David Baker Architects

8th + Howard/SOMA Studios

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Corner view: 8th + Howard streets. Image: Brian Rose

View from Sumner Alley towards the Howard Street elevation. Image: Brian Rose.

The city corner comes alive with 8th + Howard/SOMA Studios' undulating edge, bright geometric mural, bustling corner market, and hand-crafted glass and steel gate. An eclectic mix of artists, immigrants, veterans, and young people have made these 162 units of affordable housing their home in San Francisco.

Howard Street main entrance with custom steel gate. Image: Brian Rose.

Inside 8th + Howard/SOMA Studios

We visited 8th + Howard/SOMA Studios with photographer Bill Owens to meet the folks and families living in this unique affordable housing project—combining SRO-style units and family apartments—in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood.


Inside 8th + Howard/SOMA Studios from Db+P, Architects on Vimeo.

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Retail along 8th Street keeps things lively.

Retail windows and modern awning along Howard Street.


Unbundled parking frees up space for a child-care center and 19,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail, including an organic market. The building is visually rich, with a modern patchwork mural punctuated by long windows on one side, a sinuous wall creating curving rooms on the other. The careful, yet playful, design allows for a depth of detail uncommon in affordable housing.

The organic market on the ground floor of 8th + Howard provides a bright spot to shop or sit. Image: Bill Owens.

Daycare from above. Image: Brian Rose.

Kids at play at the on-site daycare center. Image: Brian Rose.

Image: Brian Rose.

Courtyard provides a safe play area and event space for SOMA Studios residents.

Family courtyard on the apartment side of the complex. Image: Brian Rose.

This five-story complex is divided in two: The studio side houses modern single-occupancy studios with private baths; the family side features affordable family apartments. Both sides enjoy private courtyards and a wealth of community services.
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Garden entry provides a chance to decompress from the gritty urban neighborhood. Image: Cesar Rubio.

The gap in the urban edge provides a view into the softer interior open space, sharing it with the civic whole. Entrances to the housing are through semipublic landscaped courtyards that also serve as outdoor green space for public functions.
David Baker + Partners Architects
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8th Street elevation featuring geometric mural. Image: Brian Rose.

Image: Brian Rose.

Neighborhood-serving commercial space conceals the parking podium. Image: Brian Rose.

Image: Brian Rose

Corner of 8th and Howard streets with grocery entrance.

Drop-off and pick-up area for child-care center on Natoma Street.

Elevation along Howard Street.

Howard Street detail.

The edge of 8th + Howard.

The organic market offers a wide variety of produce for residents. Image: Bill Owens.

Awning detail.

Sort-of-active pedestrian retail: vinyl bus wrap graphics on the martial arts store.

Bike tour congregates at Howard Street entrance.

Detail of entrance.

A detail of the studio entrance.

Interior view of decompression courtyard.


View of the "ear" from a nearby balcony.

Studio courtyard.

Night view of marquee between private courtyards.

Studio courtyard by night.

View from the courtyard.

The courtyard provides residents with plenty of open space and balconies.

Balconies and planters provide semi-private outdoor spaces.

The "ear" fronts the studio courtyard and encloses the community room. Image: Brian Rose.

Image: Brian Rose.

Image: Brian Rose.

Detail view of the "ear" from a balcony.

Bike tour participants check out the studio courtyard.

DB+P and South Park Fabricators collaborated on the design of the gate and fountain at the main entrance. Image: Cesar Rubio.

Detail of custom gate. Image: Cesar Rubio.

Family-side corridor and marquee.

Community areas throughout provide opportunity for resident interaction.

Family side common area.

Studio-side lobby overlook.

Double-height lobbies offer casual meeting and social spaces.

Elevation rendering with 8th Street's color mural.

Podium level plan.

Ground level plan.


Merit Award—Excellence in Architecture
San Francisco Chapter, American Institute of Architects
Design Merit Award—Affordable
Residential Architect Magazine
AIA Housing Committee Award—Multifamily Housing
American Institute of Architects
Builder's Choice Merit Award
Builder's Magazine
Gold Nugget Award of Merit
Pacific Coast Builders Conference
Best Affordable Residential
San Francisco Business Times


Decade in Review: Top 10 in S.F. Architecture
Bill Owens: Inside Affordable Housing
Iconoclast of Design
A SOMA Complex Proves that Affordable Housing Doesn't Have to be Ugly

endorsed by:

Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation

Citizens Housing Corporation

project details


Affordable Housing, All Projects, Apartments, Micro-Units, Mixed-Use, San Francisco


San Francisco, California


Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation


Citizens Housing Corporation (now TNDC)


David Baker Architects

Associate Architect

I.A. Gonzales Architects

Interior Design

David Baker Architects

Landscape Architect

Adrienne Wong Associates

Structural Engineer

Faye Bernstein + Associates

Electrical Engineer

Pete O. Lapid + Associates

Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer

Tommy Siu + Associates

Artisan Metal Fabricator

South Park Fabricators



project data
SOMA Studios + 8th + Howard Family Housing
1180-1190 Howard Street
San Francisco, California
Completed July 2003
number of units
studio 88
1 bedroom 12
2 bedroom 40
3 bedroom 22
total 162
childcare sf
retail sf 18,000
density ratios
project sf 176,874
site sf 45,375
acres 1.0
total bedrooms 246
bedrooms/acre 236
units/acre 155
total 66
spaces/unit .38
type podium