Lacking building specialists who can help resolve the detailing on new materials, Fougeron knows her ideas can't get built, which is why she's become adept at finding daring contractors. The Internet has certainly made this easier. “A lot of people want to play it safe,” she acknowledges. “It's a kind of game where you're fishing around, and it's finding that initial person who takes work. We can have a sub come from 100 miles away if that's the only way it's going to work. The design is often relative to the kind of person you can find and the kind of dialogue you can open up.”
One of her longtime collaborators is Dennis Luedeman, an accomplished metal artisan in Emeryville, Calif., with whom she's been working for 15 years. Another regular is Paul Endres, AIA, an engineer and architect who was Fougeron's student at UC Berkeley. Together they brainstorm how to bring artistry to structure. “Anne creates designs that look very simple, but she uses a lot of handcrafted labor so that the architecture becomes more seamless,” says Endres, a principal of Endres Ware in Berkeley. “We revel in pushing each other to do more and more interesting things.”
The three put their heads together recently to design a sculptural steel staircase that rises from the ground floor to the penthouse of a loft conversion. Engineering is a complex science, Fougeron points out, and yet beautiful connections cannot be calculated. The engineer is looking at safety—Is it going to buckle? The architect is looking at both aesthetics and the experience of walking up and down the stairs—Does it move from side to side, have too much bounce, or do other things that make people uncomfortable? And the artist, who handles specific materials day in and day out, knows instinctively how they should go together.
“I'm interested in the beauty of craft and how well things can be made, whether it's a watch you wear or a car you drive,” Fougeron says. “In the old days, the base materials were better, and people knew the art of putting things together. You make buildings that are going to outlive you; the question is, How do they outlive you, and what is your responsibility in terms of how well they age?
The brainpower pool starts at the office, where Fougeron oversees five other architects and designers. Staff members sketch ideas together, and after the tone is set, one of the project managers works on developing the design. Inspiration can come from anywhere. “We have books here; stuff floats around and we look at it for a while and then look at something else,” Fougeron says. “For me, coming at architecture from an architectural history background, the idea of looking at things all the time—buildings old and new—is essential to how I see myself as an architect.” Model making is a loose, additive process involving a glue gun, in which models are put together, ripped apart, and reconfigured.
In San Francisco, the primary design problem is almost always how to funnel light and air into the middle of a narrow row house. Fougeron uses layering devices, such as third-floor setbacks and interior balconies and courtyards that draw light in from the sides, as well as from the front and back. For example, she dug the three-story structure of the 1532 House—an infill project that won a 2006 AIA California Council Merit Award—into a steep slope and wove in seven outdoor courtyards and decks. The third story, recessed to comply with building codes, has a balcony with a glass floor that illuminates the living spaces below.
Those sophisticated light-enhancing geometries are often recast in simplified forms on the firm's buildings for nonprofit organizations. Fougeron's interest in socially conscious architecture has led her into affordable housing and health care projects, including a series of clinics and offices for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “On single-family homes, you understand how to make things in a very expensive way, and sometimes you can figure out how to get 90 percent of the effect for 20 percent of the cost,” Fougeron says. At Octavia Court, a mixed-use project that includes offices, vocational services, and 15 units of very low-income rental housing for developmentally disabled adults, Fougeron provided elegant glassy façades and views into secluded common courtyards. Her refined modernism is also on display at Carter Terrace, a Mercy Housing California-developed joint project with Van Meter Williams Pollack. It won praise in the local press for its pleasing scale and the inclusion of stoops, patios, and balconies with beautifully detailed cedar railings.
Pursuant to her goals for diversification, Fougeron and her firm made a recent jump in scale to Parkview Terraces, a nine-story concrete building on a prominent urban site containing a mixed-use senior housing facility—a joint venture with the San Francisco office of Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning. And construction will soon begin on the $3 million Ingleside Branch Library, her first civic commission for a new building.
Those ventures will undoubtedly offer Fougeron something that private residences may not: the opportunity to observe up close how her buildings fare over time. As a perfectionist who actively searches all along the time continuum for ideas that resonate and endure, Fougeron makes a point of revisiting her past projects. “When you go back later, you see it in a different light,” she says. “Your eyes are fresher, and you can think about it more critically or appreciate it more entirely. It's an ongoing process.”