Studio VARA

Studio VARA


  • Practice: Studio VARA
  • Website:
  • Firm Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2023

(“Text as taken from the website”)

Maura Fernández Abernethy

Maura Fernández Abernethy has been specializing in residential architecture for over twenty years. She has worked at a variety of scales but has found that her passion is truly in the fine details. Her approach to architecture is informed by her love of craft and art and by working from the inside out. Maura has extensive experience in designing, fabricating, and working directly with artisans. After having lived and practiced in five metropolitan cities during her career: Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Barcelona, and San Francisco, she has amassed experience with a range of scales and typologies. Maura holds a BArch from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Prior to forming Studio VARA with Christopher Roach, Maura ran her own successful design firm for eight years called MFAdesign, also in San Francisco. As principal of her 4-person firm, she solidified her experience in high-end residential work, shepherding difficult and ambitious projects through the San Francisco Building and Planning Departments and the Planning Commission.

Christopher Roach

Christopher A. Roach, AIA, MAUD, LEED AP, is a San Francisco-based architect and urbanist with over 25 years of experience in the profession and a deep commitment to both the craft and the intellectual ambition of architecture. He is co-founder and principal of Studio VARA, a San Francisco-based practice working at the intersection of architecture, urbanism, and design, and has engaged with a wide range of project types, from custom residences and affordable housing to commercial offices and academic institutions. His professional work and academic design research extend beyond the boundaries of architecture to encompass an expanded field that ranges from exhibition design, graphic design, and art to civic space, urban agency, and the design of practice. Christopher’s professional work has appeared in “Architecture Magazine,” “Architecture Record,” “Artweek,” “Dwell,” “San Francisco Magazine,” and in several books, including the 2008 Verlagshaus Braun compendium “1000x Architecture of the Americas,” Images Publishing’s 2017 edition “The American House: 100 Contemporary Homes,” and Loft Publication’s “2019 San Francisco Architects: Top Bay Area Studios.”

Christopher holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honours from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Architecture in Urban Design with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. While at Harvard, he received a number of awards for his work, including the Urban Design Thesis Prize and the Gerald M. McCue Medal for highest academic achievement in post-professional programs. He was a founding member of the New Geographies Lab under GSD Professor Hashim Sarkis and co-authored several studio publications, including “The Networked Practice with Jarrad Morgan” and “RIO OLYMPICS: Or How to Utilise the Olympics Opportunistically to Accelerate Change” with Victor Muñoz Sanz.

In addition to his forthcoming book “Edutopias: The Utopian Geography of Education,” Christopher has written for several publications, including “Harvard Design Magazine,” “Bracket,” “MONU,” “The Agent,” “The Urbanist,” “ACSA 101: New Constellations,” “New Ecologies,” “On Site Review,” and the ASLA blog “Dirt.” Christopher is co-founder and Associate Director of the Urban Works Agency at CCA, where he has co-produced exhibitions such as “The City & the City: Housing the Next 100,000” and “Urbanism from Within at SPUR,” as well as the UWA symposium series “Domestic Affairs.” He recently co-produced the UWA installation “A Seat at the Table” as part of Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts’s triennale show “Bay Area Now 8.” Christopher’s work with UWA has travelled to New York, Sydney, and Seoul.

Christopher obtained his California architect’s licence and LEED accreditation in 2005 and has been a long-time member of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), where he sat on the Sustainable Development Committee from 2006–2009 and is currently on SPUR’s Urban Leadership Council. He currently serves on the board of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, where he is Chair of the Project Review Committee, and is a member of the AIASF’s Public Policy and Advocacy Committee.

Christopher has been a guest critic at Harvard, the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, the Pratt Institute, NJIT, and the San Francisco Academy of Art. In 2011, he joined the faculty of CCA, where he currently serves as a Senior Adjunct Professor of Architecture, teaching advanced studios and seminars focused on housing, urbanism, and the design of architectural practice. Christopher’s most recent research has focused on the ground floor of the city, both as an opportunity to reimagine the public and private realms in the “post-retail” metropolis and to reshape our urban footprint into a more resilient, just, and bountiful common space. His collaborations in this research with students, CCA faculty, community-based organisations, industry partners such as Sidewalk Labs and The San Francisco Giants, as well as institutions such as SPUR and the San Francisco Planning Department, have resulted in several books on this subject, including “Apocalypse Now! Project for the Post-Retail City: Rethinking the Ground Floor,” published in 2020, and the forthcoming “Common Ground: Project for the Post-2020 City: Remaking the Ground Floor.”

Practice Ideology

Studio VARA is an interdisciplinary design studio driven by a passion for excellence in design, service, and execution across a wide range of project sizes and typologies that align with their mission to build a better world for their clients, the community, and the planet. It is a minority woman-owned firm based in San Francisco’s Mission District with roots deep in the Bay Area design and construction industry and a deep commitment to empowering designers as agents of positive change in the built environment and society. 

The practice was founded in 2013 by principals Maura Fernández Abernethy and Christopher Roach, who have developed a team of highly talented individuals with a depth of experience and breadth of capabilities to provide a full range of services across their architecture, landscape, and interior design practice areas. Their team of architects and interior designers have extensive experience working with large, complex teams and interfacing with various agencies with jurisdiction in San Francisco and beyond. 

Studio VARA is a San Francisco Certified Small Local Business Enterprise (Small LBE), which combines the horsepower of the team’s broad experience across many typologies and construction types with the nimble responsiveness and personal attention that clients receive from a smaller firm. The services they offer reflect this broad range of types and scales, from architecture, landscape, interior design, and furniture to strategy, feasibility, and master planning. Studio VARA approaches every project with the point of view that sustainability is part of the basic standard of care, yet always strives for a higher level of performance.

They’ve come of age in a time where adaptability is key and change is constant and rapid. They collaborate with fellow architects and professionals across the spectrum, never limited by geography or the size of their in-house staff, and are always open to new partnerships and processes. The teams encompass talented, thoughtful, and dynamic practitioners who ensure a flow of creativity and production. 

They approach their practice as a design project and have developed a process-oriented delivery model that is highly structured yet allows design solutions to arise organically from the unique ecology of each project. Clients and stakeholders are engaged throughout the design and construction process in a working environment attuned to their aspirations and infused with ease and clarity. Together, they work side-by-side with their collaborators to foster a truly team-oriented process and share the joy of our practice. From the exterior form to the interior furnishings, this flexible, collaborative design approach builds trust and yields spaces that profoundly shape the clients’ lives and contribute to a more just, verdant, and resilient world.

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