It is no secret that San Francisco is becoming an ever more expensive city to live in. And while all major metropolitan areas struggle with how to provide affordable housing, this is an increasingly urgent task for the city of San Francisco, especially as people continue to flock to the coastal city. Designing affordable housing adds extra considerations and complications – such as restricted budgets and the necessity of proximity to transportation. And given the nature of the housing problem in San Francisco, many of those individuals and families eligible for affordable housing have experienced homelessness at some point. This makes the provision of community services in these developments all the more important. Over the last few decades, there has been a move away from the isolated and concentrated method of American public housing, typified by towering low-income housing buildings, often in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Rather, the trend is towards incorporating these units into mixed-income areas and integrating them into the communities. Included on this list are eight architects who have met the tough challenge of designing dignified and innovative affordable housing for the area.
8) Kwan Henmi
Website | (415) 777-4770 | Featured Principals: Sylvia Kwan and Denis Henmi
Sylvia Kwan and Denis Henmi, both AIA Fellows, founded Kwan Henmi Architecture and Planning in San Francisco in 1980. As a firm, they are committed to sustainable community growth through their designs and relationships to local organizations. As such, they have built many important multi-family housing projects throughout the Bay Area, particularly affordable housing. Kwan Henmi is a top firm in the city and has also been featured on our lists for Best Multi-Family Housing Architects, Best Commercial Architects, and The Best Green Architects.
Photos Courtesy of Kwan Henmi
Kwan is a respected community leader. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum and a board member of the California Architects Board. She previously served as Director on the AIA National Board, the California Council Board, and the San Francisco Chapter Board. She was previously named one of San Francisco Business Times’ 75 Most Influential Women in Business and the American Diabetes Association’s Woman of the Year. She received the Asian Women’s Resources Center’s Outstanding Asian Woman Award and the Asian Business League of San Francisco’s 2000 Award for Achievement in the Business Community. Kwan earned her Bachelor and Master of Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley.
Henmi is an expert in navigating the complex field of urban building. He was awarded NCARB’s highest honor, the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service. He has served on several National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) committees, and served as president, vice president, and master commissioner over two terms on the California Architects Board. He was awarded the Octavius Morgan Distinguished Service Award for 2011. Henmi earned his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley.
Photos Courtesy of Kwan Henmi
Kwan Henmi collaborated with Fougeron Architecture in the design of Parkview Terraces, which provides mixed-use affordable housing for active seniors. The nine-story building has 57 studio apartments and 44 single bedrooms. The ground floor contains retail and service space that is useful for its residents, including a hair salon, therapy center, library, and fitness center. The development also contains generous outdoor terraces and parking for 22 vehicles. The structure of the building is a large L shape, with distinctive, staggered wave-like undulating windows. This has the effect of not only giving the units plenty of natural light, but the extra glass makes the rooms feel even larger. The project was featured in the Architectural Record.
And Kwan Henmi served as executive architect, including design development and refinement, for the Paramount. This residential highrise seeks to meet the City’s affordable housing goals by combining luxury and affordable apartments into its forty stories. The building design architect was Elkus Manfreddi. This project won the Harry H. Edwards Design Award presented by the Precast Concrete Institute and was recognized by the Design-Build Education and Research Foundation as the Best Private Project Over $15 million.
7) BAR Architects
Website | 415.293.5700 | Featured Principal: Gary Schilling
BAR Architects has developed their expertise with over 40 years in the business. In that time, the practice has won an impressive 180+ design awards for projects of all types and sizes, including the AIA California Council Firm of the Year award. They have a diverse portfolio of projects, particularly in San Francisco. Their affordable housing projects, in particular, have set design precedents in select neighborhoods for the city’s plans to rehabilitate those areas.
Photos Courtesy of BAR
BAR Architects has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The firm pride’s themselves on their ability to listen to and truly uncover the needs of their clients when designing projects, no matter or large or small. They have a keen sense for including even the smallest details that make their projects more personalized and useful. The firm is also deeply committed to sustainable design.
“[W]e still possess the zeal of an upstart, driven to stretch and push ourselves on every project. Our studio environment combined with our large firm resources fosters collaboration and encourages creative thinking.” – BAR Architects
Gary Schilling, a Principal, joined BAR Architects in 1990, and was named a principal in 2007. He is intrigued by urban environments and the ways in which architecture and innovative approaches to expanding the built environment can bring together and serve the needs of diverse communities. For over 20 years, he has specialized in designing higher education facilities, multifamily housing, retail, and office facilities. Schilling received his Master in Architecture from Yale University and his Bachelor of Architecture from Washington University.
