Gallery: Hear What Leading Automotive Designers and Architects Had to S...


Hey Inhabitat readers! In case you missed it, we just wrapped up our broadcast of the Design with a Conscience conference in San Francisco, CA! We teamed up with Ford Motor Company and the American Institute for Architects (AIA) San Francisco to deliver you a peek at a thought-provoking event, which brought together visionary California architects and automotive designers eager to talk about the intersection of car and building design and how conscious design can spur innovation in both industries. This year’s star panel included: Allison Williams, principal architect at AW ink; Anne Fougeron, Founder of Fougeron Architecture; Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog; and Freeman Thomas, Director of Strategic Design at Ford Motor Company. Though the event is over, you can read a few highlights from the panel after the break. We’ll also be posting a video recording of the conference very soon, so check back for it if you missed the live event.

Design with a Conscience Panelists

Allison Williams, FAIA, Architect at AW ink

Allison G. Williams is a principal architect at AW ink. In a career spanning more than 30 years in corporate practice, Williams has designed significant large-scale projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, nationally and internationally. The breadth of her work spans civic, corporate and cultural facilities, places for research and education, mixed-use and high density developments. Williams’ studio design leadership has influenced the work of both Skidmore Owings & Merrill (1980-1997) and Perkins+Will (1997-2012) where with consistent recognition by her professional peers, she evolved to partnership levels. She was a recipient of The Loeb Fellowship at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and received both her Masters of Architecture and Bachelor of Art in the Practice of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. She was elevated to Fellow in the American Institute of Architects in 1997, and served on Perkins+Will Board of Directors from 2010-2012. She is also a member of the Harvard Design Magazine Practitioners Board and past-Chair of Public Architecture’s Board of Directors.

Anne Fougeron, Founder of Fougeron Architecture

Anne Fougeron, FAIA, is principal of Fougeron Architecture in San Francisco, California. Born of French parents and raised in Paris and New York, she credits her bicultural upbringing as the source of her aesthetic values, which combine a respect for historic precedent with an interest in melding old and new. In 1986 she founded Fougeron Architecture and went on to design award-winning private- and public- sector projects in a decidedly modernist vocabulary. Fougeron has taught architectural design to undergraduate and graduate students at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley, where she served as the Howard Friedman Visiting Professor of Professional Practice in the Department of Architecture from 2003 to 2004.

Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog

Ann Hand is the CEO of smart-building startup Project Frog. She didn’t begin her career in a green job. As an executive in training with Mobil, she ran gas stations in inner city Philadelphia, and she went on to spend about 19 years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, Amoco and BP, where she led global marketing around “Beyond Petroleum.”Now Ann is in charge of Project Frog, a green-business startup that is serious about shaking up the construction industry. Project Frog aims not only to create better buildings–buildings that are attractive, energy-efficient and pleasant places to work–but also to change the way buildings are made. Its structures are modular construction put together from pre-fab kits of parts, shipped by truck and assembled onsite.

Freeman Thomas, Director, Strategic Design, Ford Motor Company

Freeman Thomas won his first drawing competition in the first grade — it was a fire truck. Today, Thomas is credited with delivering some of the hottest designs in the automotive industry. “I have been designing my dream cars all my life,” says Thomas. “It’s my passion.” As the Director of Strategic Design at Ford Motor Company, Thomas runs the advanced design studios in California and Dearborn, Michigan. He also works closely with engineers and product experts to create compelling new production vehicles. Prior to joining Ford in 2005, Thomas was the head of DaimlerChrysler’s Pacifica Advanced Design Center. His 22-year career boasts a hit parade of vehicles including the Chrysler 300 concept, the Audi TT concept and Volkswagen Concept 1 (known today as the New Beetle).

Design With a Conscience Live Blog

Hello everyone and welcome to the Design With a Conscience live blog! AW ink Principal Architect Allison Williams will be moderating today’s panel as she joins Anne Fougeron, Ann Hand, and Freeman Thomas in discussing the connections between architecture and automotive design and exploring the ways that conscious design can spur innovation.

