Shadow My Day as an Architecture Project Designer at Studio O+A in San Francisco


John J Son  |  My Instagram  |  My Dog's Instagram
My name is John J Son.  I am a San Francisco based professional architectural designer. I received my Bachelor's degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and my Masters in Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 

My passion for architecture and design comes from a fundamental curiosity and interest in how design influences thought, interaction, and emotion not only on an intimate, personal level but also in an urban, collective realm.  Having also grown up on both coasts and in Hawaii, I have developed another passion - which is to surf.


5:00 am Dawn Patrol — Depending on the size of the swell, wind direction, the tide, and the sandbars, this is the time I normally wake up in order for me to surf before work.  During the Fall and Winter seasons, it is pretty much a daily endeavor.  As for the off seasons, when the surf runs a little smaller and irregular, I walk the stretch of sand that hugs Ocean Beach with Bob, my six-year-old dog.  For this summer morning, there is a nice medium-period southwest swell and the tides are good.

5:20 am Breakfast  Two fried eggs and a whole avocado smashed and spread on a piece of toast, accompanied with a strong cup of stove-top espresso, is the usual bite for me in the mornings.  I gather my gear: surfboard(s); wetsuit; towel; gallon of tap-water; work clothes. For the dog:  chuck-it ball; towel; dog bowl.

The Pacific

6:00 am The Pacific — After I load the Subaru, I make the 10-min drive down Guerrero onto Laguna, a left on Fell to eventually make it onto Fulton, which takes me straight towards the Pacific.  First light is usually 15-20min before sunrise and that is the time I want to be in the water.  Through memory and earlier observation, I try to recognize the shifting sandbars out in Ocean Beach so I know exactly where to paddle out before the sun is officially up.  Good sandbars shape the surf and dictates how it breaks.

7:15 am Dog Run  While in the water, the dog is inside the Subaru staying warm and, as I like to believe, protecting the car from getting its glass shattered.  My car has been broken into too many times.  After a quick rinse from the water that I have brought from home, I throw on my work clothes and lead the dog towards the beach again to play his favorite game: fetch.  

Dog Walk

7:40 am The Mad-Dash Home  What took about 10 min driving to the beach takes about 35 min of driving through traffic on the way back home.  If time is pressed, I double-park to drop my gear off at home and make my way to the public parking lot across the street from my job in SoMa.  However, I try to avoid that scenario since it involves me driving through more traffic to and from work.  

In traffic, I feel trapped.  In any case, the normal routine is to park around my apartment to unload my gear and make the two-block walk to the BART station.  The schedule for the day depends on if the dog is coming with me to work.  A light day with no client or internal meetings is when Bob accompanies me to work and the play-wrestle between him and my colleagues will last all day.

8:50 am Work, Work, Work — I step into work at Studio O+A which is nestled in a side street of the SoMa neighborhood.  I greet Thomas, the studio-coordinator, while I make myself another coffee and slowly make myself up the stairs towards my desk.  I re-check my daily responsibilities and meetings and make a game plan for the day in my head: Further refine the All-Hands and Air-lock design before the General Contractor meeting at 10am; demolition and construction plans for Primo by mid-afternoon; generate ideas with the team and produce a 3D model and rendering for a vision package that is to go out by late afternoon to a prospective New York City client; lunch with the Charette Committee to discuss what we will be presenting for next week….


11:00 am Meeting with the GC — The team is already there: the studio director on my left, the senior studio designer on my right.  We go over the All Hands design which is the central architectural piece of the project.  To briefly go over the design, it is an architectural element that serves as a bleacher/cafe/designated foos-ball area/hang-out area/bar for a medium size, Brooklyn-based, media tech firm that we are working with.  The team likes the direction of the design but we need comments from the GC for cost and structural advice.  

Dog Walk

12:00 pm Dog-Walk — I make sure Bob sees me put his ball in my jacket pocket as I head out the door.  Even though there are no parks around the area, he is ball-obsessed and will listen to anything I say if I have it on me.  I take him around the block: down Tehama Street; a left onto Sixth Street; a left onto Folsom; a left onto Fifth Street; and a left back onto Tehama Street.  The blocks in SoMa are non-traditionally long and it is a nice brisk walk for Bob.

12:30 pm Lunch — I have to say one of the perks that my workplace offers is catered lunch.  Every Tuesdays and Thursdays, lunch is provided for the staff and we all generally eat together.  Today is Peruvian.  There is a picnic table out front and the weather is in the low 70’s with not a cloud in the sky and mealtime talk ranges from work to what people are planning for the coming weekend.


