David Baker Architects


Environments for Life

See all Press
by John Caulifield
Builder Magazine
October 6, 2008

Image: Max Whiitaker

Google the phrase "Hall of Fame," and you’ll get back just under 60 million results. The most familiar ones are for sports and music, but there are also halls of fame for famous robots, inventors (did you know George Washington Carver invented 325 ways to enjoy the peanut?), clowns, quilters, Armenians, zydeco, dinosaurs (largest: Argentinosaurus hinculensis), and even readers.

This pantheon also includes myriad halls that recognize the lifetime achievements of the elite within the housing and development industries. Builder’s annual Wm. S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design ­Excellence is one of these, and this year’s inductees can only add to its prestige by their selection.

“We’ve been very fortunate and have won 110, 120 design awards,” notes Stephen Muse of Muse Architects. “But the ones that matter most to me are those that honor the body of our work.” Muse and this year’s other inductees, David Baker of David Baker + Partners Architects and Alan J. Green of The Green Co., share a common goal: to create homes and communities that are designed to enhance their surrounding environment and, at the same time, fulfill the needs of residents beyond their expectations.

Their excellence manifests itself in results that celebrate the connection between form and function.
"This year's inductees...share a common goal: to create homes and communities that are designed to enhance their surrounding environment and, at the same time, fulfill the needs of residents beyond their expectations.
Click here for full article.

Northside Community Center at night

David Baker was born in a passive solar house in Tucson, Ariz., that his father designed. In the ’70s and ’80s he ran a solar consulting firm. So it follows that his architectural firm has been injecting sunlight into residential and commercial design whenever it can. “It’s part of our philosophy to expose space to daylight wherever a resident might be standing,” Baker explains. “It’s a more humane approach.”

Since its founding in 1982, David Baker + Partners has burnished its reputation as a socially conscious design firm specializing in nonprofit affordable housing. A distinguishing characteristic of its designs, says Baker, is how they strive to incorporate the details of higher-priced homes without busting the projects’ budgets. And in San Francisco, where development can sometimes be confrontational, it doesn’t hurt builders to hire a design firm whose work is recognized and respected by neighborhood groups, “which makes the approval process go smoother,” says Baker.

One of Baker’s signature achievements, for which he won a Builder’s Choice Project of the Year award in 2004, is Northside Community Center + Mabuhay Court in San Jose, Calif.’s historic Japan Town area. This project combines 96 low-income, ­senior-citizen rental units with a new 16,000-square-foot community center. Collaborating with the city, the project’s developer BRIDGE Housing, and a seniors community organization, Baker created a larger footprint by expanding the housing site into the air rights over an addition to the existing seniors center. That move made the project more economical to build.

The 96 apartments rented for $300 to $750 per month and are distinguished by each having a private entrance. Other flourishes marking this project include its use of color and natural materials, its attention to energy efficiency, and its access to courtyards for social interaction by residents.

Currently, Baker’s firm is diversifying into whole neighborhood design such as the 7.5-acre Tassafaronga in Oakland, Calif. Anchored by a public plaza, each of Tassafaronga’s three housing areas will have a semi-private shared space. Twenty-two of its 191 affordable homes will be built by Habitat for Humanity, and the project is pursuing Platinum certification from LEED for Homes.