Novedge: Tell us a little about what you do. Studio VARA: We are Chris Roach and Maura Abernethy and we are both principals At Studio VARA, a San Francisco based Design practice with a deep commitment to Architecture as a craft and realm of ideas. With the city of San Francisco as both a reference point and source of inspiration for our work, we create holistic, well-considered design solutions and human experiences at many scales. We work side-by-side with our clients to guide a thoughtful, open truly team-oriented process. Our fast-growing studio is currently working on projects at many scales, from complete interior remodels of existing luxury apartments to large, multi-family affordable housing projects.
Novedge: How did you come up with the name for your Firm?
Studio VARA: This is a great question and one we get asked a lot. When we first decided to launch our practice we wanted the focus to be on creating a body of high quality design work through our collaboration with talented designers, so it was important for us to be identified as a studio rather than as a few individuals. We also wanted a name that reflected our interest in creating an Architecture practice that was durable and sustainable, and one that we hoped could extend and grow past the two of us as founding partners. Finally, we wanted a name that reflected our passion for our city and home – San Francisco. Vara is a Spanish linear unit of measure that equals roughly a yard (or a person’s stride) and San Francisco’s early street grid was laid out in city blocks that equal 100 x 150 vara. So the vara unites our interests in the city, the body, precision and geometry, and place. Plus it’s a word that looks great graphically!
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Studio VARA: We’re currently working on a large affordable housing project in Mission Bay, a redeveloped neighborhood in San Francisco. Working as associated Architect with a larger firm, we have design & production authorship for an 18 unit building that shares a city block & foundations with the rest of the project. The technology we’re using enables us to coordinate with the Architect of record at all phases of the project without co-locating in their office. For design, modeling, rendering & production we’re using Revit, with the model hosted off-site and accessed through a VPN connection. For sharing other project files, we’re using Newforma. Finally we’re using Bluebeam as a cloud-based mark-up tool. Like many smaller firms, we’ve found all of these tools provide us with new interesting opportunities, whether large or remote, that were previously out of reach. Novedge: What kind of materials do you like to work with?
Studio VARA: With projects that range from multi-family housing to very high budget residential projects, we work with a very wide range of materials, but we always have a bias for materials with an authenticity, warmth and character that reinforce the design concept and are place-appropriate. We love working with local craftspeople, and find that more and more of our clients are looking for materials and fabrications that are not only unique, but have a narrative behind them. Images Bruce Damonte.
Novedge: What is your approach to sustainability?
Studio VARA: We see sustainability as part of the minimum standard of care that architects should provide, just like health or life safety. So we bring awareness to the environmental impacts of the work we do, from the site planning of new buildings to the materials we use and systems we specify. Working in California, most of our projects are in jurisdictions that require some level of sustainability requirements that must be satisfied and that keep the bar universally fairly high. But we like to look beyond checklists and requirements, and really understand what is appropriate for each project or client.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Studio VARA: Running an architecture studio in the San Francisco Bay Area & working with many clients in technology, provides our designers frequent opportunities to continually experiment with new software and tools. For modeling we use Rhino & Grasshopper or SketchUp, with most rendering done in V-Ray. For production of drawing sets we have projects in Revit, AutoCAD & Vectorworks. Nearly every designer has extensive experience with Adobe Suite for presentations & related materials. To manage purchasing for our Interior Architecture department we use Studio Webware. Since we have many clients that either travel frequently or are based oversees we use Skype, Join.me, UberConference, GoToMeeting and DropBox to stay in touch. And of course, as the world moves more and more toward mobile apps, we are experimenting with products like Canvis, Evernote, Pinterest, etc. to share images, inspiration, and information while constantly on the go. Certainly, our smartphones have become an essential tool in our practice.
Novedge: How did you discover Novedge?
Studio VARA: Many of the designers at StudioVARA follow online resources & blogs related to architecture & design, including Novedge. To keep the whole studio motivated to bring creativity to all aspects of their work, we conclude each weekly team meeting with a curated presentation (what we call Design for Digital Nomads) of images from both design blogs and local sources.
Novedge: What are the challenges you most often run into?
Studio VARA: We’re finding that the regulatory agencies that govern building and land use are continually increasing the requirements that must be satisfied before approvals are granted. Navigating this process has become an increasing part of our work, and keeping projects moving forward without fatiguing our clients is an ongoing challenge. We’ve found that bringing the same creativity that we bring to design to this process has become an essential part of our projects’ success. Novedge: What would you like to tell to someone who is just starting their own Firm?
Studio VARA: Starting and running an Architecture practice takes an incredible amount of hard work, courage and a strong commitment to the work. For those individuals just starting a new practice we would recommend always maintaining an unwavering passion for Design, but also for the practice. For us, the practice is a project itself, and one that requires the same amount of creativity, dedication, energy, and passion as any of our individual building projects.
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