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Beaux Arts Fantastic

Beaux Arts Fantastic

Thursday, February 23, 2017 | | Work/News

This exquisite, wearable scale replica of the San Francisco Civic Center was conceived and completed as a collaborative effort in under 3 weeks. “The mere thought of showing up to the ball with just a nice dress and a mask wouldn’t do… We wanted to challenge other designers to do more of this at next year’s Beaux Arts Ball,” said the team. “We did this to showcase our abilities to think outside of the box, and show our peers and colleagues what teamwork can really do. We enjoy what we do, we like who we are. Our team has the right combination of creativity and heart.”

(Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions)


Mark English, Editor-in-Chief at The Architects’ Take, is Vice President of the Board of Directors at the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco. The Foundation holds a yearly celebration every Fall, the Beaux Arts Ball, featuring music, fun, and costume-wearing revelers. Last Fall, one group of designers really thrilled us with their amazing creation. This is their story.

The Idea

Inspired by the annual Beaux Arts fundraiser, this exquisite, wearable scale replica of the San Francisco Civic Center was created as a collaborative team-building exercise. The design-build team consisted of Senior Workplace Strategist and Program Manager Michelle Margo-Scheumeister, Design Director Behjat Ahmadian, Senior Designer Cheryl Hill, of Unisource Solutions, together with Barb Fritz, Account Executive of Haworth. “It was Michelle who inspired the costume,” they said. “We looked at different buildings, and chose the Civic Center as the premier example of Beaux Arts architecture in San Francisco.”

As we sat in Unisource’s Hayward office, Michelle, Behjat, and Cheryl explained how they designed and built their glittery scale model in under 3 weeks. Michelle observed: “We did this to showcase our abilities to think outside the box. To show others in our architectural community what teamwork and collaborative efforts can really do.”

“Our first idea was to make it into a dress.” Then it became a wearable architectural piece, a scale model, shown here outside the real Civic Center on the night of the Beaux Arts Ball. Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions

Michelle explained, “When I was offered a golden ticket to the ball, I made sure to get extra tickets for my peers – so that we could show up in the most creative costume. But then, the mere thought of showing up to the ball with just a nice dress and a mask wouldn’t do. I said that we had to think of a creative building and then put that building on Behjat’s body!”

How Long Did It Take?

Cheryl was quick with the project stats. “It took 120 person-hours over 3 weeks,” she explained. “The first week was the bottom portion, the second week was the dome, and the third week was how to attach and wear it.” Total cost, apart from the labor was $380. Most of it came from Michael’s, a craft store. The salad bowl was from Target, and the fairy lights… most likely a hardware store.

There were plenty of scale drawings of the San Francisco Civic Center available online, as well as photo images.

“It was totally a team effort.” Cheryl would take it home at night, work on it for 2 hours, and bring it back the next day. Everyone was very disciplined in their time management, as this project was on top of their work-related project duties. The short timeframe, under 3 weeks, forced them to treat it like a real project with a real deadline. Their boss, Unisource CEO Jim Kastner, was fully on board with the project and checked on progress, providing daily encouragement.

“How do I see out of this thing?” Behjat tries on the dome with Michelle assisting. This scale replica of the San Francisco Civic Center cost around $380 in materials, off-the-shelf-parts, most of it from Michael’s Crafts. Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions

Image Gallery – Dome

Why Not 3D Print It?

Why not just do a 3D print? I wondered. “Not creative enough. Too machine-made. The handmade aspect was important to all of us, and allowed us to work together as a team. It’s also more upgradable this way. We can add or enhance things in a modular way.” The handmade craftiness of it gave it a charm that no 3D printer could have matched, and reminded me of traditional collaborative folk arts such as quilting.

Image Gallery – Dome

Level of Accuracy

“We cheated on some things,” Cheryl explained. “The windows are printed JPEGs, and the figures over the windows are rhinestones.” The angels at the top of the dome were from a crystal necklace that they pulled apart and painted gold. One day, Cheryl found fluted dowels. “That’s when I was hooked! My OCD got worse and worse. There was no turning back.” Foam core and wood trim, standard model-making supplies already had at the office, provided the walls and structure.

Cheryl shows off the dome close up. Detailing included angels made from a reclaimed crystal necklace, printed JPEG details for the facade, gold paint embellishment, and rhinestones. Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions

Image Gallery – Detailing

The Night of the Party

Behjat ended up being the official “wearer” on the night of the Beaux Arts Ball itself. She learned all about the building history in order to be able to answer questions at the party, if anyone asked. The San Francisco Civic Center was designed and built in under 2 years, in order to be ready in time for the 1915 Pan American Exposition. The architect, Arthur Brown, Jr., also did the San Francisco Opera House as well as Coit Tower.

The Beax-Arts Ball actually took place inside the War Memorial Veterans’ Building, also designed by Brown: “We didn’t realize it was right across the street!” Guests could see both the scale model and the real building out the window.

Behjat wore an evening gown beneath, and gloves. Handling the costume was a challenge. It would stick to the evening gloves. “Guides” helped her to move around. Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions

A Showcase for the Company

Unisource CEO Jim Kastner was very supportive of the project, and took a daily interest in its progress. The team explained: “This project is also a proof-of-concept for Unisource as a company. We did it to show clients what we can do, including time management and teamwork. This is how we are, who we are, and how we do things. Doing this brings us closer.”

Unisource CEO Jim Kastner, shown here with Cheryl Hill and Kastner’s daughter, Wendy Kastner, at the party. Jim was fully on board with his team’s extracurricular activities. Image courtesy of Unisource Solutions

I asked about Unisource itself. “Unisource is innovative in its vision,” said Michelle. “As a company, part of our job is to challenge our clients to think outside of what they’re already doing. One way we do that is using occupancy sensors, to let clients know where their spaces are under-utilized.” Their services range from visualization and space planning to actual asset management and warehousing for their clients. It includes workplace interactions, ergonomics and what they called “office well-being” meaning non-toxic materials.

They kept coming back to the theme of collaboration and how it made this project more nimble and added depth. “Collaboration enriches a project. We all have input and ideas. One person might see the bigger problem, while another sees little details. We build up from a little seed.”

This level of calm discipline was apparent even during our interview meeting. Michelle brought up her calendar and asked detailed questions about how the article’s timeline, including review drafts. We set out a schedule and worked back from a desired publication date. By the time I got home, I had 7 emails with images all categorized by project stage.

If It’s Fun… Is It Still Work?

Do you have this much fun in your regular work projects? I was envious.

“The family nature of Unisource really helps,” they responded. Many of the senior staff have been there a long time, unusual in a field where everyone ends up working for the competition eventually. “In our field, everyone carries pretty much the same stuff. It’s made out of the same materials. What differentiates us is our level of service. You cannot put a price on the type of services we provide. We really care, and it shows in our work. We have a lot of repeat clients with long-term relationships, and we don’t have to do a whole lot of marketing.”

Left: Wendy Kastner and Cheryl Hill. Right: Cheryl, Behjat, and Barb. Images courtesy of Unisource Solutions

They ended with this affirmation:

“We enjoy what we do
We like who we are
We are happy to be part of Unisource!

…We have the right combination of creativity and heart!”

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