shows the art to its best advantage while being somewhat understated if something this big can be understated. The detailing is gorgeous and the way the building deals with natural daylight is nothing short of phenomenal. On top of this it has one of the best art collections in the country. Note the painting of me having lunch in the diner. Tomorrow is the Chicago Food Bank. Iv’e been doing lots of walking and taken hundreds of pictures. I’ll have a lot to share when I get back.


MW-Long ViewMW-Window SculptureNighthawks

On the Road with Alan- Klarchek Information Commons

This morning I toured the Klarchek Information Commons at Loyola University of Chicago. This is a new high tech computer and learning commons inserted between the old library and the campus chapel. It is a dramatic glass structure that sits right on the edge of Lake Michigan, so much so that it feels like sitting in a vast infinity pool. I got an extensive tour from the facility manager and the head reference librarian. Some good lessons learned and a validation that we are doing a lot right with our library projects.
This building has a very innovative ventilation scheme involving both displacement and natural ventilation. Check out the link for an informative piece on the design of the building:
Its double glazed façade creates a convective stack that draws air from the operable windows on the lakefront.
Klarchek ExtKlarchek InteriorKlarchek

Orlando via Chicago

I am on the road for the next ten days. The main purpose is the Health Care Design Conference in Orlando that Jason and Stephen will also be attending. I arrived in Chicago today and will attend the A/E/C Futures Conference before I move on to Orlando. The conference here is being put on by AMI. AMI is the firm that Steve Isaacs, who regularly conducts our annual retreats, belongs to and he will be presenting at the conference. More about that later.
I arrived in a drizzly Chicago late this afternoon. This evening I took a stroll in Millenium Park along the Lake Michigan shore. It was an utterly fantastic sight in the rain. There are all kinds of new architectural and glowing electronic creations that have been installed in the last few years. With the surrounding towers of Chicago shrouded in mist, coming upon them in this weather made them all the more surreal.
Chicago is a very impressive metropolis with some of the best urban buildings in the country. Sort of like New York that shuts down by 9:30 p.m. (No kidding) I’m in the heart of the theater district. In New York at this time there would be thousands of people out on Times Square. Here the businesses are shutting down at 9:00 p.m. and the streets are pretty quiet. Nonetheless it’s an exciting place to be. Perhaps I just haven’t found the night life yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Millenium 2Millenium 1Millenium 3a