Habitat for humanity
Publication Date: Friday Feb 3, 1995

Habitat for humanity

Houses win awards all the time. But a dorm?

by Diane Sussman

Architect Rodney Friedman has only one thing to say after spotting a forsaken V-8 juice can on a window sill of Manzanita II dorm on Stanford campus: "Reduce indeterminate space." Because, as most architects eventually discover, indeterminate space frequently ends up being a dumping site for paper wads, candy wrappers, twist tie collections and myriad other detritus of human activity.

"I can't help it," said the San Francisco architect, who designed the space to be pure. "This kind of thing bothers me. You get attached."

Friedman probably wouldn't care so much about the can if the building, which his firm Fisher-Friedman Associates designed three years ago, hadn't won first prize in the 1994 Builder's Choice Design and Planning Awards competition.

The three-story, 60,000-square-foot dorm at the corner of Escondido Road and Campus Drive won in the category of multifamily communities of 20 dwelling units per acre, a category usually dominated by townhouse and condominium projects. Built by Dow Building in San Mateo, the $7 million project is home to 200 students.

From among 700 categories, judges selected 52 winners that run the gamut from avant-garde to affordable. Manzanita was the only winning project on the Midpeninsula.

Manzanita II also picked up the 1993 Pacific Coast Builders Conference 1993 Gold Nugget Grand Award, a 1994 Concrete Masonry "honor award" and the 1994 Builders Choice Grand Award.

Not that Stanford can't already lay claim to a small cache of architecturally significant buildings, such as Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House, H.H. Richardson's Memorial Church and the Quad, to name a few.

By now, Friedman's work, too is becoming familiar on campus. He also designed Peter Coutts faculty housing, the 1964 remodel of the Stanford Bookstore and the recent renovations of Donald Kennedy's house.

The immediate environmental influences for Manzanita came from Kimball, Branner and Toyon dorms nearby: all Mission-style, stucco exterior in "soft Italian-influenced colors" and red tile roofs. For Manzanita II, which includes the dorms known as Lantana and Castano, Friedman eliminated the decorative stone of Kimball, added towers influenced by Toyon and rounded glazed windows in the stairwell that he wanted "to light up like a jewel at night."

The less immediate influences were more romantic and elusive. "I wanted to create a strong axis between the building, the Toyon towers, Hoover Tower, the roofscapes, the natural landscape and the hills beyond," he said, at a loss to explain how the Manzanita trailer park nearby fits into the scheme. Manzanita dorm replaced more of the trailers, which were installed some 30 years ago as "temporary" student housing.

For an architect, few projects require as much mettle as designing for students, who come, go, hang raucous posters and mar the indeterminate spaces with V-8 juice cans. "The first time I designed a dorm, I went back to see it and I was shocked. It was like Animal House."

As a result, he has developed several guidelines for Animal House-proofing a dorm. His top three: "If you want to save a favorite spot, put something there. If it's nailed down, they can't take it. If you don't want them to move furniture, put in a banquette."

As examples, he points to art hanging where no Green Day posters should go, lampshades welded to lamps and banquettes lining nearly every window.

He diplomatically held his tongue about the basketball hoop obscuring the graceful arc of a window, the shoes on the conference room table and the Styrofoam trash container breaking up some indeterminate space. Only an improperly placed vending machine upset him. "See this?" he said, pointing to how far out the machine was from the wall. "You make a space for these things and they do this."

Obviously, the judges never saw the soda machine. Or if they did, they didn't care. One judge was so taken with the building he remarked: "I would gladly have lived on campus if this was how I could have lived."

But the architectural nuances were lost on senior Scott Moss, who lives in a first-floor room in Manzanita. "I wanted a single," he said. "And the food service is really good."

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