Allison Williams began by talking about the parallels between automotive design and building design. Many architects have delved into the realm of auto design – including Buckminster Fuller, Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, and Norman Foster – although some of their crossover works were not very successful. Similarly, many automotive companies have sought out buildings that reflect their brands. We’re now moving on to our first question:

Given all the overlaps and parallels between building and auto design, what makes each discipline unique and distinct, and what makes them parallel ventures?

Ann Hand: Project Frog exists because we don’t think there should be a difference. We bring together human-centered design. We think there’s a wonderful world out there for beautiful buildings, but we think we can democratize the design and construction of smaller buildings.

Anne Fougeron: Every project ends up being a thing of its own, and even though we want to be able to improve efficiency on the production end, we try to design things that people really want to be in.

As we think about what comes next in car design, do any of the issues in the environment, like dealing with earthquakes, for example, affect cars in the same way that they do buildings?

Ann Hand: While buildings have certain aspects of them that don’t move, buildings do have a pulse to them … and we have to look at the way that buildings will change in their contexts. And aside from utility bill reduction, buildings also have a relationship to the people that inhabit them.

Ann Fougeron: You’re building a structure that is going to outlive you for many decades, and in that sense, it’s very different from a car.

On the phone Freeman suggested that the automotive is the most complex design object ever. Is that about the manufacturing of components as opposed to the one-off work of creating a building?

Freeman Thomas: The automobile truly is the most complex object that you can buy. Even more so than computers and other technologies. The competition in the auto industry is greater than any other industry in the world. It’s more difficult to build an automobile in the regulatory sense than it is to send someone up into space. We have a responsibility for everyone who drives one of our products.

Freeman Thomas: At the end of the day, you won’t forgive a company that makes a mistake, because you expect it to be perfect.

Ann Hand: Do the people who occupy a building – do they have that same right? How can the ensure that a building won’t fail you?

Allison Williams: People who are forced to use bad buildings don’t forgive the architect.

On the sustainability front, consumers want something more than what looks good and they want to think they’re making a good choice. How can green building practices inform automotive design and vice versa?

Anne Fougeron: Sustainability is interesting in buildings when it is a holistic approach – cars already do that.

I like the notion that we can think about these things in broad categories.

Freeman Thomas: The plug-in hybrid is amazing because it’s something you can use without a grid, sort of like a horse — it gives you complete freedom. We have to reverse engineer, and we have to learn from our mistakes. A great man is one who learns from his mistakes — an amazing man is one who learns from someone else’s mistakes.

Ann Hand: Here’s a specific example: we introduced an acoustical steel decking material into our smart roof panels. What was exciting about it is that by bringing that one material in, we could then integrate LED lighting and increase ceiling heights by 3 feet. One material choice can have a knock-on effect that carries throughout the whole project.

Would you say the risk in architecture is much greater than in automotive design because you’re building something for a 73-year cycle, instead of a 12-year cycle?

Allison Williams: It seems that in the automotive industry [the goal is to] be sure that the next car you design is better than the last one. I think in architecture it’s a very different risk proposition. The risk in architecture is, in some ways, much greater because of the longer lifecycle of buildings.

Freeman Thomas: We do things in a smart way. For example with the Fusion, we develop a platform where we can use it [not just for the Fusion] but for a whole series of [other cars and solutions] . . in the automotive industry, Ford’s goal is to make its next car better than its last, and to ensure that it’s putting something on the market that uses the existing technology smartly, and puts something on the market that people want to buy. Architects face different challenges. The risk in architecture is much greater, because you’re building something for a 73-year cycle, instead of a 12-year cycle.

INHABITAT READER QUESTION: How does the evolving technology of design (computers, 3-D, BIM) affect the direction we go in with both automobiles and the built environment?

