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.

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.

How to Keep Active in the Winter With Optima Fitness Centers

When the weather turns cold and the days get shorter, it can be difficult to stay true to our fitness goals. As part of Optima’s commitment to creating happy and healthy communities, we’re constantly developing ways to keep residents active throughout the year. In all of our buildings, residents will find incredible fitness and wellness amenities to stave off winter blues.

Indoor Basketball/Pickleball

The basketball courts at Optima provide generous spaces for individuals or groups to build endurance and strengthen their bodies, and they are thoughtfully designed to effortlessly flow into the modern design around them. Residents can step onto the courts to spend time doing drills or to join a pickup game. And as pickleball becomes evermore popular, many of our courts are now fitted out to accommodate this popular game, giving each space greater versatility.


For those looking for vigor, balance, stretching and meditative activity, Optima’s yoga studios are the perfect answer. Our yoga studios are fantastic for residents to learn more about themselves, practice mindfulness and discover new ways of staying active. Maintaining a routine yoga practice provides mental and physical health benefits, including improved energy and vitality. And, similar to all of our other amenity spaces, our yoga studios serve as spaces to build community and connect with other Optima residents who might share the same values.

Optima Lakeview’s state-of-the-art fitness center

Expansive Fitness Centers

Included in each of our apartment communities and many of our condominiums, Optima’s expansive fitness centers offer residents endless opportunities to focus on their health and wellness. At Optima Lakeview, the fitness center has been outfitted with top-of-the-line cardio equipment, a weight room, a light-filled studio for yoga and stretching and locker rooms with complimentary towel service. Residents can also take advantage of yoga classes and personal training, along with outdoor clubs for runners, bikers and nature lovers.

Swimming Pool at 7140 Kierland
Rooftop sky deck pool at the 7140 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Swimming Pools

No discussion of fitness and wellness amenities at Optima would be complete without showcasing our swimming pools. Many of our communities, including Optima Kierland, Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Signature and Optima Lakeview, offer beautifully-designed indoor and/or outdoor swimming pools — ideal for lap swimming and water aerobics — as a central feature of our impressive rooftop sky deck spaces. While the health benefits of swimming are compelling year-round, they are especially powerful in the cold winter months when a regular pool routine can be both invigorating and relaxing.

Rooftop Sauna at Optima Kierland Apartments
Rooftop Sauna at Optima Kierland Apartments


A favorite among Optima residents, our rooftop saunas are a relaxing way to stay healthy throughout the year. While they aren’t a means to be active, saunas come with a wealth of  benefits, providing residents with an opportunity to reduce stress, relieve pain and recharge. While the benefits of using a sauna are seemingly endless, with cold weather, hopping into a heated room might be the only motivation you need.

At Optima communities, residents never have to fear the impact of winter on their mobility or on their peace of mind. With our healthy environments and distinctive amenities, mental and physical health are always a priority.

Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright

Chicago is fortunate to have a rich architectural tradition. From the city’s first skyscraper built in 1885 to the transcending towers that look over the urban landscape today, architecture is at the forefront of Chicago’s role as a world-class city. At Optima, we are grateful to be part of an ecosystem that appreciates thoughtful and purposeful design. In the spirit of celebrating some of Chicago’s most prominent architects, we are delighted to see an exhibition at Wrightwood 659 that brings two magnificent lost buildings, designed by luminary architects to the public.

Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright can be seen at Wrightwood 659, located just south of Optima Lakeview. This collection offers a glimpse into the rich history of two buildings designed by renowned architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis H. Sullivan. Though few connections are evident between the two structures at first glance, a deeper dive uncovers the rich relationship between the Garrick Theatre in Chicago and the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo.

Photo of the Garrick Theatre
The Garrick Theatre, 1891, Photo courtesy of The Richard Nickel Committee and Archive

Reconstructing The Garrick

At the time of its completion in 1892, the Garrick Theatre, with a capacity of 1,300 seats, was among the tallest buildings in Chicago. Sullivan and his firm partner, Dankmar Adler, designed the exquisite structure to reflect the German heritage of its original investors, but made every development choice with careful thought for the theatre’s visitors. As the historic structure faded with time, its decline accelerated, and in 1961, amid much controversy and disagreement, the theatre was razed and replaced with a parking structure.

