Women in Architecture: Violeta Autumn

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re sharing the story of Violeta Autumn, whose distinguished career was committed to environmental protectionism and inclusion in the industry. Autumn’s designs earned her numerous accolades and recognition, and her work serves as an inspiration for architects today. Learn more about her life and career below.

The Life of Violeta Autumn
Violeta Autumn was born in 1930 Chiclayo, Peru to Russian Jewish immigrants and lived there until her family relocated to Oklahoma when she was 14. After graduating high school, Autumn attended the University of Oklahoma, where she studied under the legendary architect Bruce Goff and became the third woman to graduate from the school with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. In her future work, Autumn took inspiration from Goff’s use of organic design.

After completing her education, Autumn traveled across Europe during the summer, where she met her husband, Sanford Autumn, a psychologist. Autumn and her husband relocated to the San Francisco area after returning from Europe, and she obtained her California architect’s license soon after, in 1957.

Violeta Autumn's home in Sausalito, CA
Violeta Autumn’s home in Sausalito, CA

Notable Works and Achievements
Autumn’s architectural experience began with preparing construction drawings for Harold Dow, a Palo Alto-based architect. For several years, she illustrated renderings and designed murals for other architects and authors, but in 1959 she ventured out on her own, designing and building her own home and architectural studio in Sausalito, California as a first project. As her design vocabulary evolved, she continued to draw from other architects she worked with and admired, including Frank Lloyd Wright (with whom she apprenticed) and John Lautner, who went on to have a stellar career as a modernist architect in South California.

Autumn worked with engineer Haluk Akol to translate organic architecture philosophies into the home’s vertical cliff site. The building featured exposed concrete buttresses to stabilize the unique structural system, a two-story copper hood for its fireplace and unstained redwood. After its completion in the early 1960s, the home was widely celebrated, including features in Progressive Architecture and Look magazines.

Souverain Winery, Healdsburg, California, 1974

Autumn received her U.S. citizenship in 1963 and quickly became involved in aspects of local government, from joining her local Community Appearances Advisory Board to being named commissioner of the Planning Commission and to becoming a Sausalito City Councilwoman. Much of her work in public office mirrored her philosophies in architecture. She became largely known for her strong environmental protectionism along with the redevelopment of a host of important waterfront projects in the San Francisco Bay area.

Following her career in local government, Autumn partnered with fellow University of Oklahoma architectural graduate John Marsh Davis to create Davis-Autumn & Associates. Together, the two completed a host of projects, many of which are wineries still in existence in Sonoma and Napa Valley today, including Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Rutherford Hill Winery, Sullivan Vineyards and their most acclaimed, Souverain Winery. Designed and opened in 1974, the Souverain Winery won the American Institute of Architects Bay Area Honor Award for Design Excellence.

Violeta Autumn’s contributions to the field of architecture have left an indelible mark. Her work helped pave the way for future generations of practitioners who strive to create innovative, environmentally-friendly designs that prioritize community and inclusivity.

Women In Architecture: Eva Hagberg

Many of the pioneering women in the field of architecture, including Ray Eames, Norma Merrick Sklarek, and Mary Jane Long, earned their reputations on projects they designed, just like their male counterparts. But what if someone was able to have a significant impact on critical thinking within the field without actually designing anything? This is how we came to know Eva Hagberg, a person whose journey into and through architecture has been as interesting as it is purposely unconventional.

Writer, architectural historian, adjunct professor, once secret publicist, activist, and self proclaimed, “worst architectural student the school of architecture has ever seen.” Eva Hagberg is a woman in architecture who prides herself on her ideas and process rather than the execution of building a model for people to see.

Eva’s Backstory

From the age of 11, Hagberg was passionate about design and architecture; and while she earned a BA in the field from Princeton University, she never intended to practice. Rather, she began her professional life writing about architecture, choosing to engage in the field from a vastly different angle — interrogating the relationships between narrative and form.

From her early career as a writer in New York City, Hagberg became a secret publicist for architects and designers who were seeking help in articulating the stories behind their projects. As she functioned as a kind of ghost writer, she took advantage of the freedom to be unknown and unseen — “practically ungoogleable” as Hagberg describes herself. Because she opted to express herself by helping others find their voices, she was able to do the work that interested her the most without being pigeonholed, or specialized — architectural historian, adjunct professor, 77 year-old architect reminiscing about a project done in the 80s — or author of When Eero Met His Match.

Published Books

When Eero Met His Match
When Eero Met His Match by Eva Hagberg

What is today a trite proverb — that behind every great man, is a great woman — Eva Hagberg’s When Eero Met His Match is as biographical as it is a poignant love story between critic and publicist Aline Louchheim and architect Eero Saarinen. Aline aided Eero in shaping his identity and prominence as a designer and architect. Throughout the book, Hagberg expresses just how important it is to embrace language and narrative as an integral part of the practice of architecture.

