With a population growing as rapidly as that in San Francisco, building sufficient housing for the influx of residents is an important task. The crowded neighborhoods and natural geography of the city itself pose significant challenges. Add to that the need to consider how to design a building that matches the scale and architecture of its surroundings, adds to the urban community, contains sufficient amenities for its residents, and allows for future growth. The housing rates in San Francisco continue to increase every year and many residents are looking for more affordable options. Multifamily establishments are becoming a trend in the city because it provides options for residents from every income bracket.
Included in this list are architects who have accepted and excelled at overcoming these challenges. The architects have designed beautiful up-scale townhomes, skyrise luxury condominiums, community-based housing for low-income families, student housing, and everything in between. Below are 15 of the best architecture firms that have designed some of the best multifamily establishments in San Francisco. These architects were chosen based on the scope of work, the founder’s previous experience, and the awards it has received throughout the years. All of these architects are also members of esteemed design organizations notably the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
901 Battery St. Ste #300, San Francisco, CA 94111
For the past 50 years, BAR Architects has remained one of the premier multifamily architectural firms in San Francisco. The firm has been winning awards from the AIA and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) since 1969. Now, BAR Architects has 180 design awards to its name and some of its latest accolades include a 2018 Pacific Coast Builder Conference (PCBC) Merit Award for the Annadel Apartments and a 2018 AIA citation for the Law Winery.
The BAR Architects studio is comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds who create an innovative and collaborative environment. BAR Architects has eight principals, including David Israel, who has over 30 years of experience designing mixed-use and multi-family housing. Israel advocates for affordable housing for the mid-market neighborhoods of San Francisco.
The award-winning Annadel Apartments is a multifamily project that was designed to cater to a modern community in the midst of its rural setting. Located just outside Santa Rosa, the Annadel is an 11-acre establishment with 270 units that includes one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Heritage oak trees and walnut trees surround the site while a community center serves as the focal point for the community. Some of the amenities of the community include a barbecue area, a community garden, and a playground and ball court.
David Baker Architects
461 Second St. Loft #127, San Francisco, CA 94107
David Baker is one of the most prolific multifamily architects in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dubbed by Building Design+Construction as a “multifamily visionary”, Baker is one of the first architects to design mixed-use apartment buildings in the area. Founder David Baker was recognized as a Fellow of the AIA in 1996. In 2014 he was named the Non-Profit Housing Association’s Visionary and Innovative Leader in Design and in 2009 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. Despite these accolades, Baker’s greatest contributions to the community are his affordable housing projects.
In 1982, David Baker Architects was established to provide affordable sustainable buildings for the Bay Area community. He is joined by two other principals, Amanda Loper and Daniel Simons. DBA is known throughout the Bay Area for its exceptional housing solutions and the ability to design for dense communities in an urban environment. DBA’s practice also includes interior architecture, hospitality design, urban design, and a fabrication workshop. Together with his firm, Baker has earned more than 300 design awards from different national and state organizations.
Located in the Mission Bay South Redevelopment Area, the Five88 project houses 200 residences and has a 10,000 square foot retail development. The building is also commuter-friendly because of the accessible bicycle route and the adjacent Third Street Light Rail. In addition, the Five88 has sustainable features like domestic solar hot-water panels and drought-tolerant landscaping that have high GreenPoint Ratings. AIA San Francisco gave the Five88 a 2018 Merit Award and a Social Responsibility Commendation.
DLR Group | Kwan Henmi
235 Montgomery St. Ste. #350, San Francisco, CA 94104
Denis Henmi and Sylvia Kwan are two of the most prominent commercial architects in the Bay Area. They established Kwan Henmi in 1980 and for more than 30 years their firm designed some of the best multifamily establishments in San Francisco. In 2017, Kwan Henmi merged with international architectural firm DLR Group, with both founders leading different sectors of the firm. Henmi heads DLR’s transportation practice, while Kwan is the principal of the San Francisco branch.
Both architects are fellows of the AIA and have received numerous personal accolades. Kwan was named as one of the 75 most influential women in business by the San Francisco Business Times, and Henmi received the prestigious President’s Medal for Distinguished Service from the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB)
Completed in 2014, the Marlow at 1800 Van Ness is one of the first residential projects built after the recession. It was designed to meet the changing needs of the community by providing housing units that are smaller and more efficient. The development consists of two buildings, an eight-story and a four-story building, with a total of 98 units. It was also made to accommodate a high density of residents but not consuming too much energy. The Marlow was awarded a Design Award from AIA San Francisco.