Photos Courtesy of BAR
BAR Architects designed Alchemy by Alta. This recently opened development includes 330 market-rate multifamily units and a further 50 below market-rate units. Significant amenities are included in the development, which is Certified LEED-ND (Neighborhood Development) Gold, and targeting Green Point Rating compliance for new buildings.
And BAR Architect’s award-winning 636 El Camino has been called a “pioneering affordable mixed-use project” in South San Francisco’s El Camino Real transit corridor. Located in one of the city’s emerging neighborhoods, this development features three unique courtyards and a lively, colorful exterior facade with multiple private balconies. It adds 107 units of much needed affordable housing. This lively and colorful project sets a design precedent for the city’s recently adopted plan for the El Camino Real transit corridor. Lastly, BAR Architects is working on the conversion of former military bases that have been lying unused for years to be used for affordable housing.
6) Fougeron Architecture
Website | (415) 641-5744 | Featured Principal: Anne Fougeron
French-American architect Anne Fougeron founded Fougeron Architecture in 1985. Her firm was acknowledged as one of the 50 best architectural firms in the United States by Residential Architect Magazine in 2010. Her work is on display throughout the Bay Area in many forms, including multi-family buildings, single-family residential homes, and all types of commercial spaces. Fougeron Architecture has also been featured on our lists of the Best Multi-Family Housing Architects and Best Commercial Architects in San Francisco.
Photos Courtesy of Fougeron
Fougeron, an AIA Fellow, has redesigned or updated many of San Francisco’s historic and culturally significant buildings and areas. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland and is a Committee Member of the SFMoMA Accessions. She has taught architectural design at the California College of Art and the University of California, Berkeley. Her designs have won more than a dozen awards from various chapters of the AIA. She received her Bachelors of Arts from Wellesley College and her Masters of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.
Photos Courtesy of Fougeron
Fougeron Architecture designed Carter Terrace, a 101-unit affordable housing development on a 3.3-acre site. The three-story units are walk up and organized around a system of pedestrian and vehicular streets. Each home has floor to ceiling sliding glass doors and corner windows to allow plenty of light. The design style of this project is reminiscent of older neighborhoods in San Francisco, and the development sets a standard for future growth in the area.
“This multi-family residence produced an architecture with a strong organizing order, but one that maintained distinct moments that engaged the residents and enhanced the quality of their surroundings.” – Fougeron Architecture on Carter Terrace
Fougeron Architecture was selected to resolve problems with Parkview Terrace, an existing affordable senior housing project after a competitive process. The 101-unit concrete and glass building now connects the indoor and outdoor spaces and provides its elderly residents with dignified and beautifully designed units and shared spaces. The facade was updated with glassy waves, creating visual interest and capturing natural light. This project was awarded an AIA East Bay Merit Award and a Builder’s Choice Design & Planning Award, among others.
Fougeron Architecture was selected for two upcoming projects for the Transbay redevelopment project, one of the most important development opportunities in the Bay Area this century. The firm will create the plans for Transbay Block 9, and Transbay Block 8 which includes three buildings, two podium buildings by Fougeron with affordable housing, and a tower designed by OMA. They are also working on Mission Bay Block 6W, a mixed-use project with 139 affordable apartments, space for child care, and 14,840 square feet of outdoor space arranged between multiple terraces and a central courtyard.
5) Mithun | Solomon
Website | (415) 956 0688 | Featured Principal: Anne Torney
Mithun was founded by Omer Mithun in 1949. It quickly grew into a prestigious firm with award-winning work throughout the Pacific Northwest. Although it has a diverse portfolio, they are particularly known for their affordable housing projects. They have won multiple awards for these projects, including AIA honors.
Photos Courtesy of Mithun | Solomon
Mithun’s San Francisco office was opened in 2008 and in 2013 merged with the award-winning design firm, Daniel Solomon Design Partners. Their work is inspired by the needs and experiences of their clients, a culture of curiosity and discovery, and a spirit of optimism. The firm feels a deep sense of responsibility to the larger community within which they build and the environment. For Mithun, properly designed buildings should have the ability to anticipate and address challenges of the future. They have played a strong leadership role in the sustainable design movement since the 1990’s and are known for designing spaces that connect people to each other and their community.
“Our design has purpose—to create positive change in people’s lives” – Mithun
Anne Torney leads the firm’s San Francisco office. She has focused on designing high-quality affordable housing and transit-oriented urban infill for more than 20 years. She has designed award-winning projects in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Seattle. An integral part in her designs in community outreach and sustainability. She is actively involved in the community, including for the AIA San Francisco Housing Committee, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, the ULI Affordable and Workforce Housing Council, and as Board Vice Chair of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Princeton University.