Freeman Thomas: [These technologies] are a huge part of the design process, but you can’t do things purely with a computer – you have to balance analog and the digital. Rapid prototyping is a great tool that we use every day, [but] at the end of the day, there’s something about smelling and looking at something – you can’t define it.

Ann: We want to integrate rapid prototyping design so that the first customer isn’t the guinea pig.

Anne Fougeron: Every single one of those tools is a tool – it isn’t the end-all process of how the building works.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: What is the essence and the business case for desirability in design?

Ann Hand: This is why having architects and designers on our staff is so important – they help us figure out what people want and really need, and then we can engineer that into the design.

Anne Fougeron: One of the most sustainable things you can do is build a building that will not be torn down 12 years from now.

Freeman Thomas: We listen to the customer [but] they hire us so that we can lead with new ideas that maybe the customer isn’t asking for.

Allison Williams: We’re not designing every building to be an icon that stands out. Quite often our task is to tell a story… but tell it quietly, and tell it for 73 years.

Let’s imagine the sharing economy continues to expand. If that were to happen, they’re not buying cars as consumers — does that change your perspective?

Freeman Thomas: I think that you are always designing for a customer – whether for a group or individual. We are always going to design the best solution/product for that customer.

Freeman Thomas: Cultures many times will throw away their icons. In England they got rid of all their telephone boxes to create a more pragmatic, efficient box… but if we start looking at things more as appliances, we lose the taste for life.


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  1. design2know April 11, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    O.K. what about Designing the Perfect Place to LIVE but MOBILE-On Wheels…Not a Camper, Not an RV but a House or better Yet-HOME on WHEELS…Employ Solar, Bio-Mass Conversion-Fuel Cells, and Wind Power…GREEN! Why Not? bobby vey

  2. inflight April 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    What strides have been made in the commercial fleet transportation category? We have a fleet of limousines and have not found offers of new design. We provide private jet charter encompassing jet sharing and deploy all means of eco-concious travel through our flight operations and just an FYI own a High-Performance LED lighting company. Does Ford employ LED’s within their campus/manufacturing?

  3. rwe55 April 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Can you speak to car colors today? Does the future look more interesting than greys, silvers and whites?

  4. petropolis April 11, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Can you imagine a time when the future development of buildings and cars will cross?

  5. jetgraphics April 11, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    (Assuming that government subsidies are removed, and meddling ended…)

    In light of population consolidation, and the logical shift to electric traction rail, won’t that decrease the demand and number of automobiles, regardless of their fuel source?

  6. SESITONY April 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    http://www.whenyouwish/solar-electric-scooter represents Solar Electric Scooters Inc.
    They have found a perfect fit to accompany all Vehicles with a solution to short range travel.
    The Solar Electric Scooter they invented goes 20 miles on a charge at 15 miles per hour driven by a 350watt rear hub motor. The scooter is street legal in California. The same rules apply to it as a bicycle. The handlebars fold down so it will fit iinto a trunk for Comuters to avoid parking issues. Requires No Gas, No Registration, No Insurance required, NO PROBLEM!
    We see other Auto manufactures adding electric bikes to their line af assesories, how about going all the way and offering a Solar Powered Scooter for your customers short commutes. Then leave the long rides with more than one passenger for your automobiles. Give this away with your Automobile and allow the owners the freedom to have a choice. Why start up the Gas or Hybrid car to go a few blocks or a few miles.

  7. soothsayer April 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Why can’t I see or hear anything? Is it suppose to be playing?

  8. solartonyv April 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    We have invented a practical Solar Electric Scooter. You stand on the solar panel. we designed the panel with a hunnycomb backing to be engineered to hold a minimum of 350 LBS.
    The Solar Scooter from Goes 20 miles on a 15Ah Li-Ion Battery, the solar panel charges the battery one mile for each full sun hour 1000Wm2 or typically five miles on a average day.,Los Angeles. The Solar Electric Scooter is street legal by all rules in California as it goes 15 MPH and is governed by the same rules as a bicycle. The Solar Scooter is powered by a Hub motor 350 watts allowing for the minimum 20 miles with low current unlike brushed motors or chain driven typical electric scooters.

