The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—combined with an early start to the California wildfire season—is exacerbating economic, social, and environmental inequities that are tied directly to housing insecurity in the Bay Area. Job loss is the number one cause of houselessness in San Francisco, and 70% of unsheltered people surveyed recently had been living under a roof in the city at the time they lost shelter; 63% said they couldn’t afford San Francisco’s high rents. To build affordably in the nation’s most expensive city—with rising construction costs and stringent regulations—we need to think beyond the traditional mixed-use housing development. In partnership with April Philips Design Works, DCI Engineers, and Point Energy Innovations, we developed a concept for an affordable housing model that won the Bee Breeders Green Award in the San Francisco Affordable Housing Challenge competition.
Prioritize People, Not Cars
The Bay Area leads the nation in “super-commuters”—more than 120,000 people commute at least three hours per day. This is not socially or environmentally sustainable, and it’s expensive for the commuter and city to maintain. The project, a co-living and working model, prioritizes walkability and creates more urban greenspace. It’s adjacent to the 101 Central Freeway, which also presents opportunity as a reimagined public space for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation.
Diverse Careers, Diverse Communities
The Bay Area has lost more manufacturing jobs overseas than any other region in the nation. Federal, state, and city government regulations need to change to support a more sustainable economic model for our local communities. With appropriate regulatory shifts, we can repurpose existing vacant infrastructure while prioritizing job training for “local hires” (in the project’s case, the residents). The project is modeled after a factory town, turning an abandoned garage into on-site mass timber housing production and creating green-collar jobs at various income levels. Data shows that lower-income communities are disproportionately affected by respiratory diseases and asthma—so the project utilizes an all-electric system to improve indoor air quality.
To Build Affordably, Manufacture Locally
Mass-timber construction with standardized, prefabricated building components can reduce overall embodied carbon, shorten construction time, and lower construction costs. The main challenge is creating a sustainable life cycle of logging, manufacturing, and construction. Our concept proposes a Glulam super-structure based on a modular 12’ by 12’ grid for flexibility, which can be rapidly prefabricated and installed on site as a high-performance LEGO-tecture. The kit-of-parts unit design is planned around rooms and functions—rather than number of bedrooms—to be adaptable to support diverse households. The timber can be sourced locally from California forests, to reduce wildfire risk.
Physical Distance, Social Connection
COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in our built environment. Moving forward, we need to design for physical distance and in San Francisco that means more indoor-outdoor spaces for year-round use. Our concept is based around indoor-and-outdoor shared modules to provide an urban porch for each resident, as well as a shared urban farm for the community. The urban farm could generate regional economies and provide a space for direct-to-consumer sales, supporting a healthier and more sustainable food system. Regenerative (carbon) farming with compost could yield carbon sequestration, while restoring soil nutrients and building a resilient community.
is a radical concept for a truly regenerative urban housing environment. In the
words of team member April Philips “designers must act as change agents to
shift the paradigm towards a regenerative ideology for a beautiful, resilient,
and climate-positive future.”
A short video about the project:
Special thank you to our team members:
Adrienne Johnson, April Philips, Bob Baum, Brandon Kent, Galen Wu, Holly Wolf, Jeff Brink, John Potter, Joshua Kehl, Matt R. Pauly, Peter Rumsey, Phil Choi, Steve Brezovec, Sean Zaudke, Taewook Kang, and Tai Ho Kwong.