Photos Courtesy of Mithun | Solomon
The firm designed Sansome and Broadway Family Housing, which provides apartments for low-income and formerly homeless families on a former Embarcadero Freeway ramp site. The 65,800 square foot development has 75 units, a community room, retail space, social services offices, an interior courtyard, and a rooftop garden with a play area. This project won a Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award and a Residential Honor Award from the AIA California Council.
And at 1180 Fourth Street they designed an award winning multi-family housing project for 150 very low-income and formerly homeless families and individuals. This building in Mission Bay includes a rich program of tenant services and amenities, including for fitness, nutrition, education, and community involvement. This sustainable project, targeting LEED Platinum certification, includes a rooftop deck for residents, and a daycare for children. This unique project won an AIA Housing Awards for Architecture, Multifamily Housing, and a Grand Award in Affordable Housing from the Multifamily Executive Awards.
“[B]y the prominence of the site and the excellence of its architecture, [the intention is] to serve as a symbol of the city’s robust efforts to address the ever-growing need for affordable and supportive housing.” – AIA
Other notable projects by Mithun include Oxford Plaza in Berkeley, which provides subsidized family and special-needs housing, Broadway Family Apartments, providing low-income housing in the Northeast Waterfront Historic District and which won a Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award, a 127-unit affordable family housing building that will be going up at 2060 Folsom St. withY.A. Studio, and Hunter’s View Block 4. Lastly, the firm designed Zygmunt Arendt House, which added supporting housing for long-term homeless seniors in a historical San Francisco Victorian neighborhood. This award-winning project was elegantly and carefully designed so that it did not disrupt the architectural character of the neighborhood.
4) Paulett Taggart Architects
Website | (415) 956-1116 | Featured Principal: Paulett Taggart
Paulett Taggart Architects is recognized as one of the top architecture firms in San Fransisco and their affordable housing projects are no exception. Many of their projects throughout the Bay Area provide housing and supportive services where they are needed most. Paulett Taggart Architects is also included on our Best Residential Architects list and the Best Multi-Family Architects list.
Photos Courtesy of Paulett Taggart
Paulett Taggart founded Paulett Taggart Architects in 1986, which she now runs with Eric Robinson. Taggart has been one of San Francisco’s top architects and home designers for more than 3 decades. Her work has received many local and national awards, including the Kirby Ward Fitzpatrick Prize, and she has been recognized as a Fellow by the AIA. She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley and the California College of the Arts. She has been a member of LINE (the journal of the American Institute of Architects San Francisco), the AIASF/SFMOMA Lecture Committee, the San Francisco School District’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee, and the Board of Trustees of the Universalist Church of San Francisco. Paulett received her Bachelors from the University of Oregon and her Masters in Architecture from Harvard University.
Photos Courtesy of Paulett Taggart
Paulett Taggart Architects designed, with LMSa, Plaza Apartments at Sixth and Howard Streets. This was San Francisco’s first permanent housing for the formerly homeless. This project won the AIA National “Show Your Green” Award for Sustainable Design, an Honor Award for Architecture from the AIA, and an AIA National Housing Award, among many others. It was also recognized as the Home of the Year Award from Architecture Magazine.
The firm is also responsible for the design of Hunter’s View Blocks 5 and 6, two new blocks of affordable housing. This is part of the first phase of San Francisco’s HOPE SF program to rebuild San Francisco’s deteriorated public housing. These buildings will provide 53 units of family housing in a townhouse style. They are designed to look like groups of individual homes, each with a private or shared entry stoop. A core component of this design was sustainability. It is certified LEED for Neighborhood Development and individual buildings are Green Point Rated. This project was recognized with San Francisco Business Times Real Estate Deal of the Year Award and won an AIA San Francisco Merit Award.
Another notable affordable housing project is Parcel O, 108 new units in Hayes Valley. The design breaks down the site into smaller building masses set around a common courtyard. It includes townhomes and traditional apartments and important services such as counseling offices and a family day care. And finally, again with LMSa, the practice designed 455 Fell, which will provide 112 new affordable family units in a dense yet friendly and healthy environment.
3) Herman Coliver Locus Architecture
Website | (415) 495-1776 | Featured Principal: Robert Herman
Herman Coliver Locus Architecture has been nationally recognized for their work in many fields, but affordable housing in particular. They have built well over ten prominent affordable housing developments in the Bay Area, and have another three in the works currently. The work of the practice has been featured in national publications and been recognized with many awards, including from the AIA.