  9. readesigns April 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Hi, my previous trade was in construction where I had been on many different projects in my time. One certain project that relates to this question was a project in South Wales, Great Brittan. It was on a gas plant and we were building the biggest containers in Europe at that time. After erecting the massive circular concrete walls we would put the massive iron welded roof on. To do this we would have to weld it inside the concrete walls and have it lifted by air compression. This roof would weigh nearly a 1000 tons or more.
    My question is, if we could use air compression to lift this roof 10 years ago and maybe more on other projects, why hasn`t this technology be transformed into automobiles yet or is it something that is being looked at.(This dosen`t mean compressing H2O but air).

  10. jetgraphics April 11, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    In a future where the decaying infrastructure is an impediment to high speed and comfort, what options are there?

    To handle crumbling roads, suspensions may have to be changed to accommodate them. The Citroën hydropneumatic suspension or a similar solution may be necessary. [see: ] The suspension is well known for its load handling ability, so additional passengers won’t cause bottoming out. And the ability to raise the clearance may be vital for off-road and rural travel. (Air suspension may work, too.)

    Are hydropneumatic suspensions going to become the wave of the future?

  11. geewhiz April 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Why havent you gone to the American way of yesteryear, from Hollywood\\\’s 1930\\\’s and 40\\\’s when Hollywood designed cars of the future that were never built, but only designs on paper. Designs for all ages along with steel bumpers that protects the body that protects the occupants?

  12. makingadreamhome April 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

    How can architecture in car design help encourage more Americans to buy fuel-efficient or electric vehicles?

  13. April 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Biomimicry and Biophilia are elements of design. Biophilia connects with the human need for nature and it’s therapuetic qualities. Biomimicry connects the processes of nature with innovation (velcro, photovoltaic panels). How are each of these concepts being addressed in architecture and car design and are there overlapping approaches?

  14. Sally Dominguez April 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Many companies – and the Ford labs in particular – are exploring materials for car parts that compost or degrade after a certain amount of time. They are also pioneering high content soy foams and other materials applicable to buildings. What sort of interaction do the researches at Ford and other car labs have with innovators in the building markets? How is their research made available?

  15. Sally Dominguez April 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    What implications do the new fuel cell systems and charging systems in cars have for energy generation and use in buildings?

  16. S.Sreekumar April 10, 2013 at 12:31 am

    It is high time that the company manufacture solar flying , diving and on road cars, which can be used with minimum space in land.

  17. photoquest April 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    One of the best cars And I miss it so much! with everything that a car should have , Although a little heavy, Sporty and lots of boot space, fun to drive but the name should have been more exiting, Before its time , like Concord, The Ford Probe 2.8 24v I only I could find one or have one here in Borneo. Build a car like that again with all its things in the right place . ad a GPS and an Engine of tomorrow the sound good, And wow , trouble it , then everyone will want one, Most cars to day are not practical, they have no boot space. Those that do are to big, Why do they still make massive 4 wheel drives to import to Borneo, with all the traffic problems. The front of most car are becoming ugly and some look like they are back to front. People want a car that says something about them. Im a photographer, as cuba diver , I also do kendo and love fishing, Often i buy rods to fit in the car, Not what i would like, And get pissed when I have to leave a rod at home, Scuba kit may be wet, . why are cars lacking sun roofs, places to put an i pod or phone, An easy jack . And air con system that operates (C) when the engine is at a stand still and turns off at traffic light, traffic light and GPS should send a signal to the car to turn off when they are longer then a min. Waiting time, I could give so many more Ideas but have done before and seen then with out no credit. What bugs me I get nocked for not having good maths or English. Ideas come from imagination. Now there is a name for a car.

  18. sallyspring April 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Outside of this panel, how do you see architects and auto designers coming together to create solutions that draw upon each party’s expertise? Does Ford have a program in place or partnerships with outside designers or architects?

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