Our previous CatChats have been with an individual alumnus. We are changing up this chat as we are meeting Christina and Michael Townsend who are recent graduates, 2006, of K-State. The Townsend’s both work in San Francisco, but for different architectural firms. Michael’s relaxation passion is photography and Christina’s is baking. In their own words . . .


Dennis Schmidt – One of the most frequent question I hear from K-Staters when they meet for the first time is ‘Where did you grow up”. So let’s start there. Christina we will start with you first.
Christina Townsend – I was born in Springfield, Missouri and grew up in Kansas City in a suburb called Raytown. It’s a pretty small community and I lived there since I was two. One of the best things growing up in Raytown was that I lived on the same street as both my grandparents. My father’s parent’s lived across the street from us and my mother’s parents lived down the street. It was pretty wonderful.

Michael Townsend – I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas. Both my parents went to Kansas State and met in Manhattan at school and stayed there to work for the University. My two siblings and myself grew up in Manhattan before attending K-State.

DS – What attracted both of you to attend K-State? What were your majors?
MT – When I was in maybe fourth grade I got interested in architecture and did a landscape architecture project and built some models of buildings. I have loved to draw since I was very, very young and decided for some reason in elementary school that I wanted to be an architect, this followed closely after my previous ten years of loving dinosaurs. Kansas State has a really great architecture program, really world-renowned, so it was a no-brainer for me to attend K-State for architecture. Both of my parents worked there, I grew up there and I new I would get a great education there.

CT- I also knew from a fairly young age that I wanted to be in architect as well. My father and I use to trespass on builders housing sites in the Kansas City area, tour all of them and talk about how they were put together. I think that started my fondness architecture. It may seem crazy, but I didn’t actually look at any other schools besides K-State because it was such a great architecture program. I had faith that I that I would get accepted it and I was pretty excited when I was.

DS – How did you meet?
MT - We met in school at Kansas State. The first year in the architecture program is generic and it is called environmental design, so we were in that program together. The first year you decide whether you want to specialize in regular architecture, landscape architecture or interior architecture. Christina and I shared a lot of classes though we didn’t actually know each other besides maybe knowing each other’s name at that point. It wasn’t until the start of our second year when we really got to know each other. In our second year we both still lived in the dorms and we ended up having literally every single class together that second year.

CT - We had every class together in our second-year, which meant we ate breakfast together and walked to class together and walked back to the dorm to get to food together and had dinner together and studied together so we were constantly together.

MT - We started dating really quickly soon after during our second year and we dated all through college. We ended up studying abroad together in Italy and it’s there, during our fourth year of school, that we got engaged.

CT  – Michael proposed to me in one of the most romantic fashions possible. He led me up to the cliff side at sunset in Vernotsa it’s a province of Cinque-terre, Italy. I said yes of course and we enjoyed the sunset and drank a bottle of wine and then hiked back down the mountain in the dark.

MT – We graduated in 2006 after our fifth year of school and two weeks later got married near Kansas City at Powell Gardens. Powell Gardens has an incredible chapel that’s just beautiful by a pretty famous architect E. Fay Jones who did Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas.

DS – I know the answer to this question, but how did you end up moving to the Bay Area?
MT - During our fifth year of school we had mock interviews where they invited professionals from around the country to come help us prepare for finding a job. Dennis was asked to come back from Gensler in San Francisco and I had a mock interview with him. He also put a plug in there and said that I should keep in touch the next semester when I was actually looking for a job. The next semester we both were interested in trying out the West Coast so we applied to firms all across the coast in every major city. I got an interview with Gensler and came out to San Francisco. I just really fell in love with the company and the city and then returned home. Christina took my word for it and decided she would be okay and agreed to move out here with me without ever having been to California.

CT – Michael is right in some sense, I have been to California, but to LA when I was really little so I had never been to San Francisco. I was really excited about moving to a large city with lots of cultural interest. I put my faith in him and at the same time that Michael was interviewing for his jobs I was planning our wedding. The week before our wedding we came to visit to look for housing and Dennis asked if I had a place to work yet. I said that I had interviewed at a couple places, but nothing in the City so far, though I was about to accept a job in Oakland. Dennis asked “let me call my friend Chad Hamilton (Hamilton + Aitken) and see if he’s hiring anyone”. I had a very informal interview with Chad and got along really well with both principles and they offered me a position when I was on my honeymoon.

MT – Both of our jobs really worked out fantastic for us and it’s been an interesting dynamic, me being at a very large, probably the largest in the world, international architecture firm and Christina conversely is at the other end of the spectrum at small firm that specializes in local school education projects.

DS – What type of projects are you working on? Do you travel for work?
CT – Currently I am working on a variety of projects, including a church master plan and a couple of school projects in the South Bay and also a number of residential projects in the Bay Area.

