I recently meet up with Kevin Hackett, Principal of Siól Studios, to share a drink and ask him a few questions about the projects he’s designing. In particular, I had been very impressed by the living wall in the master bathroom he created with Jessica Weigley for the 2013 San Francisco Decorator Showcase House, which made the cover of CA Magazine. I think this room speaks to a growing desire more of us share today – a longing for meaningful, nurturing experiences which help us to reenergize. Here is part of our conversation.
Kevin: The sacred ritual of bathing has been largely left behind by the diversions of modern life, yet there are voices of dissatisfaction with this detached existence. The surge in the wellness industry reflects a societal craving for health, connection, balance, and beauty. The modern-day bathroom must not only facilitate the needs of daily use but also provide a vessel for self-awareness and the nurturing of spirit. We were certainly inspired by our experiences of the bathing culture in the East and their reverence for the practice. We could learn a lot here.
With regard to the concept, we focused on the floor plan as the generator of the scheme (Corbusien influence). Rather than opting for a more predictable open floor plan, we decided upon a more experiential framework by creating a circulatory island plan in which the open shower becomes the central core of the space. By doing so, the shower behaves as a threshold between the cleansing and bathing zones. The cleansing area, facing the cityscape, speaks to the active and extrovert mentality while the rear bathing area is a passive, meditative environment that sits in the presence of the sensory living wall. Though the symmetries are disciplined on plan, the space transitions are intuitive and layered. The floor to ceiling sliding lattice screens embody this filtering process.
Kevin: Time and budget will always be challenging at the Showcase House. The fact that the building had not been upgraded in several decades didn’t help. However, we knew this going in. More than anything else, the Showcase House is about challenging ourselves as designers and using it as a platform to experiment.
Bjørn Studio: Is a living wall easy to build and maintain?
Kevin: This really depends on what type of system you install. In collaboration with Habitat Horticulture, we designed a built-in drip irrigation system that runs on a timer. Of course, the trimming of existing plants and the replanting of new species should be seen as a meditative practice rather than a maintenance chore. A green thumb is not a prerequisite.
Bjørn Studio: Tell me about the focus of your firm?
Kevin: We practice design through an Integral lens. It is a multidisciplinary process that allows us to seek deeper connectivity between self and place. We cross-pollinate the micro and the macro (from objects and interiors to architecture, landscaping and urbanism) to perceive the whole. Alas, design is but a tool and comes with responsibilities. It is that embedded core design philosophy (the ‘principles’ as Emerson would say) that invisibly steers our practice. We are its guardians.
Kevin: We are currently designing another parklet on Bush Street. Our first two forays into tactical urbanism were successful and we continue to push the agenda of a vibrant and livable city. There is definitely a grassroots sensibility to this type of work but it’s also good to see the City planners taking responsibility and engaging in that conversation. We are living in a pivotal time in our cities as they transform from the a machinist to a humanist venue.
Bjørn Studio: How does education play into your thinking about design?
Kevin: Education has been a core tenet of our practice. Having taught design studios at the Academy and CCA, I’ve often felt that every design professional should have some foothold in academia. You are being given the opportunity to engage and inspire the next generation of architects and designers while the process itself helps mature and refine your thinking. I would encourage even recent graduates to remain connected to their schools and partake in crits when they can. This semester at the Academy, I’ve been teaching a new course on Design Philosophy that explores Ethics, Logic and Aesthetics through the lens of design. The syllabus has its roots in Plato’s trinity of the ‘good, true and beautiful’ and delves into some fascinating dialectical territory. It’s bigger picture thinking about our role as designers.
Bjørn Studio: What new product are you recommending?
Kevin: The new Oko Skin concrete slat wall tile from Rieder has some very alluring qualities. It is designed for a rain screen application and is a great alternative to stucco. It can be applied to wood framing and can handle the Bay Area corrosive environment while aging with beauty and character. In addition to that, every tile coming out of their factory is different in tone, giving a very organic and subtle quality to any façade composition. We hope to have our first install in the new year. We do love concrete at Siól Studios.
Bjørn Studio: What is your favorite store in San Francisco?
Kevin: More like a favorite block. Japonesque on Montgomery Street borders the sacred and is a lesson in object refinement, while three doors down I habitually lose myself in monographs at William Stout Books. Did I mention Hedge Gallery across the road?
Bjørn Studio: Favorite restaurant?
Kevin: Though I’m more of a home chef, I really enjoy the food and vibe at Bar Jules on Hayes. There is a sense of authenticity that permeates through the place. My go-to hole in the wall is China First on Clement.
David Bjorngaard, November 2013
(Images by Michael David Rose & Paul Dyer for Siól Studio)