Reconstructing the Garrick uses stencils, fragments, drawings, photography and narrative to bring the lost architectural treasure back to life. Some of Sullivan’s most opulent designs for the Garrick included numerous terracotta portraits of well-known German men of the arts that protruded from the Theatre’s upper floors. Fragile ornamentation and vibrantly-colored plasters consisting of gold, jade and salmon, salvaged before and after the building’s demolition, are on view as part of the exhibition, offering access to delightful details of this grand structure that have been long-forgotten.

Photo of the Larkin Administration Building
Larkin Administration Building, 1934, Larkin Company photography collection

Reimagining the Larkin

Razed in 1906, the Larkin Administration Building, owned by Darwin D. Martin, was Wright’s first commercially-designed structure and allowed him to apply his innovative and pioneering techniques to a much larger scale. The building, designed and constructed for the Larkin Soap Company, was groundbreaking in its own right as a center where all of the company’s products were both manufactured and mailed. However, at the forefront of Wright’s mind was designing for workability.

Wright and Martin both understood that an ordered, well-lit and harmonious environment would champion the workers. The five-story red brick building included numerous modernized mechanics, including air conditioning, built-in desk furniture and suspended toilets. Wright designed most of the building’s furniture himself, and many pieces are on display within the exhibition. Deemed by critics and architects at the time as the finest commercial building in the world, the Larkin also seamlessly unified technology with the nature that surrounded it with its rooftop garden, recreation areas and water lily ponds.

Unlike the Garrick, after years of deterioration, there was little fight to save the Larkin. However, today both buildings hold greater significance than ever before. The Gerrick and the Larkin prove how transcendent architecture is defined not only by its material and look, but also by the lasting impression it stamps into history.

Romanticism to Ruin is currently open to visitors Fridays and Saturdays through the end of December 2021. You can reserve tickets to the exhibit here.


The Environmental Benefits of Vertical Landscaping

Vertical landscaping is a signature feature across Optima communities. In Arizona, we’re easily recognized by the lush greenery that makes itself a key element of the facade at Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village. Most recently, we’ve even strategized how to bring our vertical landscaping to the inclement midwestern climate, with plans to incorporate it at our latest development in Wilmette, Optima Verdana.

Photo of Optima Verdana
Vertical landscaping at Optima Verdana in Wilmette.

Besides providing aesthetic value through added beauty and privacy for residents, our vertical landscaping system also serves another important purpose: bringing a broad array of environmental benefits to the natural environments in which we build.

The impact of our vertical landscaping system is something we calculated carefully through extensive design exploration, engineering and a multi-year research collaboration with Arizona State University.

The system, with self-containing irrigation and drainage, provides a haven for urban wildlife, promotes evaporative cooling, re-oxygenates the air, reduces dust and smog levels, reduces ambient noise, detains stormwater and thermally insulates and shields residents from the desert sun, all of which contributes to a sustainable urban environment.

Residents and community members alike also get to experience the direct impact of being surrounded by nature, with the vertical landscaping system serving as a connection to nature. Wherever this connection is made, it fosters a lifelong appreciation for the environment around us, and helps us all to stay mindful of the role we play in keeping that environment safe.

The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

Considering we all spent a lot of time indoors in 2020, we’ll take any excuse to get outside this summer. Thankfully, there are numerous mental and physical perks to spending time in the great outdoors, whether it’s on a hiking trail or on your own terrace. Here are just a few of the many health benefits of being outdoors:

Boost Your Mood

Studies have shown being outdoors lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s a marker for stress. Spending some time outside can help with stress, anxiety or depression, not to mention the added physical benefits of just spending a few minutes in the sun. Vitamin D helps with bone growth, regulates your immune system and can help battle depression. Even if it’s just a quick reset, getting out of the house and into nature can really boost your mood.

Improve Your Vision

Just like we’ve all spent more time inside over the past year, we’ve also spent more time on our screens. Whether you’re back in the office or working from home, your eyes probably need a break. Staring at computers, tablets and smartphones for long periods of time can cause Computer Vision Syndrome, but spending time outdoors can alleviate blurred and double vision, red eyes and headaches.

Photo of Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck
Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck

Refresh Your Focus

Nature and green space lets our brains take a break from the chaos of life (and in some cases has even reduced symptoms of ADHD). Spending more time outdoors is also linked to higher levels of concentration, creativity and improved mental clarity.

We hold these health benefits in high esteem, and it’s one of the many reasons we design our residential and communal spaces to invite the outdoors inside. Connecting to nature is an easy way to take some time and connect to yourself and to the environment around you.

