Perhaps it's not surprising that Anne Fougeron, AIA, spent her childhood in Paris and her adult life in San Francisco—two cities celebrated for their magical quality of light. For almost 20 years she has been designing buildings with inventive configurations that respond directly to topology and climate, and if there is a hallmark of her houses, it is their luminosity. She is constantly experimenting with materials that modulate natural light, whether it's a stairway made of dichroic glass, laminated glass on an interior bridge, or terra-cotta baguettes spaced just far enough apart to play with light, shadow, and transparency.
This heightened sense of indoors and outdoors is evoked through a minimalist lens. She often creates discrete volumes that address specific program needs, and in her work the structural components—even the seismic requirements—become the expressive soul of the building. “What we try to do is fold the restrictions into the architecture,” Fougeron says. “We're always trying to figure out, if we're having to deal with these moment frames and seismic braces and structural members, how can we have them articulate the space as opposed to being something we need to hide?”
Fougeron says her background in architectural history and art history, combined with having grown up around a lot of great architecture in Europe, piqued her interest in how things look and how they're made. She and her staff of 10—three of them senior architects—do a lot of product research, and from that, the use of one new material often leads to another. “On every new job we're pushing the envelope of what we've done before and constantly having to ask ourselves and others, ‘What's out there that will allow us to do that?'” she says.
Working on the material frontier requires a great deal of interaction between design and production, and the firm brings steel fabricators and expert glazing contractors into the discussions early on. “They understand at a much deeper level what will work,” Fougeron says. “There's no way to do what we do without being sure we can actually build it.”
verbatim what drew you to this path? “I have always liked the combination of practical skills and creativity involved in architecture—the arts and the nuts and bolts, the real and the theoretical. I have been attracted to projects that are not considered great design jobs, such as health care and low-income housing. I am convinced that democracy and great architecture can go hand in hand.”
what were you doing 10 years ago? “I was just starting up the office again after taking a year's sabbatical in France, having practiced for about six years before that. I was asking myself if I should work for a firm when work started coming my way.”
what do you hope to have achieved 10 years from now? “I would like to have fabulous jobs and a great reputation—and ideally get some interesting public work. We're always trying to prove to the world that as a woman-owned firm we're as capable as anyone else. I would hope to help champion that cause, because I think architecture is still not a very friendly business for women.”