MT – I’ve been lucky to work on a wide variety of projects for Gensler, including places like University of the Pacific in Stockton, major resort projects in China, Terminal Two at SFO where we actually teamed with Christina’s office. In this past year I’ve worked primarily on two projects, one being the new Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. It is really interesting to explore their culture and secondly on a new concept for a hotel in Honolulu. I’ve also been working the last few years on a federal building - the US Courthouse in Honolulu. I do get to travel some and it’s usually pretty nice because I’m often in Honolulu for that project.

DS - What are your project responsibilities?
MT - I am primarily an architectural designer and in recent years have been shifting more and more to upfront design and concept design.

CT - Since the dynamic of my firm is quite a bit smaller. I actually have a slightly larger role in the process (of architecture). Basically I start the design process with each project and follow it through construction administration doing all of the parts along the way.

DS – Is the Bay Area everything you expected?
MT – I actually didn’t really have expectations of the Bay Area when moving here, so in that way, yes, it’s been great. There are a few things though, like most people coming to California I thought it would be a lot warmer in San Francisco. At the same time I had expectations of the area and of the City just from knowing little bits about it being a really dynamic cultural center and that way it’s been amazingly exciting to live here.

CT – I can’t agree more with Michael. I didn’t have an expectation of the City since I never actually had been here but it’s been energizing and exciting and great to rely on public transportation. It’s also been great to be near Lake Tahoe, the mountains and the North Bay and all the natural features that are surrounding the Bay, besides the City itself.

DS – What has been your biggest adjustment to living in San Francisco?
MT –A few of the adjustments we’ve had to make include just being far away from our family for the first time. I do have an aunt and uncle who live in Santa Clara, but other than all of our other family is either in the Midwest or on the East Coast so it takes a lot of effort to stay in touch with family and fly back and see them as much as possible. There’s also adjustments just living in a big city that are obvious. One of the biggest ones is that our rent when I was in college has gone up literally ten times to what we are paying in the city.

DS – Are either of you active in sports?
MT – My whole life I’ve played a lot of sports. Today I primarily just play old man softball with Gensler and I played competitive softball during college in Manhattan. That reminds me of the time Jeff Kelly actually played for us awhile. He was a football player, probably 10-15 years ago, and man the guy hit a homerun every time he stepped to the plate.

DS – Have you had the opportunity to meet other K-Stater’s in San Francisco?
CT –Actually I know quite a few people from K-State out here. They’re about five other architects from our 2006 graduating class that came out here the same year that we did to start working in architecture firms. Along the way we’ve actually met quite a few other K-State alumni, some working in that veterinarian field and some engineers.

DS – Where did you meet them?
CT- Some at sporting events and some at the alumni event at Gensler for President Schulz.

T –One thing that’s been great about being an alumnus of K-State is how tight the community is and also just being on the West Coast. People from K-State and from the Midwest in general tend to stick together. We’ve met people through a lot of events. One of them specifically was when we had the alumni event at Gensler a few years ago. We met a number of K-Staters new to the Bay Area that we’ve become really good friends with. We’ve also met people through watch parties and people referred to us through my parents and people we are still in touch with in Manhattan. There’s a fairly large community of K-Staters in the Bay Area and specifically in the City.

DS – Michael you seem to be quite passionate about photography. Have you had any work published?
MT – It’s a really natural transition from architecture, especially in concept design where I get to explore the art of image making and specifically how you craft a mood or craft and experience. It’s a really fun balance of both technical work in learning how to produce photos, at the same time highly artistic crafting the image. I specifically love taking photos at night because I think that it it’s really interesting when you take long exposures, how it transforms places into somewhat foreign or alien worlds. I’m heavily involved online with photo communities and have my own sites and blogs including a lot of time spent on Flickr and Tumbler. I have been fortunate to take a lot of photos professionally for Gensler and in that regard I’ve had photos on display at the airport as well as in a few blogs online.

DS – Christina, I believe you are quite the baker. How did you get started and what type of baking do you enjoy the most?
CT –I really enjoy all types of baking. I started baking in college mostly as stress relief to him the amount of work we have in the architectural design studio. So, I really enjoy that aspect of baking because you get to make people happy with food and that transitioned into me baking a lot of cakes for the Hamilton+Aitken birthdays and pretty much any birthday in general. I find baking to be an expression of art in a different manner; there are some incredible pastry chefs who make the most amazing designs out of sugar and baked goods. It’s sort of an aspiration I have to display my artistic side in food.

DS – for Several years cupcakes have been the big thing have you been tempted to open up a cupcake shop.
CT – Actually I’ve never been tempted to open a cupcake shop, but I think the next big thing is going to be mini-pies so having a mini-pie truck would be really, really fun.

ChristinaTownsend MichaelTownsend

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