She has also published two architectural books through Monacelli Press, Dark Nostalgia and Nature Framed. Dark Nostalgia seeks to combine psychology, style, architecture, and art to express the reasoning behind our desire to live within lushly nostalgic interiors incorporating wood, velvet, fur, brick, and iron. 

Dark Nostalgia
Dark Nostalgia by Eva Hagberg

Nature Framed, on the other hand, explores an Optima favorite, the concept of biophilic design. Hagberg views 25 residential projects (framed with nature in mind) from around the United States that take the concept of “green living” to the next architectural level by asking, how close to nature can we be while remaining indoors?

Nature Framed
Nature Framed by Eva Hagberg

As Hagberg herself explains, being the “worst architectural student the school of architecture has ever seen,” had its own set of merits. And because of her willingness to rethink, reframe and recontextualize stories about the built environment, Hagberg has carved her own path through sheer perseverance and a deep attunement to the soul of architecture and those who practice it.

Beyond her BA in architecture from Princeton University, Hagsberg went on to earn an MS in architecture from UC Berkeley. As well as a PhD in Visual and Narrative Culture from UC Berkeley. Today, as a member of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation faculty, her academic work focuses on the theoretical and historical approaches to publicity as a mode of architectural production, and lays out how the modern media system works.

David Hovey Sr., FAIA, A Modernist Philosophy Emerges

As we continue to explore the new David Hovey Sr., FAIA catalogue raisonné, it’s a pleasure to linger over the expansive, thoughtful essay penned by distinguished architecture writer and long-time associate, Cheryl Kent. This examination of Hovey’s career entitled, “The Achievement,” provides new perspectives on his career that give us greater appreciation for what he has cared deeply about, and the impact he has made.

In speaking about Hovey’s core beliefs, Kent explains:

“David Sr. continues as CEO and a principal architect. Now in his mid-seventies, he is beginning to pull back and leave more responsibility to his heirs. Still, he continues to work every day, ‘helping’ as he says ‘wherever I’m needed.’ In 2004, Optima opened an Arizona office but it has been building in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area since 2000. Today, Optima projects routinely gross over one million square feet and sometimes more than two. Over the course of the company’s existence, it has built nearly six thousand residential units with another 950 now in the works. And the pace has picked up. In its early years, the firm did approximately one project a year; now it is likely to have projects in construction in both markets at the same time, and sometimes more than one in each.

840 Michigan was a 24-unit complex in suburban Evanston built in 1985.

“It is significant that Hovey accomplished this over decades when his design philosophy, modernism — and he does embrace it as a philosophy — was out of step with the architectural mainstream. When many architects had embraced postmodernism beginning in the 1970s arguing for conventional historical references non-cognoscenti could understand and still other architects turned to deconstructivism that no one could understand, Hovey was steadfast in his belief in the tenets of modernism, in the future, in technology, in material honesty, in structural expression, and in architecture’s ability to improve life for people. Architecture, Hovey insists, must be expressive of its time and employ the latest technology. He has made a highly successful career of well-designed housing in a modernist idiom.”

When Hovey tackled North Pointe on the site of an old warehouse in Evanston in 1990, he used a dynamic plan to include 118 townhouses with penthouses and two mid-rise condominiums.

The projects in the early years of Hovey’s career allowed him to hone his practice by continuing to take on greater challenges in location, scope, size and materials — all the while staying true to his core beliefs and principles.

Women In Architecture: Maya Lin

American designer, architect, and sculptor, Maya Lin was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio. Lin rose to national recognition in 1981 as an undergraduate at Yale University when she won a public design competition at 21 years old for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC.

One of 1,422 submissions, including those from established design firms, Lin’s design included a black granite wall with the names of those lost in Vietnam carved into its face. Lin’s design intended to “take a knife and cut into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, the violence and pain would heal.”

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin. Credit: Wladia drummond on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

The design was controversial for its lack of tradition and because of Lin’s Asian ethnicity and youth. Today, Lin’s design for the Vietnam Memorial is a pilgrimage site for the friends, family, and comrades of those who died in Vietnam and is an integral part of the National Mall’s landscape. 

Upon graduating from Yale, Lin went on to earn a Master of Architecture from the university in 1986. She opened Maya Lin Studio in New York City, her own design firm which has worked on numerous projects including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama and the outdoor Wave Field installation at the University of Michigan.

In many ways, Lin identifies as a “designer” rather than an “architect.” Her works focus on the relationship between people and nature, and how people will interact with the space and nature they take up in the future. Lin’s work emphasizes human emotion rather than politics, making the viewer aware of their surroundings in not just a physical, but also psychological way.

Wave Field, Maya Lin, University of Michigan Campus, 1995. Credit: Sharon VanderKaay on Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 Deed

Lin’s 1995 design for Wave Field at the University of Michigan is inspired by the motion of fluids and ocean waves. Lin wanted to freeze the motion of water and movement of earth in an interactive earth piece that engaged the viewer more physically than a photograph. Wave Field was Lin’s first piece of earth work and was followed by her 2004 piece, Eleven Minute Line, in Sweden which is composed of a walkway that takes eleven minutes to traverse.

