Sacramento, CA

After designing 44 affordable-housing projects over the last 30 years, San Francisco architect David Baker has developed a formula for making them look like their market-rate cousins: “You build 20 percent with high-end materials, and the other 80 percent with less expensive ones. But they must be used creatively,” he says. “It's kind of like competing on Iron Chef—you make the most of what you have.” At La Valentina Station, a 63-unit, transit-oriented housing project in Sacramento, California, Baker applied this culinary-style innovation to a highly visible site three blocks north of City Hall, next to a light-rail station and a busy arterial route.

The architect employed an inexpensive, recylable polyvinylchloride (PVC) rainscreen over cement board, painted to create a lively striped facade, with curved PVC slatwork wrapping around a four-story exterior stairwell. He then supplemented the lower-priced materials with ornately patterned, water-jet-cut Cor-Ten steel for the balcony fronts and fencing. The $12.3 million mixed-use wood-frame and concrete-deck structure, which includes space for ground-level retail and a corner caf', cost only $162 per square foot. Completed last summer, it was soon filled with an energetic mix of young families and singles who qualified for the low-income housing.

The 1-acre site, formerly occupied by auto-body shops, had been vacant for 20 years and had become a destination for drug dealers when the city's Housing and Redevelopment Agency put out a request for proposals in 2007. The winner was Domus Development, headed by Meea Kang, who has an M.Arch. from the University of California, Berkeley. With her 17-year track record in building private affordable housing, Kang had often admired Baker's accomplishments in this area. While she originally planned to include some market-rate housing, the recession prompted her to drop that component; in a tight economy, she managed to fund the project through state low-income-housing tax credits and obtained financing from the city's redevelopment agency and local banks.

Since the rectilinear lot, like most Sacramento blocks, had an alley severing its middle, Baker created a structure of elevated walkways to bridge the gap and link the two linear housing blocks in the complex. The elevated “streets” are high enough to provide clearance for emergency vehicles at ground level; otherwise the alleyway, covered in a soft-fall surface, serves as a play area.

The interior floor plans feature typical double-loaded corridors, although the key circulation routes, including the main stairwell, are open-air. While this may be unusual for the hot climate of Sacramento, it reflects the design's emphasis on sustainability. To make the most of natural ventilation and lighting, the majority of the apartments, which range from 440-square-foot studios to 1,000-square-foot three-bedroom units, have private balconies, recessed for shade. Solar electricity and hot-water systems, along with other measures, allow the building to exceed California's stringent Title 24 energy-efficiency standards by 30 percent.

The occupants make only 30 to 60 percent of the area's median income and pay rents ranging from $347 to $1,100 a month, depending on income and the size of the unit. The pride that the burgeoning community has in its new home is apparent, from the care that people take to keep communal areas neat to the plants and furniture they place on their balconies. Both the developer and the architect also feel enriched by their efforts to improve the design level of Sacramento's oldest neighborhood. “People notice the neighborhood in a good way now,” says Baker. “It's an exclamation point on the street.”


Formal name of building:
La Valentina Station

429 12th Street, Sacramento, California

Completion Date:
July 2012

Gross square footage:
67,356 sf

Total construction cost:
$12.1 million

Domus Development
Meea Kang, Gary Ahuna

David Baker + Partners
461 Second Street, Loft c127
San Francisco, CA 94107
phone: 415-896-6700
fax: 415-896-6103

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
David Baker FAIA LEED AP, Design Principal (registered architect)
Peter MacKenzie AIA, Principal-in-Charge (registered architect)(recently deceased)
Bradley Sugarman AIA LEED AP, Project Architect (registered architect)
Kevin Markarian AIA LEED AP, Architect (registered architect)

Landscape Architect:
Garth Ruffner Landscape Architect
4120 Douglas Boulevard
Roseville, CA 95746
(916) 797-2576

Landscape Consultant:
Fletcher Studio
2339 3rd Street #48R
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 230-9144

General contractor:
Brown Construction
1465 Enterprise Boulevard
West Sacramento, CA 95691
(916) 373-9300

Bruce Damonte

David Baker + Partners

CAD system, project management, or other software used:

Project website:



Exterior cladding
Metal/glass curtain wall: Aluminum storefront: Kawneer

Rainscreen: Azek

Other cladding unique to this project: James Hardie Panel Siding

Built-up roofing: Johns Mansville

Vinyl frame: Milgard

Entrances: Custom steel

Metal doors: DKS

Wood doors: T.M. Cobb

Sliding doors: Vinyl: Milgard

Fire-control doors, security grilles: I.R. Steelcraft

Upswinging doors, other: Sectional doors: Wayne Dalton; Parking gate operator: Hysecurity Slide Smart

Locksets: Schlage

Closers: LCN

Pulls: Schlage

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Tectum

Suspension grid: USG

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Lanz Cabinets; custom millwork in lobby: Burnett & Sons, Finey, Terramai

Paints and stains: Frazee, Kelly Moore

Plastic laminate: Formica

Floor and wall tile: Public bathrooms: Dal Tile

Resilient flooring: Common laundry and utility areas: Mannington VCT; Unit baths: Armstrong Cushion Step; Unit kitchens: Mannington Adura

Carpet: Corridors: Bigelow Broadloom; units: Shaw Eco Ultimate II

Utility spaces: Lithonia

Corridor recesses, community space, and bridge: Del Ray

Downlight: Cooper LED

Decks: Stonco

Outdoor at rainscreen: Deco Lighting

Elevators/Escalators: Schindler

Photovoltaic system: Silicon Energy