Housing, City Making, and Technology

Community, Project Types, Technology
Emily Gosack, AIA, LEED AP, Principal
In this Q&A, Emily Gosack, AIA, LEED® AP, shares her approach to mixed-use, multi-family developments, and her plans for shaping the role of technology in our practice. We began with a simple question: Why is this an exciting time to be an architect?

Emily Gosack: Culture is evolving very rapidly, especially here in California, in response to climate change, new technologies, and calls for greater social equity. What’s compelling from an architectural perspective is the opportunity we have to shape ambitious, forward-looking responses to some of the most urgent, pressing challenges of this time. Designing housing adapted for sea-level rise, imagining a new park where people from all walks of life can enjoy the waterfront, or pushing the limits on energy performance—these are just a few of the areas where architects are contributing to the momentum.

With your leadership, JENSEN is undertaking some of its first mixed-use multi-family developments. How does housing fit into your vision for the practice?

EG:  At JENSEN we’ve tackled a really wide range of projects, but a common thread is our interest in the cultural vitality of our region. Housing is a natural extension of this vision, and I would argue, one that benefits from our varied experience within the community. For me, housing really taps my interest in city making and the overlap with environmental and social concerns.

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Housing, City Making, and Technology Main

3333 California recently won unanimous approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission. Tell us more.

EG: Our collaboration on 3333 California is a great example. We’re part of a team transforming an underutilized 1960s office campus into a new mixed use residential district. It’s a project that addresses an obvious need for more housing, but we saw that a larger opportunity lay in establishing real connections with the surrounding neighborhoods, which have been there for decades, and really thinking through how the different pieces—housing, retail, open space and other amenities come together to create a place that’s more than the sum of its parts. Presenting the project to the Planning Commission really brought home how developments of this scale are defining the city’s evolution. It’s incredibly exciting and also a big responsibility.

LRHT Site Plan
Image by Steelblue

As a Principal you have a role in shaping the future of architectural practice. What are your priorities?

EG: The speed and access to information, especially visual information, is producing a situation where we’re all swimming in the same soup and it’s driving a homogenization of design and the built environment that at best is frustrating and at worst risks a loss of authenticity. As architects, being thorough and rigorous as we investigate the situations presented to us, and being clear how our approaches relate to what’s essential and unique to each client and site is ever more crucial. And this ties back to collaboration as the place where authentic responses to conditions of a particular project will emerge.

The technological tools can be a double-edged sword in this regard. They help us to streamline our process to make room for this investigation, but BIM modeling in particular wants to rush towards a level of specificity that can box in a design prematurely. I’m really interested in how technology can continue to strengthen rather than short circuit our design process because it will affect the future of collaboration, building performance, our culture as an office, and ultimately, the quality of our work.