{ Category Archives: notes and doodles }

Tree Consciousness

tree scan for web

One of my few surviving drawings of trees from first and second grade

My fascination with trees and wood dates from early childhood, when I would spend hours staring at trees in different seasons and trying to draw them as accurately as I was able, carefully mapping every branch, leaf or blossom. I remember getting lost in the process, losing track of the actual tree in front of me and having to make up branching patterns, overwhelmed at the endless variety of mature, deciduous trees like white oak. I remember thinking how my decisions to make new branches looked a lot like the tree’s ‘decisions’, which got me thinking about whether or not trees had consciousness. I’m still not sure about this, but try my best to think about the shape of the tree when working with its wood, making decisions with which I know the tree would agree.

giant euc2

A giant eucalyptus I discovered on an island near the mouth of the Russian River

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A Walking Song

walking song

sometimes I make up songs during a long walk

There is no better design tool than a good long walk. It may not always lead to creative breakthroughs, but does reliably clear the noggin and put things in perspective. Before I begin to think about a particular project during a walk, I usually find myself simply getting into the cadence and breathing of walking, sometimes making up phrases and melodies to help me focus. Whether or not I make progress with the project at hand, I always return to the studio feeling relaxed and optimistic, eager to field the inevitable challenges of the day.

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Treehouse Report

treehouse concept1

sketch of my original concept for a stair tower within a mock, old growth redwood trunk

I still think of the new cabin I’m designing as a treehouse, even though it will be more of a house on stilts nestled in a fairly dense, second growth redwood grove, making no attachment to any tree. My original idea was to camouflage the structure by making the stair tower resemble an old growth trunk, consisting of coopered redwood timbers housing a spiral stair (see above drawing). For practical and economic reasons, we’ve opted instead for an open, timber framed stair tower, more like a fire watch, with more emphasis on the the interior experience of the perched cabin itself.

I’ve enjoyed researching watch towers and houses on stilts, and appreciate my client’s focus and resolve to keep the program as simple as possible. It’s been a wonderful collaboration and we’re close to having a design ready to permit and build. I’m especially thankful to be working with Scott Hunter, Ph. D. P.E., whose design recommendations have added to the minimalist/maximalist ethos of the project. Continue Reading »

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Fish Sculpture Progress


1/4 scale, schematic model of the Vermillion Rockfish, carved from pine and redwood

Between meetings for new wowhaus projects over the past week, I’ve completed two 1/4 scale models of our mosaic fish sculptures for the Ortega Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission. I’ve borrowed a few techniques from boatbuilding to visualize the forms in 3d and consequently loft the structure to full scale. Traditionally, a marine architect would carve a ‘half hull’ model in wood to test a new shape, from which all sections and measurements would be made for full scale construction. The model would literally be cut into sections, which translate directly into construction plans and building jigs.


Ene made a lovely sample panel of the reflective, tile mosaic for the ‘anchovy’ sculpture (photo: Genevieve Masse)

To make the models, I laminated scraps of pine and redwood and roughed out the shapes with a bandsaw. Using small spokeshaves and rasps, I then shaped the contours of the fishes, knowing I would later add a layer of clay for surface details. Next I will cut the models into sections to make templates for the interior steel armatures, to be cut and welded at full scale, after approval by Artur Tan, our structural engineer. I’ve been enjoying working subtractively with wood in this way, and would love to do more purely sculptural work in wood, which lends itself so forgivingly to precise carving. The entire process has also been great practice for designing and making my radical board boat and shapes my thinking about future sculpture projects in general.

fish sculpture1-final

schematic sketch showing steel armature for the fish sculpture(s)

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Giant Fish Sculptures Commence


‘feeder fish’, like these anchovies abound this time of year (public domain image)

I’ve begun making the scale models for our giant, mosaic fish sculptures that will live permanently outside the new building for the Ocean View branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission, the project is the latest wowhaus public art project, and continues our ongoing exploration of the role of watersheds in the habitat of a bioregion. The largest sculpture, about 8′ tall, is an homage to the tiny feeder fish that thrive along sandy shores within view of the library, particularly the California Grunion (Leuresthes tenuis), who are known to occasionally spawn on nearby beaches under the new and full moons during springtime.


California grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) spawn at night on beaches (public domain)

Ene and I like the idea of heroizing such an invisible but essential maritime food source, without which the web of life would collapse.  We think the concept of ‘feeder fish’ in general is an apt metaphor for the role of public libraries in a democracy. The second sculpture will be a stylized, scaled up version of the Vermilion Rockfish (Sebastes miniatus), still a familiar fish living close to shore that was once an important food source for the Coast Miwok and the early immigrants to San Francisco’s shores.

fish sculpture dwg

study for the steel armature for the 8′ high fish sculpture

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Furniture for Becoming Independent

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concept sketch of the Space Chair for Becoming Independent

I’ve been commissioned to design tables and chairs for the youth of Becoming Independent, most of whom have developmental disabilities of varying degree. The seating structures will be used in a new playroom that doubles as a space for observation and evaluation, so the tables and chairs need to be very durable, safe, and easy to reconfigure by the people who use them. They also need to be inexpensive to produce while meeting the high aesthetic and ergonomic standards of the organization.

Over the next month, I will make the chairs out of locally-milled, air-dried Monterey cypress, which is strong, stable and has a pleasing amber glow when oiled and waxed. The joints will be mitered and fastened with the innovative Festool Domino system, and the backs will feature panel-on-frame construction, with panels designed and painted by the artists of Becoming Independent; the chairs will double as picture frames. The tables will be pentagonal in shape to encourage modularity and collaboration, with inlaid ‘star’ patterns to go with the playroom theme of space. I look forward to working with Ann Westaway, Service Director of Art Works, and the talented people she works with daily.

pilot chair2

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The Quiet Mechanics of Country Life


Here the soils of daily washing
stay on the land, conveyed by gravity
through pipes to the leach fields
to join the earth of the tree duff,
filtering fresh rainfall to
replenish the dwelling well.

Meanwhile the ferrous field well
spews rustily over the garden,
adding a mineral edge to
the lusty bite of a tomato or
the lean green snap of a pole bean,
washed clean by the other water.

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