521 Francisco St., San Francisco, CA 94133
French-American architect Anne Fougeron founded Fougeron Architecture in 1985. Her work is found throughout the Bay Area in many forms, including multi-family buildings, single-family residential homes, and all types of commercial spaces. She has been trusted to redesign many of San Francisco’s historic buildings like the Brava Theater and 1918 Carnegie library. Fougeron serves on the Board of Directors of the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland and is a Committee Member of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Accessions.
Fougeron Architecture has previously developed many multi-family projects across the Bay Area. The firm works with different craftsmen to create unique projects that go beyond the traditional. The goal of every Fougeron Architecture project is to utilize natural light, innovate structure, and explore materials that are unique visually and texturally. In its 35 years of business, the firm has won 65 design awards including numerous distinctions from different branches of the AIA.
Towering over Folsom Street is The Avery, a 55-story luxury residential condominium. The premium residence offers a stunning 4,312 square foot penthouse that is priced at $15,950,00. There are more than 300 luxury apartments available for San Francisco’s most discerning residents. The glass tower may seem like an intimidating address but 150 units are catered towards lower-income residents. Fougeron Architecture designed the affordable housing units located in the building podium. The housing project is designed to be accessible to San Francisco’s urban developments. Retail establishments are a street away from the residences and it also features a gorgeous view of the San Francisco bay.
45 Fremont St. Ste. #1500, San Francisco, CA 94105
Gensler Architects is a world-famous firm with numerous branches around the globe. The firm has designed the headquarters of big companies from different industries; its impressive portfolio includes famous landmarks like the Shanghai Tower—China’s tallest building—and the Temporary U.K. Parliament that will accommodate the House of Parliament while the Palace of Westminster undergoes refurbishment
Regional Principal Scott Dunlap leads the firm’s Northwest offices which include Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. The certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) architect is a Bay Area native who is currently part of the Berkeley preservation board. Gensler’s Northwest offices have designed some of San Francisco’s best mixed-use developments. The firm was recently recognized by ENR as one of the Top 500 Design Firms of the nation.
The Metropolis in Los Angeles is a luxury development that consists of three residential towers, which include boutique Hotel Indigo. The mixed-use development is a contemporary residential space that is designed to flow naturally with Downtown Los Angeles’s urban scene. The architecture gives the two residential towers a stunning panoramic view of the city from every floor. Found atop Tower I, The Penthouse Collection is The Metropolis’s most exclusive units. The Penthouse Collection consists of eight two-story condominiums that range from 1,640 to 3,534 square feet. These units have the best views of Los Angeles and residents can choose between a two-bedroom penthouse suite or a three-bedroom penthouse corner home.
735 Market St. Fl. #2, San Francisco, CA 94103
Globally acclaimed firm Hendel Architects specializes in large-scale and mixed-use buildings. Established in 1994, Founder Gary Handel has expanded his firm to several locations from New York to Hong Kong and it currently employs more than 200 architects and designers. Handel is a leader in the field of hybrid mixed-use buildings and was recognized as a Fellow by the AIA. He has worked on some of the largest Passive House buildings around the world and has held extensive lectures on sustainable architecture.
The practice was founded on the principle that well-designed large-scale, mixed-use buildings can enrich urban environments and drive economic development. The goal of every sustainable project is to respect the history of a site’s environment and breathe new life to an outdated establishment. One of its first adaptive reuse project is a four-story office building in New York that .is now known as the Grand Millenium. This historic renovation put Handel Architects on the map as one of the best architects for mixed-use projects.
Originally a dental school in the ‘60s, The Pacific is a luxury condominium standing tall in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. The original layout was designed to replicate a hospital and it worked to The Pacific’s advantage. The floor plates and high ceilings used for accommodating heavy medical equipment was renovated using natural materials like marble, limestone, and bronze. The Pacific’s facade was given a brand new contemporary look composed of champagne-colored metal panels and geometric windows.
Heller Manus Architects
600 Montgomery St. Suite #1250, San Francisco, CA 94111
Founded in 1984, Heller Manus Architects has built some of the finest residential highrises in China and San Francisco. Heller Manus Architects’ design philosophy is rooted in innovation, functionality, respect for continuity and context, and creating spaces that will continue to be relevant for generations. The firm’s most recognizable work consists of master plans to in-fill buildings, sleek office towers, residential multi-unit buildings, transportation facilities, and historic and civic renovations.