Chicago Skyscraper Spotlight: Rookery Building

Highly regarded as one of the most historically significant buildings in Chicago, it’s only natural that we would include the Rookery Building in our ongoing Chicago skyscraper spotlight series. So what does it take for a building to earn such an esteemed title – especially in a city with a skyline marked by its architectural diversity and richness? Let’s take a look.

Big Shoulders Indeed

The Rookery Building was completed in 1888 by architects Daniel Burnham and his partner John Wellborn Root, under their firm Burnham and Root. Overall, the structure is considered one of their masterpiece buildings and was even once the location of their offices. Standing at twelve stories high (188 feet total), it’s also considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.

The Rookery Building rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire. Burnham and Root were part of the Chicago School of Architects who worked to rebuild the city during that time, utilizing modern industrial techniques combined with traditional techniques and design, resulting in a truly unique product.

The unique name, too, comes with a story: only a water tank was left standing from the original structure after the fire. A temporary structure was built around this tank, and was nicknamed the “rookery” – in part because of the pigeons and crows that perched on its exterior, but also in part because of the crooked politicians it housed within.

Photo of the light court lobby designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The light court lobby designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Rookery Building in the Modern Era

Burnham and Root weren’t the only big names to call the Rookery Building home. At one point, Frank Lloyd Wright once held offices there as well. In fact, Wright even remodeled the building’s lobby in 1905. Just a few decades ago, from 1982 to 1992, a massive renovation project was completed to restore the lobby to this original Wright design once again.

These days, the building is home to tenants such as US Bank, Brooks Brothers, Perkins Eastman and Interactive Brokers Group. Both the Frank Lloyd Wright organization and the Chicago Architectural Society offer tours inside the building, so that lovers of great architecture today can continue to appreciate its history, story, and gorgeous features.

Unpacking the Idea of Democratic Spaces

Coming out of the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic where so many people suffered from social isolation, human connection and shared experiences feel more urgent than ever. One way to achieve such experiences is to embrace the idea of democratic spaces. This term describes spaces that are shared by the public for the free enjoyment of all. Below, we take a closer look at how the term came to be and what it looks like in action.

Brazilian Origins

The idea of democratic space has historically thrived in Brazilian architecture and design. To break it down: democracy itself is a system that ensures plurality and representation in politics and society. Democratic space, then, becomes any space that invites multiple groups to equally decide how they’d like to use the space, and then do so freely.

Late Modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi was one such Brazilian figure who advocated for more democratic spaces. Most notably, her work in creating vital cultural centers in the region demonstrated the philosophy in action: these were places where tolerance, equality and freedom drove design.

In an interview with Fora, professor and critic Guilherme Wisnik discussed how, if public space is a source of conflict (i.e. how should it be used and by whom), then this conflict is a virtue. Conflict and debate give way to the opportunity to better understand a wide variety of diverse people and diverse needs, and approaching space democratically allows architects and urban planners alike to use space as a “theater for the mediation of differences.”

Democratic Space at Optima

Anytime you bring a residential development to a community, there’s a balance to be struck between creating a private haven for residents themselves, as well as adding value and resources to surrounding community members.

At Optima, this moral consideration plays out in several ways. First and foremost, we’re committed to bringing beautiful buildings that pay respect to the surrounding built and natural environment alike. Ours are communities designed with the existing climate and available, sustainable materials in mind – and through landscaping, we’re always thoughtful about bringing visual beauty and increased greenery to the neighborhood.

Photo of Optima Sonoran Village
Curves & Voids at the Optima Sonoran Village sculpture garden.

Public art is also a component of what we do at Optima. Many of our communities feature original sculptures by David Hovey Sr. In fact, Optima Sonoran Village is home to an entire sculpture garden for all in the area to enjoy. Beyond the sculpture garden, Optima Sonoran Village incorporates lushly landscaped open spaces, which are interconnected with the central courtyards allowing public pedestrian access along pathways into and through the development. Located on the boundary of the Downtown District, the pedestrian areas are designed to accommodate and encourage a visual and functional connection of the adjacent neighborhoods with the Camelback Corridor and Downtown Scottsdale.

Meanwhile in downtown Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, the plaza out front of Optima Signature brings an unusual public space to a densely developed area. Kiwi, an original David Hovey Sr. sculpture swathed in a brilliant shade of yellow, is a feature that invites passerby to stop and linger for a while. In addition to the public art sculpture, the plaza at Optima Signature also features a long stretch of lushly landscaped gardens, perfect for an inner-city stroll.

As we come out of these challenging times, design has a crucial role to play in creating opportunities for connection and community just like these.

