David Baker Architects

Architectural Design Strategies

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Article by David Baker
Street Logic

Main entrance to the g2 artists' live+work community.

With a highly refined aesthetic sense, and an ability to elevate common materials to sophisticated interpretation, we have articulated high design in gritty, urban areas. In a practice that began with design for urban infill buildings in the Telegraph Avenue area of Berkeley, our early projects became a reference point for renovation of that district, recognized and promoted by the local Design Review Board. Many of these cafes and commercial buildings utilize the previously discussed community design strategies such as contextual design and hierarchy of space. Working within limited budgets and common construction technology, we have developed a vocabulary of architectural design that elevates the everyday to the noteworthy.

Initially our practice was clearly divided between high-style commercial projects such as Cody's Cafe, Cafe Milano and the Bison Brew Pub, and conservative contextual affordable housing such as Holloway Terrace and Park View Commons. In recent years however, the two sides of his practice have merged, combining social concern and activism with a strengthened design character as evidenced in such projects as Manville Hall, Plaza Maria and g2.
The greatest reward has been the positive effect on the lives of affordable apartment dwellers, first-time home buyers, homeless people, and low-income artists, who are, in the end, our true clients.
Custom Detail
We are well known for the creativity and inventive design of affordable custom details. The effort that goes into designing and realizing these details is repaid by the sense of attention and care that they in turn bring to a project. For example, in multi-unit housing, custom designed light fixtures can frequently be manufactured at the same or lower cost as catalog fixtures. At the same time, they give a project a specific, unique "look".

Use of Materials
The choice and use of materials are another area where a clear concept of the nature of materials can greatly improve the quality and lifetime of a design. We find that materials such as integral color concrete and cement plaster has a tactile 'hand made' quality combined with a competitive initial dollar cost. From the point of view of the newly emerging sustainability concept of minimizing energy expended in the manufacturing process, they are also materials of choice. Finally, such materials provide durability and the ability to incorporate as patina the imperfections that come with wear and time.

Artist / Artisan Collaboration
Artists, furniture designers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, fabricators and industrial designers are among the artisans that we employ in our Bay Area projects. By collaborating directly with talented designer/fabricators we have given projects a textural depth, local resonance, and variety impossible to achieve by an architect working alone. This approach recognizes the input of others, and encourages future inhabitants to add creatively to the project as well.

Site Specific Orthogonal Systems
Urban sites typically have a primary orthogonal grid system, usually defined by the street grid, and secondary systems, resulting such as the alignment of pre- or inter-urban circulation routes. By incorporating these overlaid systems our buildings are directly informed by the site. At Manville Hall the interaction of two grid systems results in circulation that varies in width and breaks out to views of the exterior. The grid system interaction was extended to the elevations, generating modulated variations in the building which help to break down its overall mass.

Plaza Maria's cheeky tower made it an instant landmark in its San Jose neighborhood.

Sense of Place
The affordable communities we have designed share a strong sense of collective identity, a strong sense of place. The designs integrate with the community yet, through the use of inventive detail, color and form, also retain an identifiable character. This results in providing the residents a special place that is a discreet, definable community with a distinct relationship to the larger urban context. Rather than the stigmatization that results in some low-income housing projects, the buildings provide a positive social structure that gives people a community of which they can become a part, mitigating between the individual household and the city at large.

Long Term Success
Lavishing creativity and consideration, on the design of the human environment results in a link with future inhabitants. Sensing this attention, residents care for and contribute to what becomes their community. The results of this involvement are tangible, whether evidenced by the placing of geraniums on a balcony, the careful tending of a vegetable garden, or the prevention of a "tagger" from spray painting the walls, people in these communities have indicated an active concern for and ownership of this architecture. This engagement is our goal. The success of these designs is long term, involving the evolution of the community that goes much deeper than the visible design. The many awards over the years and continued recognition in regional, national, and international circles is an aside to the real success; for us, the greatest reward has been the positive effect on the lives of affordable apartment dwellers, first-time home buyers, homeless people, and low-income artists, who are, in the end, our true clients.