The firm was founded by two of the most influential architects in California. Jeffrey Heller, FAIA, is a leader in the green building movement and designed some of the first sustainable architecture and large scale urban planning projects in the US and China, including the first LEED Gold office towers in San Francisco and Shanghai and the first LEED Platinum neighborhood development master plan. While Clark Manus, FAIA, is the former president of the AIA and spearheaded many disaster planning and sustainable projects of the organizations. Manus’s expertise had a huge impact on San Francisco’s safety regulations because for two decades he served as chair for the Mayoral Citizen Advisory Committees.
Award-winning 181 Fremont Street is a modern development that stands out in the Transbay skyline. The 54 story high-rise stands out because of its striking facade. The metal bars exaggerate the building’s silhouette and it also serves as a modern structural system that makes the building more durable. 181 Fremont’s unique structural engineering made it the first high-rise on the West Coast to be a gold-certified REDI high-rise. In addition, the newly built development has modern features that have won numerous awards from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat including Award of Excellence MEP Engineering Award.
539 Bryant St. Ste. #100, San Francisco, CA 94107
HKS Architecture is a multidisciplinary firm providing architectural solutions carried out by careful design research. Unlike other firms, HKS has a department dedicated to researching new solutions for complex projects. The HKS Lab works with the in-house design team and various industry professionals to create innovative technology that will “connect systematic inquiry with creative thinking.” These findings have greatly contributed to its passive design projects like the Sensory Well-Being Hub, which received an Honorable Mention from Fast Company magazine’s Innovation by Design contest.
The firm has many branches around the country including San Francisco. HKS San Francisco is known for designing some of the biggest hospitality and mixed-use projects in the city. One of its most well-known projects is the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, a stunning oceanfront resort in the Bay Area’s wine country. Besides designing remarkable establishments in San Francisco, HKS San Francisco is an active member of the Housing Action Coalition, the Urban Land Institute, the Bay Area Council and Project Homeless Connect.
The Jasper Residential Tower is a luxury high-rise apartment located in San Francisco downtown. HKS designed it to emanate the extravagance of a five-star hotel while maintaining the familiar feel of a home. The facade has a seamless glass prism situated on the northeast corner and extends to the top of the 400-foot tower. The linear design is largely influenced by the Rincon Hill plan and the textured silhouette makes it stand out amid the high-rise apartment community. Moreover, the apartment is a LEED Silver-certified project that has several amenities including an in-house movie theatre, hot tub and sauna, and a club room.
Kennerly Architecture and Planning
375 Alabama St. Ste. #440, San Francisco, CA 94110
Using a unique design perspective that combines modernism and urbanism, the award-winning firm Kennerly Architecture & Planning has designed multi-family homes in the Bay Area that pay attention to the ways in which people live and work in the space, and how it relates to the larger picture of the neighborhood and city around it.
The firm is led by Principals Owen Kennerly and Sarina Bowen Kennerly. With each project, the principals consider the overall context of their design, looking at not only the other buildings which surround it, but also the ecological, social, political, economic, and regulatory considerations. Owen Kennerly has worked in the Bay Area architecture scene since 1992. Before founding his own firm, he was a Senior Associate with Solomon Architecture & Urban Design in San Francisco. While Sarina Bowen Kennerly has 16 years of experience specifically in commercial, residential and multi-family projects in the region. She has worked with noted Bay Area architects Daniel Solomon, Adele Naude Santos, Robert Swatt, and Kava Massih. Both principals are members of the AIA and San Francisco Housing Coalition.
What was once a deserted corner in the Historic San Francisco Sixth Street, now stands the Bill Sorro Community. The housing development has 67 apartments catered specifically for low-income families and adults with developmental disabilities. Kennerly Architecture wanted a simple facade for the apartment to blend with the rest of the historic housing neighborhood. Despite its affordable prices, The GreenPoint rated home has energy-efficient features like storm-water management and grey-water re-use.
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
1940 Bryant St., San Francisco, CA 94110
Named by AIA as the 2017 Best Architectural Firm, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects has spent the last three decades designing multifamily and mixed-use residences for the Bay Area. The practice has built over a dozen apartment complexes in the city for low-income residents. For their contributions to the field of architecture, all three principals have been awarded the rank of Fellow by the AIA.