Lin’s architectural works include the plaza for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine, the design for the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City’s Chinatown, and a renovation of the Neilson Library at Smith College.

Lin’s project, “Ghost Forest” is currently on display in New York City’s Madison Square Park. Composed of a forest of dead or “ghost” trees, the installation gives the viewer an eerie vision of an earth damaged from climate change in the not-so-distant future.

In 2009, Lin was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama. In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Other awards include the 1999 Rome Prize, an election to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2014 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize among numerous other recognitions.

Lin resides in New York City and also has a home in rural Colorado. She is represented by Pace Gallery in New York City and continues to run her own studio.

An Inside Look at Architect Lingo, Part II

Our team is joined together by a love of exceptional design so naturally, design is our shared language. From property managers to accountants to architects, we’ve all come to know and love the architect lingo that helps us communicate our passions, our creations and our vision. In celebration — and in follow up to February’s blog we’re sharing Part II of our inside look at architect lingo.

Juxtaposed facade and surrounding landscape at Optima Sonoran Village
Juxtaposed facade and surrounding landscape at Optima Sonoran Village.


Juxtaposition refers to the fact of two things being placed close together with a contrasting effect. It’s the intentional creation of, and analysis of, a relationship that brings about exciting new realizations and discoveries, bringing added layers of meaning to each individual object and their relation to one another. 

In architecture, the use of juxtaposition becomes particularly striking, manifesting on a large scale in entire building facades. With everything we build at Optima, we consider the relationship — or juxtaposition — between the built and natural environment. How does each entity influence and illuminate the other to positive effect? In our desert dwellings, juxtaposition occurs between the organic beauty of the arid landscape and the bold, Modernist facade of the houses, built in concrete and glass to intentionally illuminate their counterpart. 

Looking out the windows at Optima Biltmore Towers
Looking out the windows at Optima Biltmore Towers.


Derived from the Latin word fenestrae (windows), fenestration is defined as the arrangement of any holes in a building’s facade. More specifically, this usually refers to the doors and windows on the elevation of a building. 

From the most basic standpoint, fenestration allows for the entry and exit of people into and out of a structure. That being said, fenestration historically posed a challenge to architects, because poking holes in a structure can weaken its resiliency. With Modern construction and increasingly durable building hardware, architects are freed up to explore fenestration with more liberty and inventiveness, going beyond the practical to examine decorative approaches.

The terraced design of Optima Camelview Village
The terraced design of Optima Camelview Village.


Terraces originated as a series of flat areas made on a slope for cultivation purposes, but have evolved into any level or paved area next to a building. Their uses vary widely, from still being tied to agricultural practices to now being a place of leisure and pleasure. 

At Optima, our approach to the terrace is with respect to its landscaping origins we employ terraces that allow our buildings, and their residents, to live in harmony with the surrounding landscape. We see the relationship between cultivating plantlife and cultivating relaxing spaces as intrinsically related.

Stay tuned for future features on the world of architecture lingo at Optima.

The Work of Le Corbusier

Modernism is an approach that has roots going all the way back to the 1920s. Modernist architecture was pioneered by the inventive and contentious Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, urban planner, painter and furniture designer. To better understand Modernism, we’re diving deep into his life, and highly controversial work.

A Controversial Figure

Born Charles-Eduoard Jeanneret-Gris, architect Le Corbusier built chiefly with steel and reinforced concrete, paring design down to its simplest, elemental geometry and form. He developed his famous theory of modern form and minimalist materials when envisioning affordable, prefabricated housing to help rebuild communities after World War I. His vision for prefabrication was only the tip of a strong, nearly utopian, approach to urban planning and architecture.

Villa Savoye Exterior
Villa Savoye in Poissy, Le Corbusier. Photo Timothy Brown, Flickr Creative Commons

His architectural philosophy was groundbreaking and completely contrary to the dominant narrative of the 1920s. Once he established his ideas, he shared them by publishing the seminal L’Espirit Nouveau (1920), where he revealed his famous “five points of architecture.” Three years later, he published Vers une architecture (Towards a New Architecture) (1923), in which he espoused a new, modern architecture informed by applying principles of cars, planes and ships to buildings. Le Corbusier embraced the conflict that arose to his ideas head-on, making bold declarations such as “a house is a machine for living in” and “a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men.”

Chair designed by Le Corbusier at Optima Camelview Village
Chair designed by Le Corbusier at Optima Camelview Village

Form, Function, Furniture

Le Corbusier also designed furniture, his approach following suit to his approach to architecture. His furniture, co-designed with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, utilized tubular steel that projected a new rationalist aesthetic. Le Corbusier broke down furniture into three types: type-needs, type-furniture and human-limb objects. His rational approach was not without romanticism, as he said, “Certainly, works of art are tools, beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion and harmony.” 

At Optima, we employ Le Corbusier furniture in our communities, like those in each of the three building lobbies at Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie. The furniture functions just as the artist would’ve wanted — as bold, artistic statement pieces, and as functional, rational furniture.

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