Anne Fougeron, AIA, is the kind of architect who follows her endless enthusiasm for design, and it has taken her to far-flung places. “The Pantheon is one of my favorite buildings,” she says. “I had to stop breathing when I saw it for the first time.” A visit to the Aga Sophia church in Istanbul, Turkey, also left her momentarily speechless. “I had to sit down,” she remembers. Fougeron's undergraduate degree in architectural history instilled a love of the wide-ranging work of great architects—from Michelangelo and Francesco Borromini in the old tradition, to Alvar Aalto, whose buildings she toured on a trip to Scandinavia last summer, and contemporaries such as Renzo Piano, Kengo Kuma, and Hitoshi Abe. “I'm a great admirer of people who have a passion for architecture,” she says. “It just sort of soaks through. Style is less the issue than commitment to a certain vision you can sense in the work.”
Born to French parents, Fougeron had a trans-Atlantic childhood. She lived in Paris until age 5, when her father's work as a CEO for tire manufacturer Michelin brought the family to New York. By age 12 she was back in France, and then later returned to the United States to attend Wellesley College. She went on to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley; married an American; and settled in the Bay Area, opening her San Francisco practice in 1986.
Since then, she's developed a reputation for houses that are meticulously crafted and colorful and that make use of innovative materials and technology. Fougeron counts on fabricators of all kinds to help execute her ideas, and as a result, there is little separation between production and the schematic phase in her work. She favors glass and metal, wood and stone, rectilinear shapes, and lithe, layered geometries that interact imaginatively with California's pleasant climate and golden sunlight.
It's not easy being an early adopter, but Fougeron doesn't shrink from a challenge. One award-winning commission—the 440 House in Palo Alto, Calif., completed in 1999—was Fougeron Architecture's first foray into the extensive use of channel glass. She had first seen this type of thick, textured glass on a low-income housing project in Europe, and she envisioned using it to create a multistory extravaganza of clear and translucent glass on the floors, ceilings, and walls. In her design, the glass planes are held within an exposed steel framing system that allowed them to meet each other, turn corners, and move from inside to outside, and she visited the manufacturer in London to get help with the specs. It was the first time the company had sold the product in the United States, and the city of Palo Alto's building department had to be convinced Fougeron knew what she was doing. “To justify its use, we had to get all this literature together showing different places it was used around the world,” Fougeron says. “But from the beginning, we chose that material and felt it was important to keep it,” even though it was time-consuming to import and install. “It became an inherent part of the design.”
In the years since the 440 House was deemed a success (it won two design awards and was published widely), Fougeron's confidence in building her trademark minimalist, light-filled dwellings has grown. “When we first did the house in Palo Alto, we were extremely concerned about how the roof hit this glass wall,” she says. “It's a detail that now wouldn't begin to frighten me.” A couple of houses on the boards illustrate her practice's current cutting edge—how to more organically embed the buildings into the land. One such challenge is the Buck Creek house in Big Sur, Calif. It perches on a small site—most of it cliff—with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Unlike many modernist boxes, which one could imagine lifting from the site and placing somewhere else, this house's volumes undulate with the land's contours. To protect the delicate ecosystem, and for structural safety in case of an earthquake, it's cantilevered over the land from a line 12 feet back from the cliff's edge. The master bedroom—the lowest volume—juts out over the ocean on a dramatic double cantilever.
For Fougeron, designing exterior walls that were nonbearing forced her to think about the building in a new way. On this house, which in abstracted computer renderings looks like it could be a rocky outcrop, it meant revamping some of her original ideas so the engineering could work. “We rely on our structural, civil, and geo-technical guys to give us recommendations and work through the design issues together,” she says. “We talk about certain things and go, ‘Well, that's fine, but these are the consequences,' which is why you want to work with consultants you know and trust.”
studio to workshop Although Fougeron's entire career has been defined by her desire for innovation, she was not always a modernist. After all, she came of age during the 1970s, and landing in San Francisco meant that her earliest projects were Victorian kitchen and bath remodels. “To keep motivated, I spent a lot of time eroding the corner, even though I put trim around it,” says Fougeron, who cites Mark Mack and Andrew Batey as early inspirations. Partners in the Bay Area firm Batey & Mack, they were known in the late 1970s for their lectures on regionalism. Noted architect and urban designer Daniel F. Solomon, FAIA, for whom she worked from 1982 to 1985, also sparked her interest in urban patterns.
But Fougeron points to her European childhood as the deepest source of her aesthetic values. There, she observed, people respect history but aren't a slave to it. “There are many instances where you feel old and new can work together,” she says. “There's nothing worse than trivializing history. In Italy I saw how Carlo Scarpa could take an old building and infuse new life into it by unapologetically adding things it needed.”
Even so, her attitude is that it's not style but content—how people interact with a building—that's important. When she designs houses, she searches for the space and atmosphere the clients would like to inhabit, whether it's comforting or uplifting, light-filled or intimate. But beyond the spatial manipulation and material palette, her firm is motivated by the fundamental belief that people respond to things that are well-made. “Carlo Scarpa, Frank Lloyd Wright—all those guys had a series of craftspeople working with them all the time,” Fougeron says. “We always try to figure out how to make things beautifully—sometimes with a lot of money, sometimes not.”