March 6, 2015 Housing Action Coalition

Hayes Valley’s Parcel P Evolves from Freeway Ramp to Vibrant Urban Housing

It’s startling to be reminded that a highway off-ramp once carved through the spot where one is standing. This is especially true while standing in a brightly colored lounge, walled with a community library, a fireplace surrounded by Heath tile, newly complete ground-floor retail (still available for lease), and 182 units that have started to rent.

On February 26th, 25+ SFHAC members toured Avalon Hayes Valley at 325 Octavia Street, aka Parcel P. The group assembled in the ground-floor residential common area, where Joe Kirchofer, AvalonBay’s senior development director, kicked things off by recalling the site’s complex journey from housing to off-ramp, and finally back to housing again. Initial development was begun by local developer, Build Inc. with who AvalonBay Communities worked with to entitle the project in 2012, continuing a long collaboration between Kennerly Architecture + Planning (lead designer for the Octavia Street-facing, east building); Jon Worden Architects (lead designer for the Laguna Street-facing, west building); and Pyatok architecture + planning, (Master Plan and lead designer for the two central buildings).

Pyatok’s lead project architect, Adrianne Steichen, was on hand to explain the project’s challenges and design choices, such as how to address four different height limits on the same block or how they restored the adjacent Hickory Street. Many of the large-scale moves were made to improve human-scale effects, such as bifurcating the site with open-ended, interconnected backyards; increasing the porosity of the perimeter by referencing the neighborhood’s characteristic 25-foot lot width; or providing front stoops to activate the east-west streets.

Brightly colored interiors by Amy Eliot (of Dilworth Eliot), splashes of GLS-designed landscaping along the courtyards; combined with handsome exterior materials made the tour along the corridors a surprising – yet curated – affair. As the group filed through the corridor between units, we made a startling discovery: stairs. Rachael Schreiberg, also of PYATOK, explained that since the project has a nearly 30-foot grade elevation change from one end of the site to the other, to reinforce a pedestrian connection to all four edges of the site, the building slabs stepped 5 feet every 90 feet of corridor, or once per block to match Hickory and Oak Streets’ topography. However, in the basement 92 parking spaces were put on a single level. Since this was a tour with a high percentage of architects in attendance, an excited conversation ensued on how various features were designed.

The model unit, furnished by Amy Eliot, included dark composite wood flooring throughout, tile bathroom flooring, Thermofoil kitchen cabinetry with a Porcelanosa tile backsplash, and a large expanse of windows overlooking the corner of Oak and Octavia Streets. Even with the bustle of traffic outside, it was quiet inside. Other unfurnished units we saw included a townhome fronting Oak Street, its stoop not yet installed, and a courtyard-facing 1-bedroom unit.

The tour came at a particularly interesting time, as the first tenants have moved in, while other parts of the project were still finishing construction. Staring at the sunset from the (not yet) completed rooftop deck, we could not help but sense the excitement of a nascent community.

Live in a city long enough, and one’s memories eventually overflow with what used to be. As the tour finished up and the group headed to happy hour at the nearby Brass Tacks, it became harder to remember a time where Octavia Street wasn’t imbued with an effervescent sense of aspiration for urban connectivity.

About the Author
Nathan Nagai is a Project Architect at Heller Manus Architects.

See more pictures from the tour.

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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