David Baker Architects


April 2019: Daniel Simons FAIA

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DBA Principal Daniel Simons has been elevated to Fellow by the American Institute of Architects. Daniel joins five other architects from San Francisco, and only 20 from throughout California, to receive this honor in 2019.

Fellowship is meant to elevate those architects who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession and have made significant contributions to architecture and society on a national level.

Daniel elevates affordable housing by using design as a “multiplier of good”—repairing the urban fabric, championing sustainability, and uplifting communities. His approach translates programmatic constraints into positive outcomes and, crucially, is replicable nationwide.

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Lakeside Senior Apartments, Oakland, California. Image: Bruce Damonte

Using Design as a Multiplier of Good

The cornerstone of Daniel’s work in the field of affordable housing is using design as a tool for social justice. His work both as a designer and team leader is to create thoughtful places that serve as a multiplier of good—transforming pragmatic constraints into positive outcomes that support engagement and connection, health and well-being, not just of residents within the building but of surrounding communities as well.

Daniel’s projects have been recognized nationally and globally with honors including the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award, AIA COTE Top 10 Award, AIA National Green Building Award, AIA Housing Award, CNU Charter Award Grand Prize, and ULI Global Award for Excellence. He has achieved this design success not just by resolving practical and pro- grammatic considerations but also by incorporating inspired—and inspirational—moves: a signature staircase or exterior walkway that gives residents a place to interact, a community room that flows out into a serene landscaped courtyard, or a dramatic double-height entry portal that lends a building dignity.

Daniel’s dogged commitment to design and his superior skills with building massing ensure that these unique aspects don’t get lost in value engineering, no matter what the budgetary constraints. He is continually optimistic that every affordable housing project can be a source of pride for residents that enhances their lives, and his approach serves as a model for similar work throughout the United States.

"This project brings dignity and beauty to people in their twilight years, most of whom have had very difficult and stressful lives. There is great beauty here that is thoughtfully executed in a light and airy way that is echoed throughout the building."
— 2015 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award Jury

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Tassafaronga Village, Oakland, California. Image: Bruce Damonte

Making the Affordable Sustainable

Daniel believes that a small budget shouldn’t restrict a project’s sustainability and he works hard to advance the practice of applying sustainability standards to affordable housing. His cutting-edge projects include San Francisco’s first LEED NC Silver certified building and California’s first LEED ND Certified Gold Plan. He has brought projects into several sustainability pilot programs, including the LEED for Homes, LEED ND, and LEED for Homes Mid-Rise pilots as well as ILFI’s Living Building Challenge pilot for affordable housing.

Daniel achieves such high levels of green design by working closely with each client to determine a sustainability goal for the project that can serve as a central focus. Because he realizes that sustainability extends far beyond the design process, he also specifies proven technologies that work well with the given building type and helps educate staff and residents about their operation and maintenance.

In addition to defining how sustainability applies in an affordable housing development, Daniel has also defined his firm’s entire approach to sustainability, striving for reportable, replicable, and certifiable outcomes. Under Daniel’s guidance, DBA signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, making it one of only a very few firms focused on urban multifamily housing to actively report on project performance and work toward achieving a net-zero portfolio.

"I love many things about the house that I call home. I can see how the buildings were designed to bring neighbors together and to develop safer neighborhoods for every resident of this beautiful city. One day I would be honored to do for others what you have done for me. I want to be able to design houses for the less fortunate."
— Khawlah Al-olefi, 15, resident, Tassafaronga Village

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Williams Terrace, Charleston, South Carolina. Image: Kris Decker/Firewater Photography

Being Neighborly

One signature of Daniel’s design thinking is the way it extends far beyond the property line, seeking to improve the quality of life both inside and outside the building. His projects consistently incorporate elements designed to enliven and strengthen connections within neighborhoods, such as prioritizing active use at the edges, creating a clear hierarchy of open spaces, ensuring eyes on the street, and calming traffic.

Daniel advocates for clients to treat area residents as vital constituents, addressing their concerns while promoting the idea of affordable housing as a good neighbor. Good relationships have huge results downstream, enhancing the life of the community at large while also making it more likely that neighborhoods will welcome affordable housing in the future.

More broadly, Daniel is a dedicated listener who embraces learning from public process and gains insight and inspiration from meetings, charrettes, community-engagement exercises, and hearing from people who are invested in the places he helps create.

"DBA has designed a truly signature building for this prominent site. Williams Terrace will house our senior residents in gracious community and create a welcoming and energetic presence along the new city park. The design process was energetic, creatively stimulating, and inclusive.”
—Donald J. Cameron, President, Charleston Housing Authority

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Folsom-Dore Supportive Housing, California. Image: Brian Rose

Inspiring Others Nationwide

Daniel has long been a forceful advocate for high-quality design in affordable housing. He has lectured at numerous AIA and APA conferences and at other national and regional forums. He has participated in Enterprise Community Partners’ Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute, working to improve plans for affordable projects across the country. And as a lecturer in U.C. Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, he helps guide future generations of designers as they embark on similar work.

"One of the most innovative,
multi-dimensional green affordable housing projects in the country.”
—Home Depot Foundation Awards Advisory Committee

You can contact Daniel Simons, FAIA, here.