In a very content-rich lunchtime forum at SPUR last Tuesday, six San Francisco architects shared their experiences of designing and building housing within the City’s Market and Octavia Plan. The Plan was devised in response to the removal of the former Central Freeway right of way that bisected Hayes Valley, “liberating 23 parcels for development” in its wake. Approved in 2007 – the first under the Better Neighborhoods Program – the Plan provides a rare opportunity to holistically survey the outcomes of planning and development at the neighborhood scale.
The diverse group presented their work on the first of these freed parcels:
– Veronica Hinkley Reck, Ignition Architecture – Parcel Q (Octavia Court, complete)
– David Baker, David Baker Architects – Parcel F (market-rate for-sale, under construction), Parcel G (Richardson Apartments, completed micro-units for formerly homeless), and Parcel I (300 Ivy Street, market-rate for-sale, complete)
– Adrianne Steichen, Pyatok Architects – Parcel P
– Owen Kennerly, Kennerly Architects – Parcel P
– Todd Aranaz, Fougeron Architecture – Parcel A (Parkview Terrace, complete), Parcel H (under construction).
– Stanley Saitowitz, Natoma Architects – Parcel V (8 Octavia, complete)
As the architects reflected on responding to the Plan’s design guidelines, several themes emerged:
One Building or Many: Larger sizes of buildings or parcels were commonly minimized by breaking the massing down incrementally via materials, fenestration, bays or larger scale divisions—or in the case of Parcel P—the use of entirely different architects. In contrast, Mr. Saitowitz stated that “city streets should be made of big-scale architecture that creates richness instead of aggregation”, which is clearly the case with 8 Octavia and it’s long monolithic façade with dynamic louvers.
No Bay, Bay, Super Bay: The planning code dictates a specific acceptable dimension for a traditional bay, which several of the parcels included. Fougeron Architecture’s building at Parcel H skirts traditional bay compliance completely by keeping the mass of the building behind the property line but expresses an interpretation of the classic bay in a geometrically abstracted “paginated” screen. Kennerly Architects proposed a “super bay,” a dramatically scaled-up version for the boulevard edge.
Boulevard, Street, Alley: As the Plan calls for smaller massing toward the alleys to protect their particular character, several architects—Fougeron Architecture, Natoma Architects, and Kennerly Architects—placed open spaces out onto prominent streets. Mr. Kennerly called these spaces “charged voids.”
Community Involvement: The active involvement of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association was praised. The group has proved to be such a champion for the neighborhood plan and for architectural excellence that Mr. Saitowitz called on other neighborhood groups to match the HVNA’s dedication to the benefit of neighborhood—over individual—good.
As the Hayes Valley neighborhood fills in and the plan is no longer theoretical, these resulting streetscapes present a rich urban laboratory, and will provide additional inspiration and lessons learned.
Due mainly to time constraints, this panel missed a larger conversation about the flexibility and viability of the Plan and an opportunity to parse the lessons learned in this living laboratory of parcels and streets that have materialized relatively quickly to contribute to one of San Francisco’s most interesting neighborhoods. A retrospective dialogue that moves past the—albeit interesting—design of the individual parcels to assess the overall success of the Plan would be welcome: Was it dense enough? Is it housing people well? Do the bays and bits contribute to the livability? Is the scale of the streets right?
Perhaps a Part-Two is in the works.
—Amanda Loper, AIA, LEED AP
Principal, David Baker Architects