SAN FRANCISCO I EN I Felipe Santander

Felipe Santander – Co – founder at Integrated Habitats
December 11. 2012 – 8 PM
18th and Rhode Island, San Francisco CA 94107

In a community garden in Potrero Hill


I’m originally from  Chile. Born and raised in Santiago, I also got my architecture degree there. Before moving to San Francisco I was working in large firm called, Arcadis an international engineering company from the Netherlands. One of the projects I was working on was an airport on Easter Island, in South Pacific. We worked in partnership with a French consultant called ADPI. They were in charge of the preliminary design, while we were in charge of the architecture and engineering plans for construction. It was an interesting project because the design of the French architects was something that had never been seen in South America, material-wise, plus the whole sustainable design concept was beautiful. We spent a year working on that project. We finished in January 2010 and the client, the Ministry of Public Works, loved the design. Unfortunatelly the month they were suppused to start the construction, we had an 8.8 earthquake. At that point the Ministry of Public Works had to stop working on the new airport and place that investment in restoring the damaged cities

After that, I had the opportunity to work and be part of the design of an astronomical observatory in La Serena. Today in Northern Chile we have more than 50% of the telescopes of the world. Most of those telescopes are either American or European and the observatories were never designed by Chilean professionals so it was the first time that the Americans wanted local professionals to design the observatory.  The project is called LSST (Lar Synoptic Survey Telescope) and it’s going to be the largest ground based telescope in the world. The digital camera it’s been designed in Stanford at the Linear Accelerator Center and the mirrors are been designed in Tucson, Arizona. While the design of the observatory is done they are still working on the telescop. The whole project should be completed by 2015.

Before working at Arcadis, and while I was graduating from architecture school, one of my teachers, Jorge Manieu, asked me to join his design studio. I worked with him and his partner for two years, designing houses and small hotels. One of them, Hotel Surazo, recently got selected one of the best hotels in Chile. Working with them was amazing because they’re both really talented architects. Designing houses is what I enjoyed the most. I love the scale. We used mostly wood, everything was local, a little bit edgy so we were always fighting with the engineers, always trying to push the boundaries between design and engineering.

Once I moved to San Francisco I knew I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind a computer, I wanted to be outside, meet new people and be involved with nature and learn more about food security, so I started volunteering at an urban farm called Hayes Valley Farm. I started working there as a volunteer twice a week and they mentioned a permaculture certificate course in the city. While I was taking this class, things started to make sense in terms of what should I be doing, as an architect, spending my energy and my time. Somehow, growing food seemed so obvious and now I’m all into how urban planning is going to adapt these farms and these local developments towards growing food and being conscious about  the need for a  healthier planet. Right now, with David Cody and Katy Broker-Bullick, we started an ecological design studio called Integrated Habitats: We offer consultation, planning, and implementation of ecological spaces, from small-scale private residences to large-scale agroecological projects. Through on-site assessment and pattern recognition we develop plans modeled on nature and ecological principles. And that’s something they don’t teach you in school and I think they should.


dessin  Felipe Santander

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The building you wich you had designed?
The Golden Gate Bridge. That’s a piece of jewelry!

The project you designed that makes you proudest?
I’m proud of all of them, even the ones that you know still need some work to do. The one that I really like is the astronomical observatory.

A striking detail in one of your project?
A thirteen foot cantelivered bedroom in a house in Colina and the wood beams of the passenger terminal in the airport on Easter Island, 120mts long.

The project you would never design?
Never say never, there’s always something to learn!

The ideal or perfect city?
Today I would say San Francisco because of the cultural mix, the different languages, the different colours; because it’s a clean city. I love that everyone takes recylcing very seriously. It’s a great city for urban farms, for growing food and teaching people to grow food.

Do you prefer tallking or drawing?
Both! Drawing is not my passion but I’m happy when I’m drawing a project and I know exactly where it’s going. But at the same time, I love talking to the clients and seeing what the client wants.

The first time you felt like an architect?
I think when we completed my sister’s house. I thought «yes, we did it, it works!». It was a beautiful experience.

What infuriates you as far as architecture is concerned?
Trends. Trendy architecture. Fashion architects, because they don’t care about things that really matters. Today we have so many problems that architects could solve so I don’t understand  why they would spend so much money and time on things that nobody cares.

The most ridiculous building in San Francisco?
Right where the Bay Bridge starts, there’s a tall residential building that is really out of context. Playlist SF

The song you are listening to over and over again?
Lately I’ve been listening a lot to “black dog” by led Zeppelin. Classic rock.

Your message to young architects?
Take a permaculture course!

Who is the architect that accompanies you?
I have two: One is Jorge Manieu, my teacher and mentor, the other one is Teresa Sagredo, we used to work in Arcadis together. She was very intuitive, smart and passionate. Both of them really inspired me. Whenever I have a problem, I talk to them about it.

What’s next?
Urban farms and planning towards food security.