David Baker Architects


Design of Community

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Article by David Baker
Our projects become a part of the city, neither mimicking nor ignoring the existing context.
Social design strategies enhance the individuality, community, and urbanity of a project. Such strategies, addressing social and contextual issues, are the most critical elements for successful urban housing; yet, as conceptual approaches, cost nothing to implement. These strategies do, however, require tremendous community support and consensus, which must be built through extensive community outreach and contextual designs.

Community Input
Our design process involves eliciting lengthy, intimate, and frequently exasperating contributions from a project's immediate neighbors. This requires rigorous evaluation and balancing of broad-based concerns with the client's interests and objectives. Frequently this interaction improves the design, adding layers of complexity and richness. At Park View Commons community organizations participated in over two hundred meetings before holding the competition where we were selected as the architect. Their concerns resulted in the fine grained, residential scale of the final design. The neighbors of g2 were concerned about the gentrification of their diverse neighborhood. Ironically, their opposition to the project as a whole ensured the inclusion of the artists' affordable complex as part of the larger market rate development. Additionally, the neighbors asked that the appearance of the complex respond to the adjoining light industrial neighborhood, resulting in the industrial design vocabulary of the built form.

Park View Commons was developed and refined in cooperation with the community.

Hierarchy of Open Space
In our work we attempt to clearly define and balance the hierarchy of spaces, from private to public. Private interior spaces progress to semi-private spaces, such as porches, decks, and balconies, where people can participate in community life from a position of emotional security. Semi-public spaces, such as internal passages and courts, are provisionally open to the general public but psychologically owned by the residents. The Park View Commons residents have established a tradition of holding yearly block parties in such spaces. Semi-public space is the most important element in the development of a sense of community for the project, uniting the individual units into an aggregation that becomes a neighborhood. Finally, there is the public interface between the new project and the urban fabric that the design must reference and integrate with the existing city and its typology. Our projects become a part of the city, neither mimicking nor ignoring the existing context.

Manville Hall's podium courtyard serves as an outdoor space for students and reveals a geometric mosaic when viewed from above.

By bringing light and air into the center of a site, courtyards allow for increased density while remaining compatible with the height and bulk of the surrounding neighborhood. These various shared open spaces create a heart for each project, enhancing its potential for interactive community life. In addition, these internal outdoor spaces provide a quiet semi-public zone that mediates between the surrounding city and the residents' private spaces. At Plaza Maria in downtown San Jose, apartments and decks overlook a central courtyard that includes a sand play area and a lawn area large enough for volleyball. A garden mews planted with orange trees is contained by two story family townhouses above ground level senior units at the Meadow Court development. The courtyard at Manville Hall is placed above the garage level and landscaped with colored concrete and large boulders. It is designed for use as a common outdoor space for the students, its geometric colored garden to be viewed from the rooms above. The central gallery space at the g2 artists' live+work complex functions as an interior focus for the surrounding lofts, open onto the space at two levels. To the artist client group, this concept was a physical representation of a toroid, a three-dimensional mobius strip, that recycles and focuses the collective energies of the residents in the central common space.

Contextual Design
We recognize that a successful new design must be woven into the urban fabric in such a way as to reinforce the city instead of rending and fragmenting it. In contextual design, scale, bulk, proportion and modulation are much more significant values than style in merging with the existing context. While doubling the density at Holloway Terrace, the scale and rhythm of the surrounding neighborhood, as well as materials, details, and colors, were respected. To be compatible with the scale and proportion of the neighboring buildings the bulk of Manville Hall was divided by a slot, containing a grand stair leading to the courtyard. With housing above, and high ceilinged, pedestrian oriented retail space on the first floor, it preserves the downtown street edge and maintains the surrounding urban fabric. Plaza Maria responds to the four-story scale of the adjacent Catholic high school on one end of the site, but is reduced to two-story, small scale structures on the other street elevation to integrate with the adjacent single family neighborhood.
Individualizing Design Elements
Our design strategy strengthens the sense of individuality in large-scale projects. Providing each unit with a front door at street level and individual garages, as used in Park View Commons and Holloway Terrace, strengthens the sense of individual ownership. Vignette-sized windows at Meadow Court offer the opportunity for displays of personal artifacts. Allowing for the expression of individual character and the sense of ownership helps our projects to not become typical non-descript multifamily "units".