12:50 pm Coffee and a Book — I generally eat my lunch rather quickly so I can slip out to Sightglass Coffee with a book.  It is my moment to completely check out of work and to sip on an americano while reading an autobiography of an american sailor who survived over 70 days in the open ocean.  The book is called, Adrift.  I feel like these moments of being by myself and reading help break up the day. At 1:20, I start to head back towards work.

2:00 pm Design Deliverables — Another meeting with the team to discuss the deliverables for our next client meeting.  We are in good shape and the design of the project is pretty solid.  My task is to clean up a few designs that I have sketched out earlier with the GC.  It is a short meeting.

Site Survey

4:00 pm Site Survey — I’ve been asked to start a new project for Primo, the co-founder of O+A, to develop drawings, a 3D model, and some design options for an abandoned building located somewhere around Mission Bay.  There are existing site photos of the building and I need additional measurements for accuracy.

I pack up since this will be my last assignment for the day.  Judging from the site photos that a colleague have taken before, the building is quirky - faceted ceiling planes, multiple rooms of differing heights, exposed timber roof structures, and an ad-hoc studio resident on the second floor.  

I call an Uber and Bob and I get stuck behind traffic for 20 minutes.  I arrive at the site and open the front door.  I am intrigued at what I see inside and fantasize about owning a place like this for me to renovate.  I am drawn by its quirkiness.

5:00pm End of Day — Today will be an early day.  I grabbed all the measurements that I needed and will start fresh first thing tomorrow morning to draft out plans and build a 3D model.  For most of my design assignments, depending on the phase of the project, I generally stick with a handful of softwares, a roll of trace, and a sketch book.  I am not a big fan of Autocad and normally draft plans and build a 3D model in Rhino3D (I can easily export the drawings into a .dwg file for those who want to open the file in Autocad or a 3DS file for those who want to work in other 3D modeling softwares such as SketchUp or 3DStudioMax).  

After the base modeling is done, I tend to sketch out ideas on paper and then study then in 3D form.  I usually go through a number of options before settling on one or two that makes the most sense to me.  From there, I render out vignettes and key moments of the design using another 3D software, 3DStudioMax.

I generally like to supplement the design options with a few diagrams which I either sketch out or use Illustrator for.  But that is all for tomorrow.  I feel like walking a bit and so I walk a few blocks down 7th Street.  I have never been to this part of the city before and Bob seems to enjoy the new smells that this part of the city offers.

6:15 pm Home — I am home in the Mission neighborhood.  I take my wetsuit out of the bin and throw it in the tub to rinse off later.  The surf should stick around for the next few days.  I take out five heirloom tomatoes and start cutting them up for pasta sauce.  Tonight I will be having penne pasta and kale salad and a bottle of cheap wine for two.  My girlfriend is making her way to my place for dinner.  I do not mind cooking.  I have worked in many restaurants before in Boston and New York City before I discovered and committed myself to graduate school in architecture.

7:30 pm Dinner — Dinner is served.  Bo, my girlfriend’s dog, and Bob are eating their dinner as well.  For a studio, the place is gets tight pretty quickly with another person and another dog, but I like it.  It is cozy.  Over dinner, I normally talk about the surf and she reminds me of any future commitments we have made with colleagues and friends.  I admit, I am not a great planner of things and events and rely on Hannah to remind me.  She doesn’t mind.  Although we are both trained as architects, we hardly talk about work.  For us, the normal rule is that work stays at work.  There are exceptions of course - everyone has bad days here and there.  

9:00 pm Evening Dog Walks  After dinner and cleaning, the dogs are out again for a walk.  Depending on their energy and the weather, it can either be a short stroll or a lengthy tour around the neighborhood.  I am new in this neighborhood having moved here from the NoPa neighborhood six months ago.  We entertain ourselves and keep a list of cafes, bars, or restaurants that seem interesting to us.  We will read the list again when date nights come around.  For tonight, the weather was cool and brisk and there is a new Thai place that just opened up.  I jot the name down on my iphone even though Hannah didn’t seem too impressed.

Wind Down

10:00 pm The Wind-Down — My sleep time varies night-to-night depending on the day.  If there is solid swell hitting the coast, I set my alarm at 5am and try to get a good night’s rest.  When the surf is flat or blown out, I do not set any alarms or have a set time that I’d like to sleep.  A good thing or bad, I always wake up at around 7am, if not, earlier.  It’s sort of an internal alarm clock or a fear of waking up and rushing to work in the mornings.  

I’ve always hated the feeling of missing the quiet times in the mornings before everything in the day begins again.  For tonight, there is a southwest swell coming in at 5ft @ 17 seconds.  Hightide is at 1:32am.  The wind will be slowly moving east at about 2mph.  All this means is that, in the morning, I will pull up to the beach, to find a nearly empty ocean with clean 6-8ft surf.