Friday, January 04, 2008

Storm Front

There are sandbags in our courtyard at work.

Although this may be helping keep the conference room dry, the water's ankle-deep in most places, and going to the bathroom means wading through the lake.

It doesn't rain often out here, but it makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in frequency. Some parts of the Bay Area have had eight inches of rain since the first storm hit yesterday -- and when the current storm blows itself out sometime tomorrow, a third will move in with more wind and rain. High winds knocked over a tractor-trailer on one bridge, after which the authorities wisely closed it until further notice. Streets are flooding, power is out, and the mountains are experiencing blizzard conditions -- winds over 100mph and blinding snow.

Snipped from the official report:
Winds in the coastal mountains either side of the Oregon-California border gusted over 150 mph during the morning. Winds gusted to just over 100 mph on the hill tops around Oakland and San Francisco, causing tree and power line damage. . . . Heavy rain totals in the coastal mountains north of San Francisco have reached 8 inches. Heavy rain is gradually shifting southward from northern California into central California and finally into Southern California. Rain totals will range from 2 to 5 inches in the valleys and along the coast to as much as 1 foot in the coastal mountains. Flash flooding is likely along the entire California coast and will not be confined to burn areas. . . . In the mountains of California, hourly snowfall rates could reach 6 to 8 inches. Snow accumulations between 2 feet (valley floors) and locally 12 feet (ridge tops) will bury the Sierra by the end of the weekend. White-out, blizzard conditions will make any travel through the Siskiyou and Sierra Mountains deadly. Damagingly strong wind gusts will continue over California especially in the vicinity of a strong cold front, ranging from between 50 and 70 mph at the lowest elevations to as high as between 150 and 200 mph at the ridge tops of the Sierra. Strong and damaging winds will also impact western Washington and most of Oregon, where winds could gust over 60 mph. Swells along the Washington, Oregon and northern California coasts will peak between 30 and 35 feet overnight and high surf warnings have been issued.

Note to non-Californians: this office building, like many out here, is designed as a series of suites, each opening onto an open central courtyard. The second floor has a walkway all the way around.

This floor plan is admirably adapted to the climate here, and it allows both privacy and shared public space. A company can rent one or many suites, so the space is flexible. Originally used for domestic architecture, this style is a descendant of the grand haciendas, which housed not just nuclear families but multiple generations of family and servants.

The adobe haciendas were and are beautiful buildings, cool, comfortable, elegant. This building, like many, borrowed the floor plan but skipped the Spanish Colonial architectural motifs: no red roof tiles, for example, or Moorish arches. And unfortunately, no drains in the paved courtyard, although we do have a redundant fountain.

Northeasterners visiting here often feel uneasy; these buildings strike them as too informal to be businesslike. Going outside to visit a colleague in a different suite (or the lunchroom, bathroom, conference room) seems undesirable and distracting. Part of the problem is probably climate-related. The open-courtyard design makes no sense whatsoever in any climate less benign than California's. My first thought on seeing those external corridors and staircases open to the sky is still "What happens when it snows?"

But I suspect that the issue is less practical than that. The hacienda- style floor plan is familiar to Easterners as the basic design of a Motel 6.

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