All of the founders are active members of the U.S. Green Building Council. William Leedy was an appointed member of the AIA National Committee on the Environment, for which he served as chair for 2013, and as an appointed member of the AIA California Committee on the Environment. Marsha Maytum serves as an appointed member of the National Register of Peer Professionals for the U.S. General Services Administration, the San Francisco Berkeley, Design Review Committee, and the Eco-Structure Editorial Advisory Board. While Richard Stacy is also a member of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, and San Francisco Housing Action Coalition.
Award-winning Rene Cazenave Apartments (RCA) is one of the first developments built in the Transbay Redevelopment Area. Richard Stacy designed the project to have sustainable features that will improve its durability. Lowering the energy costs and maximizing the seismic resilience were some of the priorities during the initial design stage. The result is a GreenPoint rated project that has enhanced air quality ventilation system, a solar renewable energy canopy, and post-tensioned shear walls. RCA has 120 mini studio apartments catered for disadvantaged residents who used to be homeless. The project has received three awards from the AIA including a Merit Award for Architecture.
90 South Park, San Francisco, CA 94107
LDP Architecture, previously Levy Design Partners, is a woman-owned design firm based in San Francisco. Toby Levy, FAIA is the founding principal whose years of expertise have developed the team and its design processes. In the transition to LDP Architecture, principals Casey Feeser, Franco Zaragoza, and Michelle Loeb were promoted to continue the work LDP provides. Since 1979, the firm has provided the city with architectural services that strike the balance between quality and affordability. LDP Architecture’s reputation is strengthened by its diverse and quality performance for complex projects.
Many of its residential and commercial clientele have experienced the firm’s award-winning services. 401 Derby, a four-story structure consisting of 53 residential units and 65 parking spaces, is a perfect illustration of its ability to design modern multi-family homes. 401 Derby is located in the Jingletown neighborhood within Oakland’s Estuary district. The building reflects its eclectic surroundings through its material composition and building massing. Its street-level gallery and work-live access points promote interaction with the community. 401 Derby is CalGreen compliant, Green Point Rated, and is a finalist in the AIA East Bay Awards. Another noteworthy multi-family project is the 1452 Bush Street building in San Francisco. It consists of two buildings totaling to 22-units built above a two-level parking area. It features two-bedroom units with 10% set aside as affordable units. This modern and affordable multi-family project earned the firm a Gold Nugget Award of Merit for Best Attached High Rise Housing Project.
Paulett Taggart Architects
725 Greenwich St., San Francisco, CA 94133
AIA Fellow Paulett Taggart established her eponymous firm to design projects for the benefit of the Bay Area community. The Harvard educated founder has worked on sustainable communities prior to establishing Paulett Taggart Architects. The firm closely works with its clients to create projects that are environmentally-conscious and provide direct solutions to the needs of the community.
In its more than 30 years of service, Paulett Taggart Architects has won numerous accolades from the AIA and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Some of the firm’s most prestigious accolades include an ASID Design West Award for Interior Architecture and an AIA San Francisco, Excellence in Architecture Merit Award.
The Hunters View Housing Block Five and Six are the first buildings made for the HOPE SF program. This housing project will help redeem San Francisco’s deteriorated public housing programs. Before the design stage, the firm reached out to the community to determine some of the concerns they had. Accessibility and indoor air quality were some of the main problems. The townhouses’ multi-level architecture was designed to flow with San Francisco’s street slopes. The Hunters View Redevelopment will fill two city blocks with 53 units organized in two L-shaped buildings. Despite having multiple units, the architecture of the townhouse allows these residences to have enough space for every homeowner.
Richard Beard Architects
2475 3rd St. Studio #252, San Francisco, CA 94107
Richard Beard was fascinated by architecture from an early age. He was inspired by his father, who was an architect, and his grandfather, who was a land planner. He had his start working with BAR Architects and slowly worked up the ranks until he became a partner in 1991. He became a Fellow of the AIA in 2010, and four years later he established his own firm.
Richard Beard Architects is known for creating facades that flow naturally with interior and landscape design. The firm specializes in residential projects that can vary from single-family residences to multifamily housing projects. The firm has also worked on various commercial projects that include popular retail brands like Ralph Lauren and American Eagle.
