Dezeen Magazine

Drawing of a housing project in California

West of West proposes vertical co-living neighborhood for San Francisco

US architecture studio West of West has won an AIA competition to reimagine the future of San Francisco housing in response to the city's housing crisis.

American Institute of Architects (AIA) San Francisco's Housing+ San Francisco 2050 Design Competition called for "visions of 21st-century duplex and quadriplexes that offer up innovative approaches to lifestyle and architectural style" as a response to the city's housing crisis.

Los Angeles and Portland-based West of West won the competition with its Sunset Steps concept – a multi-family building designed to have 65 per cent of its site used as shared greenspaces to foster community among residents.

A mock-up of a housing project in San Francisco
West of West has won a housing design competition hosted by AIA San Francisco to help alleviate the city's housing crisis

At the back of the building, stepped terraces would create informal gathering spaces like decks, balconies and gardens, while pushing massing to the front of the site would create more space for the ground floor yard.

A shared staircase branching out from the centre of the building would further foster collaborative living by linking outdoor spaces so residents may easily access each space.

"Sunset Steps is a place for community living that is simultaneously sustainable, beautiful, and affordable," said West of West partner Clayton Taylor.

"By using a combination of natural and high-performance materials, we can create inviting, welcoming spaces for families and individuals from all generations."

A close-up of a corner window in a terracotta apartment building
Sunset Step's stepped terraces allow 65 per cent of the site to be dedicated to shared greenspace

Inside, the multi-family living units were designed to be adaptable, with homeowners empowered to rent or renovate individual units over time in accordance with lifestyle changes.

For instance, residents would be able to choose to "pool resources" in order to convert one unit into a daycare space if enough children reside throughout the building.

At its most compact, Sunset Steps would offer a set of four homes throughout four stories and at its most expansive, ten different units.

This would depend on its internal configurations, which can be changed with a "simple addition or subtraction of a portion of walls".

An interior drawing of a multi-family unit in a
Residents can renovate their homes over time with the addition or subtraction of walls

The building's stepped terraces and alcoves would also allow for natural light to penetrate each unit.

Natural materials like terracotta cladding, wood windows, and cross-laminated timber framing were proposed to create a sense of warmth both on the interior and exterior of the building.

The building would be set back from its neighbours and features a greenspace and "active stoop" at its front in order to respect the surrounding architectural style and bring "thoughtful density to a place that needs it".

Corner windows would be included to provide additional light and ventilation in corner and mid-lot sites in the city's west side, where the competition's sites were proposed.

Development in these lots has been "stalled for generations" due to rezoning laws established in the late 1970s that effectively banned multi-unit housing in "all but selected neighborhoods" throughout the city.

A drawing of a residential home in a housing complex in California
The building's design is intended to foster community among inhabitants

Sustainable techniques like high-performance windows, efficient insulation, and natural ventilation are also proposed to meet passive house standards. The studio said that together these features would make Sunset Steps "a place for a beloved community to call home".

While it is unclear if the project will be actualised, Sarah Willmer, co-chair of the AIASF Housing Knowledge Community, said the competition was meant to "raise the issue of housing development to the top of the political and popular agenda".

Other community-oriented housing projects include Bittoni Architects' development for LA newcomers and the Dockley Apartments in London.

The imagery is courtesy of West of West.

More images and plans

Plans of housing project in San Francisco
Section of apartment building
Diagram of housing strategy