Actual-Size Architecture, a San Francisco bay area residential design

child at table

The nice thing about designing houses is that the one-on-one dialogue is with the actual end-user. Clients’ whims can be accommodated. The house can be custom tailored. Melding these desires with the site and the budget in a sound, cost-effective, and resource-efficient way is the most gratifying part of my work.

But the best qualities of my designs have been overlooked by recent generations of architects. The last century has seen an architecture out of touch with nature, out of touch with humanism, and out of touch with its own relationship to history.

These are what distinguish the way I approach a house design. The homes we inhabit this coming century should benefit us most by renewing our relationship with the environment. They should benefit us further by nurturing us as human beings and cultivating a sense of fit. And they should benefit us most enduringly by fostering an awareness of our place within history – creating a modern architecture sensitive to its historic context, and preserving our respect for historic places from the context of our modernity.

"By the year 2030, half of the buildings in which Americans live, work, and shop will have been built since 2000." Arthur Nelson, Brookings Inst.


Why hire
an architect?



ShadowsThe most mundane reason to hire an architect is for the knowledge of building codes, construction materials, methods, and sequences, waterproofing techniques, budgeting abilities, contract oversight, and the like. Some would venture that the service is worth seeking for proper arrangement of space, adequate light and ventilation, or mediating a balance between cost and aesthetic impact.

But if you’ve ever stood transfixed by some dappling of light through a vined trellis, or felt harbored by the calm stasis of a quiet enclosure, or found yourself compelled to pause and reflect on some sudden awareness of your presence in a space, you know the real reason. It is why I am an architect.


How does this
process work?



My first step is always to meet clients at the site. I don't charge for first visits. We discuss scope of work, budget, needs, wishes, time frame, and any other items of concern. From these I assemble a proposal and contract. To get started on the design, I measure existing site or house conditions, draft plans, and overlay a few alternative schemes for the first design meeting. We progress through a number of meetings, choosing the best options and refining the design as we go.

DrawingsAs preliminary drawings get under way, we interview contractors and, if applicable, consultants for passive solar heating, daylighting, supplemental electrical, or any other required specialty. Creating a team early on allows as efficient a design as possible, while insuring adherence to budget. Drawings are then prepared for bidding, and for the Planning and Building Departments for permit submittal.

Construction SiteDuring construction I have somewhat less frequent involvement, but I regularly check site work, monitor quality, resolve conflicts with any existing conditions that invariably come up, and conduct periodic progress meetings. Before the owners move in, we walk through the project to make sure everything is as originally agreed, and cover operation and maintenance of any systems or equipment.


Can a small office handle the logistics of a large project?


Sure, as easily as those of a small project. To create a final set of working drawings, I use building information modeling software that allows the creation and management of virtual doors, windows, plumbing and electrical fixtures, walls, structure, software archicadand so forth. Any time I change a dimension or material in the floor plan, it is updated in all elevations, perspectives, lists, and schedules. This not only makes it easy to manage large quantities of information, but it dramatically reduces design costs, increases quality control over drawings produced with conventional 2D CAD software, and effortlessly generates virtual walk-throughs.


Do you do
“green” architecture?



Yes. In many respects, it doesn't make sense not to. Lower utility bills, greater durability, less maintenance, cleaner indoor air – these all come from tuning your house to its environment. Solar HouseSome systems pay for themselves. Some may be better prepared for, and put off until technology improves. Some may not make sense at all in your particular project.

I'm a Certified Green Building Professional, and if you're serious about a healthier, more durable home with lower operating costs, we'll make sure your contractor is one as well.

Do you do work
other than residential?
  The appeal of residential architecture lies in the intimacy of our everyday relationship with it. But schools, office design, religious architecture, restaurants, health care facilities, gyms — any place that nurtures human spirit — shares that vitality. Aside from mere efficient layout and sound construction, there’s the way the light is shaped, the way materials can ground you or uplift you, accommodation of caprice as well as timelessness — these are what make a project breathe. I’ve worked on restaurants, office spaces, art galleries — it’s the best clients that yield the best work.

About the architect   Geoffrey Scott GainerGeoffrey Scott Gainer is an enthusiastic polymath who grew up in an Arlington, Virginia house by the renowned architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen. He picked up a BArch from Virginia Tech in 1987, moved to San Francisco in 1990, and after working in the offices of Fernau+Hartman, William Dutcher, Webb Construction, and Rupel Geiszler McLeod, started his own practice, Actual-Size Architecture, in 1999.

Geof’s work and writings have appeared in The Architectural Review, Fine Homebuilding, The Financial Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Magazine, and the book Good Green Kitchens, by Jennifer Roberts.


What famous people have said about, or to, Geoffrey Gainer:

“Oh, ’I jived with Di!’, I love it!” — Diana, Princess of Wales
“Yes, you’d better take off your glasses!” — Ian McKellan
“Do you have that book of photographs from the fifties by Robert Frank?” — Mick Jagger
“How do you do.” — Sen. Edward Kennedy
“Thanks.” — Michael Tilson Thomas
“    ” — John Cage