The 1645 Pacific stands out in San Francisco’s urban neighborhood. Originally built in the 1920s, Richard Beard restored the original facade’s impressive sculptural details and wrought iron entryway. Inspired by the apartment houses that stood in Russian Hill, the apartment pays homage by giving a modern finish to the apartment’s original detailing. Inside, there is a mural by Zio Ziegler and an elevator big enough for a sofa.
255 California St. Fl. #3, San Francisco, CA 94111
Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) is an award-winning architecture, interior design, and planning firm that practices nationally from offices in Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. Since 1931, SCB has made a lasting impact on the nation’s skyline, campuses, and neighborhoods, helping clients across the country achieve their goals, serve their constituencies, and make their mark.
In 2007, the firm opened an office in San Francisco, which today boasts a staff of 100+ design professionals. The firm’s first project in the city, One Rincon Hill, the first residential tower built in San Francisco after height restrictions were raised, firmly established SCB as a leading design firm in the high-rise, multifamily sector. Since then, the firm has completed numerous urban residential projects across the city and greater Bay Area. Executive Director Strachan Forgan has guided the direction and expansion of SCB’s San Francisco office providing design leadership for the firm’s west coast practice. Strachan’s highly varied designs are connected by a sensitivity and respect for context—both environmental and cultural.
399 Fremont, a 42-story high-end apartment complex with 447 units, is a major urban infill project located in San Francisco’s evolving Rincon Hill District. The project’s massing successfully bridges the varying scales that exist between the district’s lower, downhill residential buildings and the large towers on Rincon Hill’s summit by placing an eight-story podium block on the lower side of Fremont Street while siting the tower at the high end of the street. Careful attention to detail and massing of the sleek glass and aluminum clad tower both enhances the pedestrian realm and anchors the high point of the site. The podium’s top floors house the development’s common amenity spaces that includes a swimming pool, day spa, library, a roof-top club room, and an outdoor terrace overlooking the San Francisco Bay and skyline.
Among the innovations in the building’s LEED Silver design is the high-rise application of solar hot water systems on the roof – the world’s tallest solar water heating installation – that reduces the building’s hot water heating energy by 30%.
One Maritime Plz., San Francisco, CA 94111
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has been in business for more than 80 years and its works are found all over the world. There are a lot of iconic establishments found in SOM’s portfolio including Pablo Picasso’s first sculpture in America. The firm has also received the most 25-Year Awards from the AIA. This notable award is granted to impressive works that have stood for more than 25 years but still set the standard for excellent architecture.
San Francisco Design Director Javier Arizmendi has an expansive portfolio with projects found in North America, Asia, and Latin America. Arizmendi specializes in civic and residential projects that integrate building systems and technology together. His goal is to turn social spaces into natural extensions through architecture. Some of his notable projects are the Superior Court of California, Beijing Finance Street, and the Treasure Island Master Plan.
Tucked into the corner of Howard and Steuart, 75 Howard is a condominium tower that has 20 floors and 120 residential units. It has a simple clear glass facade that welcomes natural light to welcome the cool ambiance of the San Francisco Bay. Cubic limestone pilasters and lintels were used to proportion the building. The outdoor spaces and balconies were strategically placed to balance out the vertically oriented tower. These outdoor terraces tie the tower together with the waterfront landscape.
Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects Inc.
1022 Natoma St. #3, San Francisco, CA 94103
Stanley Saitowitz is a world-renowned designer who has over 30 years of experience in the Bay Area. He has pushed the boundaries of modern architecture in San Francisco with the designs of his multi-family developments, no small feat for a city known for its Victorian homes.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saitowitz is the founder of Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects Inc., an award-winning San Francisco-based architecture firm. The firm has completed housing, offices, museums, religious buildings, and memorials around the world. Saitowitz is an Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and has taught at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cornell University, and the University of Texas at Austin, among others. He was a finalist for the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award given by Laura Bush at the White House. Saitowitz received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Witwatersrand and his Masters in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.
Built on the west end of the warehouse district, 255 Shipley is one of the modern condominiums that will rise in the SoMa district. The mid-block development will occupy two wides lots on Shipley and three lots on Clara. It will have five connected buildings that will have residences averaging at around 950 square feet per unit. There will be a shared rear yard connecting the buildings together. Both buildings will have balconies for each unit and all of the floors will be independent detached dwellings.