The Edge: Neal Pann, conversations with an Architect.

July 12, 2013 5 min read

Today's interview with Neal Pann will be followed by a Google Hangout on Air on Tuesday July 16th, details here. Don't miss this this live discussion on How to Succeed in Architecture: Start Your Own Business.


Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do 

Neal Pann: I am an alumnus of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California with over 20 years of architectural experience in the design of residential and commercial projects throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I am a licensed architect in California and a LEED Accredited Professional that has worked on a variety of residential project types from single to multifamily homes, plus commercial tenant improvements and forward planning (final maps, improvement plans, landscape and architectural approvals.) In addition, I have designed and constructed my own house.

Neal Pann the-grove-exterior-1

Neal Pann the-grove-interior

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Neal Pann: A project that recently completed construction was a small second story addition and remodel. It was a project for which I interviewed and negotiated a proposal that the clients chose not to do at the time. A year later they contacted me and wanted to move forward.

Neal Pann desilets addition-1

We started by identifying their needs and reviewing the program. With this information, I proceeded to design several plan and elevation options which were discussed and modified with the clients’ input. I then completed the construction documents and submitted the plans to the City for permit.

Neal Pann desilets addition-2

What made this project interesting and a good learning experience for those doing remodels and/or additions is the idea to review the proposed project with the local jurisdiction before beginning your design. When I submitted this for permit the Plan Reviewer questioned my lack of a setback on the second floor. The Plan Reviewer called in a member of the planning staff and all of us reviewed the portion of the Zoning Code in question. In this case, the planning staff member was the same person I had discussed the project with originally. He informed the Plan Reviewer that my interpretation was correct and that he and I had discussed this previously. It also helped that I had my notes from that meeting and copies of the Zoning Code section in question, which the planning staff had printed for me as backup. This does not always help, but in this case it did preserve all the work that had gone into the project and prevented me from having to go back to the client with some very bad news. 

Neal Pann desilets addition-3

Neal Pann desilets addition-4

Novedge: What software do you use? 

Neal Pann:I recently wrote a two part posting on my history with CAD. Part one explored my first experience with CAD software though my various positions in other firms. Part two details my thoughts on which CAD program I am currently using and where I would like to go. To summarize, I have been using AutoCAD on the Mac for construction documents and designing by hand with pen and sketch paper. It works, but it is not an efficient system for the type of projects I typically have. I would like to use a program that integrates 2D & 3D so when making design revision the changes are reflected in plan, elevation and section. I do not want to throw away a model once design development or construction documents start, therefore I have chosen Vectorworks. I am still learning, and will be utilizing it for the first time on a remodel project I am working on this summer. I hope to report back with a post on my progress and experience with the program.

Novedge: I really enjoy your blog, there's a lot of humor in your writing. How do you find ideas and inspiration for your creativity?

Neal Pann:Many of the ideas for the posts come from notes I have been collecting for several years. With the relaunch of my website (back in April) I have committed to writing and posting those ideas that I have been collecting. I have varied interests and I did not wish to maintain multiple blogs, so the reader will find posts from I am not Longer a Member of the AIA to using Parallels Desktop software and even lighter posts like Construction Definitions.

Novedge: You recently started a podcast called Archispeak: how did it all start? What is it about?

Neal Pann:I had been wanting to do a podcast for awhile, and Archispeak was born after some conversation between a couple of friends and me on Twitter. Evan, Cormac and I each live in a different part of the country, but utilizing Skype we’re able to record as if we are in the same room. Our goal was to create a podcast that would discuss working in the field of architecture from our view in the trenches. It is a casual conversation about the real world of architecture, like those that happen in offices all the time. The only difference is we record and share it with the community.

Neal Pann college-avenue-dining

Novedge: You are involved in the local community as a member of the City of Livermore’s Planning Commission, and you have also been member of Livermore’s Historic Preservation Commission. Why is it important to be involved in your local community? What have you learned from such involvement?

Neal Pann:Many complain about how their community develops, but spend little time doing anything to change it. Architects have a unique education and it is important to share that with our local community. We can do that though our projects, although they are rarely in our home town. We can become a part of the process. As a former member of the Historic Preservation Commission and current Planning Commissioner, I have the opportunity to better know the members of the City Council, Planning and Building Departments. This has given me insights that I would not have otherwise had in understanding the issues surrounding development of the City. I am also directly involved in the decisions on projects and use my architectural design and community development education to interpret the City’s design standards and guidelines with an architectural viewpoint.

I have spent a significant portion of my career working with and for residential developers. This has sometimes put me at odds with these same developers as I try to elucidate our local guidelines to them. It is a lesson in compromise as the Planning Commission has to evaluate not only the developer’s project with regards to the General Plan and Zoning Code, but also consider public input.

Neal Pann college-avenue-exterior

Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Neal Pann:As I was leaving for college I asked a colleague what it was like. He told me it was the best of times and the worst of times all at the same time. I did not understand what he meant, but after college I knew exactly what he meant and he was right.


See more of Neal's work on his website.

Archispeak is a great podcast, find it here.

And don't forget to follow Neal on Twitter!


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