Richardson Apartments


Location: San Francisco, CA
Date: 2011
Building Type: Affordable Housing


The Richardson Apartments affordable housing complex contains 120 permanent studios for individuals who were formerly homeless. Universal Design considerations were especially important in this project, because the residents include many people with mental and physical disabilities. The mixed-use building also includes retail spaces on the ground floor, in order to create a place that adds to the diversity and value of the surrounding community.

Perspectives and Goals

The project was designed as part of the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan to contribute to a more “livable community” with affordable housing, street upgrades, and community-serving retail spaces. The five-story infill development was built on the site of a former parking lot that was freed up for development after the demolition of the collapsed Central Freeway (damaged during an earthquake.)

It was critical that the project be green, so it was designed and built with the guidance of the Build It Green GreenPoint Rated and Green Communities checklists.

Architectural firm David Baker + Partners was chosen due to their commitment to green, infill housing. While the firm designs both market-rate and affordable housing, about 50% of the firm’s work is on affordable housing, and they have gained a reputation for projects that are beautiful and functional rather than sterile and institutional.



Universal Design

  • The entrance includes a level threshold, automatic doors, and lever door handles.
  • Wide hallways and an open floor plan are used through the building.
  • The meeting room space is flexible and is able to be divided into two spaces by a movable wall or opened up to the central courtyard by the movable glass Nana Walls.
  • Floor to ceiling windows are used throughout the building, at the entrance, in hallways, surrounding the courtyard and in each studio apartment. These windows bring in natural light and offer views to everyone, seated or standing. In the apartments, the lowest portion of the glass is frosted to provide privacy.
  • Light switches, plugs, and phones are located at an accessible reach range.
  • The two-burner cooktop used in the kitchens has front located controls.
  • The kitchen sink a single level mixed tap.
  • The kitchen cabinetry has large u-shaped handles.
  • The pocket door into the bathroom includes large paddle-shaped hardware.
  • Bathrooms include Grab bars.
  • The rooftop garden includes raised beds that are easy to access.

Green Design

  • Permeable pavers in the courtyard provide both a smooth, level surface and rain water management.
  • Sunshades on windows reduce solar heat gain.
  • The roof includes solar panels and a green roof.

Liveable Community

  • Well-lit sidewalks, landscaping, and bike racks enhance the sidewalks around the perimeter of the building.
  • The retail spaces on the ground floor add value to the whole community and include trellises that provide shelter for people walking on the sidewalk.
  • Instead of providing a parking lot (since it was unlikely that many of the residents would own cars), the space was used to provide a central courtyard that acts as an outdoor living room for residents. Other common use areas include the rooftop garden counseling center, residents’ lounge, community room, and medical suite reserved for resident care.
  • The design also took into consideration an existing mural on the building next door, allowing it to be featured in the central courtyard, while still providing views of the mural from the street.
  • Different facades were used to break up the appearance of the large structure, giving it a more human scale.


The building rates 143 GreenPoints and surpasses California’s strict energy standards by 15%. Businesses have moved into the retail spaces, includes a nonprofit bakery that provides job training to residents and a Vietnamese sandwich shop. The project has won numerous awards, including the AIA National Housing Award, and the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing, and was recently featured in a New York Times Article, entitled “Design as Balm for a Community’s Soul.”


Architect: David Baker + Partners Architects
Associate Firm: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture; Baker Vilar Architects; Design Studios Gonzalo Castro
Clinic/Health Services: UCSF Citywide Case Management Program San Francisco Department of Public Health Toolworks
Engineer: American Hydrotech, Inc.; Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, Inc.; Sandis Civil Engineers Surveyors Planners; Structural Design Engineers; Sun Light & Power; Teletech Security; Tommy Siu & Associates
General Contractor: Cahill Contractors, Inc.
Interior Design and Furnishings: Concreteworks; David Baker + Partners, Architects; Evelyn Reyes/Creativity Explored; Fee Munson Ebert Architecture + Design; Green Waste Recycle Yard/Custom Metal Manufacturing; Market Design Furniture; OHIO Design; Pacassa Studios
Mural: “Dancing in the curve of the World” by Josef Norris
Photo Credit: © Bruce Damonte Photography, Inc.

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.