Bernal Architect Designs Affordable Housing That’s Beautiful

kennerlybldg2

San Francisco needs more affordable housing. Much more.

But affordable architecture gets a bad rap. It’s ugly. It’s too institutional. It’s too homogeneous. It’s visual blight.

Often, those generalizations are true… which has the very unfortunate effect of making San Franciscans (even more) resistant to new affordable housing projects. That’s super extra-bad, because San Francisco really needs more affordable housing. Much more.

Architect Owen Kennerly is a resident of Holly Park, and he was the co-designer of a new affordable housing project in Mission Bay that’s so gorgeous it makes San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King swoon.

The building is 1180 Fourth Street, and here’s as taste of what The John King has to say about it:

Architecturally, the six-story wedge of 150 apartments adds an assertive spark in a young district with too many boilerplate buildings. At ground level it’s engaging, a pleasure even before the generous retail spaces are filled. There’s a social payoff as well: The units are reserved for low-income families, adding youth to the neighborhood scene.

None of this is by chance, and it shows how planning priorities can translate to good city building — especially when determination and creativity are added to the mix.

The first step was the decision long ago to reserve the site for affordable housing. It’s a prime location fronting a park where Mission Creek is crossed by Fourth Street, the entryway to the 200-acre-plus southern part of the Mission Bay redevelopment district established in 1998. Setting it aside for lower-income residents was a symbolic reminder that economic integration should be pursued when and where it makes sense. But a well-meaning gesture isn’t the same as a well-done piece of architecture. That’s where smart design comes in.

The architectural effort was led by Daniel Solomon and Owen Kennerly, whose relationship goes back to the 1990s when the latter was a UC Berkeley student and an employee of the former. Kennerly now has one of the most visually inventive small firms in the city.

This is not Neighbor Owen’s first rodeo. He’s created several cool buildings around San Francisco, including a gorgeous house that got the sexy treatment from The New York Times. Neighbor Owen’s design for the affordable housing at 1180 Fourth takes his work in a wonderful new direction, and it shows that his architectural kung-fu is extremely versatile.

Great work, Neighbor Owen, and thank you. Oh, if you have some spare time, could you please pull together some sketches for a mixed-use housing and supermarket retail project to go on the site of our managerially blighted Bernal Safeway? Mmmkay? That’d be great.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle

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