The Natoma Family Apartments, a just-completed affordable-housing complex, is in a particularly rough part of San Francisco's rapidly evolving South of Market neighborhood. It sits right next to Sixth Street, the city's skid row, with its dilapidated single resident occupancy hotels (SROs). During construction, residents of an adjacent SRO pelted workers with hypodermic needles and other trash. Soon after the project was completed, a photographer documenting the exterior was punched in the face. But the new apartment building, designed by local firm Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMS), offers a vision of another world. Its colorful street presence, tranquil outdoor areas, and warm common spaces support a community on a lot that had been empty since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The architects developed a high-density scheme that fit 60 units of different sizes on the 12,000-square-foot property. They accomplished this despite the site's odd T-shape, with a long rectangle to the south, along Natoma Street, and a little panhandle of a lot jutting north, toward Minna Street.
To make the most of the strange configuration, LMS created two separate buildings above an at-grade parking podium. The podium covers the whole site but is hidden behind ground-floor units of the nine-story structure on the Natoma side. On the Minna side, the garage ramp occupies the ground level of the narrower, four-story building. The primary building comprises 57 units along double-loaded corridors, while the smaller one has a community room and three additional units. A courtyard between the two structures provides a sheltered outdoor space. “We worked very hard to get everything to fit—it was like a Swiss watch,” says principal Mimi Sullivan of Saida + Sullivan Design Partners, the project's executive architect.
The design features an exposed concrete frame, which LMS had used to great effect at the Plaza Apartments—an earlier, supportive-housing project designed with Paulett Taggart Architects—located just around the corner. In both projects, the expressed structure showcases the buildings as a series of individual units. “The idea was to take a necessary element and make it a part of the visual architecture,” says Stacy. “It is a cost-effective way to create contrast with the other finishes.”
The result is a main elevation with a geometric diversity that counteracts the typical utilitarian appearance of multifamily housing. To avoid having bedrooms at the street level, the ground floor is occupied by a row of two-story town- houses, which are recessed and have screened-in courtyards. Above, staggered cantilevered balconies create a lively rhythm. To emphasize this effect, the fiberboard cladding flush with the concrete frame is painted a neutral taupe, while the recesses and projections are painted bright yellow.
The apartments are necessarily compact and efficient but still manage to feel open and inviting, in part because of the balconies and generously sized windows. Finishes, such as engineered quartz countertops, dark-stained poplar cabinets, and nylon cut-pile carpeting, were chosen with visual appeal, comfort, and durability in mind.
The rents for these units range from $711 for a studio to $1,569 for a three-bedroom. To qualify, tenants must make between 40 and 60 percent of the area's median income, which works out to about $44,000 to $66,000 for a family of four. Not surprisingly, given the heated nature of San Francisco's real-estate market, where the median monthly rent for a studio is $2,200, demand was extremely high: the developer received 2,800 applications for the 60 apartments.
But the building's common spaces belie this low-rent status. One example is the double-height lobby, accessed from Natoma Street, and its rich textures: there are columns of board-formed concrete, cork-tiled walls, an elegant curtain of woven aluminum coil along the stairwell, and a slatted ceiling and bench of warm-hued teak. A pocket-sized waiting room to the right of the entrance is a gracious gesture of hospitality. From the bottom of the stair, which leads to the central courtyard and the smaller building, there is a view corridor through the site to Minna Street, helping to visually link the elements together.
It is especially difficult to tell that this not a market-rate apartment complex on the building's uppermost level. Here there is a glass-enclosed terrace, a community garden, and what Sullivan calls “the nicest laundry room in the city.” These spaces provide a panorama over the southern half of San Francisco—giving residents a way to enjoy the big picture, gracefully framed.
Client: Smitha Seshadri, Project Manager, BRIDGE Housing Corporation, 415-989-1111
Owner: BRIDGE Housing Corporation, 415-989-1111
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Saida + Sullivan Design Partners:
Architect of record: (see above, official title is Executive Architect)
Mechanical Design-Build Engineer:
Electrical Design-Build Engineer:
Plumbing Design-Build Engineer:
Water Proofing Consultant:
73,000 square feet
Total construction cost:
Window Walls: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, FG-3000 (Non-Thermal Flush Glaze), FG-6000 (Thermal MultiPlane), Series 3000(Thermal MultiPlane)
Fire Rated Storefront: Fire Windows and Doors
Other cladding unique to this project:
Azek Trim Boards-Frontier (infill boards at gates and fences)
Elastomeric: 7th floor unit decks – Kemper System, 9th Floor and Unit Patios – Tremco,
Sheet Metal Flashing: Marina Mechanical galvanized sheet metal flashing
Walker-Textures, Velour Translucent Glass
Wood doors: Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors
Fire-control doors, security grilles:
Exit devices: Falcon
Pulls: Cabinet Pulls- Pride Industries
Cabinetwork: Grandview Products Co. Shaker cabinets
Custom woodwork in Lobby: Dan Wyrick, DW Acoustics, Inc. ph: 707-575-6117
Gypsum Board, Factory Primed:
Gypsum Board at Bathrooms and Kitchens:
Steel Shop Primed:
Wall coverings: Expanko Resilient Flooring, Cork Tile - Thin Mosaic (lobby wall)
Floor and wall tile:
Resilient flooring: Armstrong, Step Better Kyoto Camel
Raised flooring: (Exterior Decks) Bison, Level.It - Adjustable Deck Supports
Task lighting: Philips, Alkco Super Inch 1-1/2” Task Light T8 Fluorescent 300 Series
Accessibility provision: One ramp exist in the courtyard to the smaller wood frame building. All common areas and the majority of units are on an accessible route except the two townhouses in the Minna Street wood frame building.
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: