San Francisco, California
Rather than assume that senior citizens want their housing gussied up in wood shingles and faux Victoriana, the architects of Parkview Terraces in San Francisco treated the project’s residents as people looking to the future rather than the past. “We’ve moved beyond the time when seniors all wanted to live in places that look traditional,” states Sylvia Kwan, FAIA, a partner at Kwan Henmi and Anne Fougeron, which designed the 101-unit affordable senior housing project in collaboration with Fougeron Architecture. “We didn’t want to turn this into an old-people’s home,” explains Anne Fougeron, AIA, principal of Fougeron Architecture. “It’s a pretty sophisticated group living here, so we felt we could be quite modern,” adds Fougeron.
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Set in the city’s Cathedral Heights neighborhood (where Pier Luigi Nervi and Pietro Belluschi’s sculptural concrete St. Mary’s Cathedral stands aloof from the urban fray), Parkview Terraces looks onto a block-long park to the northwest and a matching playground due west. The architects organized the building to take advantage of views to that direction and capture daylight from the south. Doing this, they placed a nine-story housing block along Turk Street on the north and a three-story wing on the southwest corner of the site. In the process, they created a pair of light-filled terraces: one on the entry level, the other on top of the three-story wing. (An earlier plan had a third terrace, but this was cut for budgetary reasons.) Parking for 22 cars is tucked underneath the entry-level terrace.
Affordable housing is a tricky numbers game—first involving financing, then requiring architects to squeeze housing units within the many constraints set by that financing. For Parkview Terraces, money came from a number of sources, including $16.6 million from a tax-credit investor, the National Equity Fund; a $13.3 million loan from the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; a $500,000 below-market-rate loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank; and a $2.1 million market-rate mortgage from Union Bank of California. To make the numbers work, the project’s two developers, A.F. Evans (a for-profit company) and the Chinatown Community Development Center (a nonprofit organization), needed to build at least 100 apartments. But they couldn’t afford to build higher than nine stories, because 10-story buildings are considered high-rises and require extra life-safety features that would bust the budget. To add to the challenge, the developers decided to devote the entire first floor to social services such as counseling and health screening, and common spaces such as a community room, a recreation space, and a hair salon.
For the architects, making the numbers work meant squeezing the floor-to-ceiling height to 8 feet 1 inch (8 feet 10 inches floor-to-floor) and getting up to 18 units on lower floors and 12 on a typical upper floor. The apartments, which are either studios or one-bedroom units, range in size from 400 to 690 square feet. To save precious vertical space, the architects threaded pipes and wiring overhead in places such as apartment entries, closets, and bathrooms, where ceiling heights drop to 7 feet 6 inches or 7 feet 1 inch. But generous glazing and big views make the apartments feel more spacious than you might think. And although each residential floor has a double-loaded corridor, the architects used glass at either end of the dog-legged hallway to bring in daylight.
The building’s structure and fenestration also help meet the architectural challenge. Posttensioned concrete floor slabs just 8 inches thick save space and project beyond the building envelope on the front and back at four different levels to give depth to these elevations. The projecting slabs also slice the main facades into a series of multistory and single-story bands, breaking down any sense of the building being a stack of tightly packed floors. Projecting chevron fenestration—a modern interpretation of the bay windows found throughout San Francisco—add even more depth and animation to the exteriors while offering residents different angled views. The tight, $27 million budget wouldn’t allow the architects to use curtain wall for the main facades, so they specified a storefront system with floor-to-ceiling glazing. Although this cost more than standard windows, its ease of installation saved on labor costs.
Forty-seven of the 101 apartments are wheelchair-accessible, and all can be converted for use by wheelchair-bound residents. Depending on residents’ incomes, they pay either $810 or $725 per month in rent for one-bedroom units and either $598 or $561 for studios. The federal government’s Shelter + Care program and the city’s Department of Public Health’s Direct Access to Housing program provide rent subsidies.
Both Kwan and Fougeron agree that San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency played a key role in supporting good design at Parkview Terraces. Edmund Ong, who was the chief architect at the agency for 30 years and was involved in Parkview, explains, “There needs to be the political will to make affordable housing happen.” In San Francisco, that will has enabled dedicated architects to create affordable housing that looks better than many nearby market-rate projects.
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