Photos Courtesy of Herman Coliver Locus
Herman Coliver Locus Architecture is run by three principals: Robert Herman, Susie Coliver, and Steven Rajninger. The firm is committed to working with neighborhood-based development corporations. They pay special attention to fully integrating the residents of their developments into the surrounding community.
“Each project carries the signature of its clients’ needs, gives shape to their dreams and aspirations, and attempts to provide emotional and intellectual sustenance as well as shelter. Its designs use space, light and delight to mark the passage of time, and to tie spaces to the rhythms of nature.” – Herman Coliver Locus Architecture
Herman is an AIA Fellow. His awards include the Leadership Award from the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California. In the past he has served as the Chair of the AIA Housing Committee, Board President of Independent Housing Services, San Francisco, was Co-Chair for the AIA San Francisco Emergency Shelter Project for the Homeless, and a member of the SPUR Housing Committee. In 1989, he has the honor to serve as a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. He earned his Masters of Architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Photos Courtesy of Herman Coliver Locus
Herman Coliver Locus Architecture designed the award-winning Half Moon Village, with housing for low-income seniors. The firm worked closely with the residents who would be relocated here to ensure their needs and concerns were addressed in the new housing. Along with 160 apartments, the complex has many indoor and outdoor gathering spaces to bring the community together. This project was recognized with a Special Commendation from the AIA San Francisco. It was also highlighted in Architecture Magazine, who said of it: “In an age when there is a predictable sameness to multi-family residential design, Half Moon Village begged for a highly particular, nuanced solution, informed by a unique and complex set of economic, social, and physical conditions.”
And the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center which provides affordable housing for transitional-age youth and adults in substance abuse recovery. The community center in the development includes an indoor gymnasium, swimming pool with classes, chapel, a lunch room for the Senior Hot-Food program, an art studio, fitness room, and computer classroom. There is also a courtyard that includes a climbing wall. This building’s design fits into the surrounding neighborhood, but stands out with pops of color around the windows.
At 990 Polk Street, the firm designed 110 units of affordable housing for low-income senior with a large outdoor patio on the seventh floor, and a community food garden on the eighth. This project was a World Habitat Awards Finalist, won the Grand Award for Outstanding Affordable Project at the Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference, and a Deal of the Year Award from the San Francisco Business Times. Other notable projects include 1100 Ocean Avenue, 71-units for low-income families and transitional-age youth, St. Peter’s Place for people with developmental disabilities, I-Hotel, housing for disabled seniors, Market Height for low-income families, Eddy Street for adults with developmental disabilities, and Mendelsohn House and Pacific Grove, both of which provide affordable housing for low-income seniors. And they are currently in the process of at least four other affordable housing projects – Candlestick Point, 1296 Shotwell St, St. Stephens in Santa Cruz, and University Avenue in East Palo Alto.
Website | (415) 495-1700 | Featured Principals: Marsha Maytum, William Leddy, Richard Stacy
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSa) was named the country’s Best Architectural Firm for 2017 by the American Institute of Architects. They have built over a dozen apartment complexes in the city for low-income residents and have many more in the works. In addition to building for low-income individuals, the practice specifically targets projects that aim to house the formerly homeless, veterans, at risk youth, and families.
Photos Courtesy of LMSa
The practice is run by three principals: Marsha Maytum, William Leddy, and Richard Stacy. They are known for their commitment to socially and environmentally responsible designs and incorporates green elements into the majority of their designs. For their contributions to the field of architecture, all three principals have been awarded the rank of Fellow by the AIA. All three Principals are individually active in community and industry organizations. LMSa has been featured on a number of our other lists, including Best Multi-Family Housing Architects, Best Commercial Architects, and The Best Green Architects.
Photos Courtesy of LMSa
The Plaza Apartments at Sixth and Howard Streets, a joint project with Paulett Taggart Architects, was San Francisco’s first permanent housing for the formerly homeless. Among the many national and regional awards, Plaza Apartments has won are the Housing Award, Affordable Green Housing Award, and Honor Award for Architecture from AIA National. It was also recognized as the Home of the Year Award from Architecture Magazine.
And LMSa designed Mission Walk, the first sustainable, affordable housing for sale in the Mission Bay redevelopment neighborhood. This building, with 131 residences, earned LEED Silver certification and was designed with a contemporary style to march the historic commercial buildings and adjacent houseboats. This project won multiple awards, including Multi-Family Executive, Affordable Project of the Year and Best Affordable Housing from Pacific Coast Builders Conference.
