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Photo © Bruce Damonte
The zinc-and-wood detailing on the corner of the facade gives the building some flair.

Richardson Apartments

The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 precipitated the demolition of the elevated Central Freeway, which ran through San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood. As a result, 26 parcels of land were freed up for redevelopment. The Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to providing permanent housing for the homeless, partnered with Mercy Housing California, a national affordable-housing nonprofit, and chose local architect David Baker + Partners to design permanent housing for low-income, formerly homeless people on one of the remaining lots. The challenge was to create a mixed-use building incorporating single-room-occupancy (SRO) apartments, social services, and retail spaces to help knit the community together.


Location San Francisco (Mission Creek Watershed)

Gross area 65,419 ft2 (6,077 m2)

Cost $26.8 million

Program Studio apartments, social services, and retail


Metal/glass curtain wall NanaWall

Doors Oregon Door

Green roof American Hydrotech

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Richardson Apartments

Video tour of the Drs. Julian & Raye Richardson Apartments, a housing development by Community Housing Partnership located in San Francisco.

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Baker has designed numerous low-energy, affordable housing projects, most of which were produced on tight budgets (for example, Tassafaronga Village; see GreenSource, January/February 2011, page 53). "The success comes from the collaborative nature. It's a real concerted effort working with the local organizations," he says.

Named for longtime local activists Drs. Julian and Raye Richardson, the U-shaped building is structured around a landscaped courtyard, which allows ample daylight into the building. Indoor and outdoor gathering spaces encourage residents to socialize. A spacious lobby and reception area support on-site nursing, psychiatric, and counseling services for tenants, many of whom have mental and physical disabilities.

Retail is also located on the ground floor. A Vietnamese sandwich shop, a bakery, and a framing store serve both tenants and the surrounding community. The Hayes Valley Bakeworks provides job training and employment opportunities for residents and others who wish to participate. The operators of the facility are constantly exploring different partnerships; a new pilot program, for example, pairs residents with abandoned dogs from local shelters.

The building offers 120 SROs of approximately 300 square feet each on the top four floors; each has a small bathroom and kitchenette. Ten percent of the units are accessible to people with disabilities; all other studios are adaptable and can be quickly and easily modified to meet the needs of the tenants as they age. Residents are selected by the San Francisco Department of Health and pay 30 percent of their income as rent.

The base of the five-story infill development is cement plaster, with one corner on the south side painted bright green to "enliven the street facade," according to Baker. Aluminum sunshades protect windows along the west and south sides, and the north corner, facing City Hall, has a combined wood-and-zinc covering. "We figured out that like with jewelry, you just need one big diamond. This corner is the accessory—the Gucci bag," says Amit Price Patel, project architect with David Baker + Partners. The strategic placing of the windows amid the variety of cladding creates a strong presence on Fulton Street.

"You need special moments throughout the building. About 20 percent of the elevation should be nice, and the rest can be the cheapest thing available," says Baker about addressing a tight budget. "For such a heavily subsidized and public building, we felt responsible to use good and durable materials as much as we could," adds Patel.

The building rated 139 GreenPoints and was designed to be nearly 20 percent more energy-efficient than required by California's Title 24-2005 building standards for nonresidential areas, and 15 percent more than required for the residential areas. The GreenPoint label is an independent rating system for green-home construction in California, awarding points in five different categories (energy efficiency, resource conservation, indoor air quality, water conservation, and community). There are no levels, as there are in the LEED system, but each project must be awarded 50 points in order to receive the GreenPoint label.

Though Baker believes the project has "all the ingredients to make it a LEED Platinum [certified] building," the owners chose this GreenPoint system over LEED because of the latter's environmental-tobacco-smoke (ETS) control prerequisite. "The client felt that GreenPoint is a local and less onerous or difficult standard than LEED," explains Baker. Residents have had enough turmoil in their lives, with many recovering from alcohol or drug dependency, so pressuring them not to smoke or prohibiting smoking on the building grounds was simply not an option.

"We think that the density of 260 units per acre is the most important green feature of the building," says Patel. "Plus there's no parking lot, and it's in a transit-rich neighborhood." A 16-kilowatt photovoltaic-array system on the roof provides energy for the common areas, and solar hot-water panels heat 70 percent of the domestic hot water. Additionally, occupancy sensors in the hallways help reduce energy use.

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