An Inside Look at Architect Lingo, Part IV

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 as part of our ongoing series, today we’re sharing Part IV of our inside look at architect lingo.


Pronounced with an exaggerated accent on the e at the end, the word poché comes from the French word pocher, which means to sketch roughly. To the untrained eye, poché refers to the portions of an architecture plan that are blacked out, darkened or cross-hatched. To an architect’s eye however, these blacked-out portions of the drawing hold much information.

Poché in a drawing demonstrates to architects the wall thicknesses, floor thicknesses and all other solid areas that intersect the plane of the section cut. Because poché makes it more clear how much space these solid areas take up (i.e. a normal line wouldn’t demonstrate the thickness of a wall, but poché does), it means that architects then have a better understanding of what space is actually available to them around these elements.

Example of architectural sketch using poché
Architectural drawing of Sterling Ridge.


While the word charette might be unfamiliar to many, likely the meaning behind it will sound all too familiar. Charette refers to the intense final effort made by architectural students to complete their solutions to a given architectural problem in an allotted time or the period in which such an effort is made. It’s the home stretch of a project, if you will.

The word charette is derived from the word “cart,” and its origins date back to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century. During that time, proctors circulated a cart, or “Charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work. Nowadays, the meaning of charette has evolved to refer to a period of several consecutive days, during which time all stakeholders involved in a project are consulted during an open, collaborative process to gather feedback and make refinements to a given plan.


If you’re familiar with Modernist architecture (or if you’ve been an avid reader of our blog), this homological word explains itself. Used as either an adjective or a noun, Miesian as an adjective describes that relating to or characteristic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or his work and Miesian as a noun describes an admirer or student Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or his work.

In the Modernist discipline, this basically sums up all of us and everything we create. Mies’ “skin and bones” design style and philosophy of “less is more” is largely influential to the formulation of the discipline as we know it today.


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


Unbuilt Project by Mies van der Rohe Comes to Life

When you picture the work of architecture titan Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, you probably don’t picture a fraternity house. But back in 1952, the German-American architect created a design for Indiana University’s Alpha Theta chapter of Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. However, the design was never constructed and forgotten about until 2013, when an alumni and former fraternity member dug up the news. Indiana University then located the documents through the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art so the project could become a reality.

Instead of a fraternity house, the building will be home to the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design. Extensive research helped update the building to modern features while keeping the integrity of the Modernist design. The plans for bedrooms were simply swapped out for offices. 70 years later, this incredible design will finally come to life and inspire students and creatives for generations to come.

For the full story, check out Architectural Record’s recent feature on the project.

The Legacy of Cornelia Oberlander

This spring, the design world lost a woman of fortitude, ingenuity and groundbreaking creativity. Cornelia Oberlander, a Canadian landscape architect, passed away just before her 100th birthday due to complications from COVID-19. Although her passing is mourned, Oberlander left behind an incredible and inspiring life story and legacy.

Cornelia Oberlander was born into a Jewish family in Germany in June of 1921. As the Nazi party rose to power, her family faced increasing dangers and chose to leave the country two weeks after Kristallnacht. Oberlander was eighteen by the time they emigrated to the United States in 1939, and there she was able to nurture her interests in the power of plants to heal. Her mother was a horticulturist who wrote gardening books for children and nurtured Oberlander’s appreciation for nature. Inspired by the landscaping and public spaces in Germany, she was determined to design parks from a young age. 

Oberlander received a BA from Smith College and was among the first class of women to study at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, founded by Walter Gropius, a leader of the Bauhaus movement. Armed with a degree in landscape architecture, Oberlander was on a mission to improve lives with public spaces nourished by nature. And indeed she did; she started out working in Philadelphia, where her initiatives in public housing included places for children and green space. After moving to Canada, she advocated for communities and designed over 70 urban playgrounds. Her notable projects included the Children’s Creative Center at Montreal’s Expo ’67, Vancouver General Hospital Burn Unit Garden and the landscape design at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver (photo below). Over her lifetime, Oberlander was honored with Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada and Vancouver Freedom of the City Award, amongst many other accolades.

The grounds and reflecting pool of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, designed by Cornelia Oberlander / Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia
The grounds and reflecting pool of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, designed by Cornelia Oberlander / Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

Cornelia Oberlander’s work will impact landscape architects, urban designers and creative minds all over the world for years to come. Her beliefs in the ability of design to bring about social change and healing are ones we as creatives should all hold in high regard, as we build systems and buildings that elevate the human experience.

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