In Oakland, LMSa designed Madison at 14th Street Apartments, 79 apartments and supportive services for low-income families and transitional foster youth at risk of becoming homeless. This project won an AIA National, Housing Award, Urban Land Institute Award of Excellence, and an AIA East Bay, Merit Award for Exceptional Residential.
Also in Oakland is the LEED for Homes Platinum rated Merritt Crossing, a new affordable housing in Oakland for disadvantaged or formerly homeless seniors. This impressive project was recognized with an AIA COTE Top Ten Green Project award, an AIA National Housing Award, and multiple awards from AIA regional chapters.
Other notable projects include The Nancy and Stephen Grand Family House, which provides free temporary housing to 80 families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, 455 Fell, done in collaboration with Paulett Taggart Architects, and Mission Bay: Block 3 East, a 119-unit affordable housing development currently in design for families and formerly homeless veterans.
1) David Baker
Website | 415-896-6700 | Featured Principal: David Baker, Amanda Loper, and Daniel Simons
David Baker Architects has been working across the Bay Area for over 30 years. They have extensive experience in multi-family housing and are committed to improving neighborhoods and quality of life through their designs. The firm has been recognized with more than 180 architectural design awards and honors, including six national AIA awards.
Photos Courtesy of David Baker
David Baker Architects (DBA) was founded by David Baker in 1982. The firm is also run by two other principals: Amanda Loper and Daniel Simons. DBA is known throughout the Bay Area for their exceptional housing solutions and ability to design for density in an urban environment. The firm’s understanding of the ways in which people interact allows them to transform neighborhoods through the built environment.
“The design quality of affordable housing can have a substantial positive effect on both residents and the surrounding community. Good design uplifts residents, helping strengthen social connections, relieve stress, and enhance a sense of safety and belonging. It also can help repair blighted areas, raise adjacent property values, and attract market-rate development.” – DBA in Urban Land Magazine
Baker is a Fellow of the AIA and was named the Non-Profit Housing Association’s Visionary and Innovative Leader in Design. He also received the Hearthstone Builders Humanitarian Award, naming him as one of the 30 most influential people in the housing industry over the past 30 years. He earned his Bachelor of Philosophy at Thomas Jefferson College and a Master in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Loper holds degrees in architecture and interior architecture from Auburn University, and Simons earned a Masters in Architecture from the University of Washington, Seattle.
Photos Courtesy of David Baker
One of DBA’s most awarded projects is the Drs. Julian + Raye Richardson Apartments. Providing permanent supportive housing for a very-low-income, formerly homeless individuals, it has 120 studio apartments and 2,700 square feet of retail space. Among other awards, it earned an AIA National Housing Award, awards from AIA San Francisco, AIA California Council, AIA East Bay, ASLA, and multiple awards from the Pacific Coast Builders Conference. And DBA is working with area organizations to address the needs of economically struggling families in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
222 Taylor Family Housing is a 100% affordable housing project with 153 units in a 14-story building. Ground floor retail will include a much needed neighborhood grocery store. Just up the street is another DBA affordable-housing project, Curran House. It beautifully blends historical and urban elements to respect the neighborhood style. The development features a rooftop food garden and a lobby with a glass garage-style door which creates a large open-air community space. The ground floor includes vital neighborhood-serving retail. Curran House was recognized with awards from AIA California, AIA San Francisco, a Gold Nugget Award of Merit—Best Affordable Project over 40/Units per Acre from the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, a National Honor Award from the ASLA, and a National Grand Award—Affordable Housing from Residential Architect Magazine.
Photos Courtesy of David Baker
DBA is also responsible for Armstrong Senior, a affordable senior housing complex in the Bayview District. DBA creatively incorporated elements of the historically African-American neighborhood, including the playful facade inspired by traditional African textiles. Armstrong Senior was designed to a LEED Gold standard. It won an AIA Housing Award from the AIA, a Global Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute, and the Builder’s Choice Merit Award—Best Affordable/Workforce Housing from Builder Magazine.
Other notable area projects include Bayview Hill Gardens, 73 new stable homes for at-risk families and youth, Dr. George W. Davis Senior Building with 121 affordable homes for seniors, Folsom & Dore for low-income tenants with special needs which was the first new building in the city to be LEED SIlver certified, Onizuka Crossing Family Housing, affordable family and veterans rental apartments in Sunnyvale, and Lakeside Senior Apartments, an LEED Platinum affordable senior-housing project in Oakland.