901 Fairfax is located on a hillside above the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in one of San Francisco’s most rapidly changing and historically under-served neighborhoods. The development is the second of four phases at Hunters View and was funded by the HOPE SF project, a $2 billion initiative to create more than 4,600 new homes in southeast San Francisco. This ambitious project continues the restoration of the Hunters View neighborhood, remediating decrepit and outdated housing as part of a larger master plan. Facing additional challenges of steep topography and an unsafe neighborhood pattern, the project provides welcoming spaces that celebrate the steep terrain, opportunities to interact with the outdoors and with fellow neighbors, as well as respite from busy urban life. Lush and waterwise planting, custom site furniture, and local materials elevate the landscapes of this new social heart for San Francisco’s Hunters View.
The design team undertook extensive community outreach efforts to gain the trust of the local community. Early meetings with long-time Hunters View residents focused on identifying the residents’ hopes for the project while addressing their concerns. A critical centerpiece of the rebuilt neighborhood, these two blocks contain 72 affordable homes, a community center, and a childcare facility, with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. The design team worked with limited resources to deliver a welcoming entry plaza, playground, community center courtyard, and podium courtyard. The design focused on creating connections to the site and community with a hillside restoration of drought tolerant planting and innovative sightline connections across multiple levels. Open pedestrian bridges connect floors of housing and glass doors open onto the community courtyard.
During the community process, the team identified key issues which were common to most residents, including the desire for community connection and the need for improved security. The plazas and courtyards are designed to be secure with all areas being visible—either from the street or from the nearby residences. The entry plaza serves as a fulcrum between the two disparate programs within the buildings, the community center and childcare facility. The guitar pick shaped bench is the sculptural center of this space, encircling a grouping of birch trees.
In order to carve spaces out of the steep topography, a 20’+ site retaining wall was positioned at the back of the site, slicing through the adjacent childcare and community center courtyards at an angle which slopes with the grade. To address the residents’ concerns about safety, outdoor play areas were created within the housing block. Proximity to these spaces also creates community and helps residents become caretakers of their own environment. The sinuous, guitar pick shape is echoed in the sand boxes and play surfacing for the childcare playground that sits at the heart of the project. The wall becomes both a drawing board and a climbing surface, with playful climbing holds inserted into the wall. Sandboxes and a water play area provide additional opportunity for play.
To address the residents’ need for connection, the design team focused on creating welcoming spaces that foster interaction with neighbors and are easily accessed by all members of the community. In the community center courtyard, the design team created a flexible space, where the doors to the multi-purpose room open wide and furniture can be moved outdoors for large gatherings. The steel freestanding stair, which leads to the podium courtyard, doubles as a stage for speakers or small performances.
As you climb the stair to the podium, the experience changes from the cool shade of sunken courtyards, to a sunny, vibrant hillside garden. The planting is a mix of native species that tolerate the serpentine hillside, mixed with other drought tolerant and resilient species. Salvaged historic San Francisco granite curbs serving as low walls and casual seating further link this project to its site.
The most striking feature of the design is a central oculus lightwell that brings sunlight down to the wellness center on the first floor. Early in the design process, the landscape architects proposed that the architects incorporate the same guitar pick shape into the shape for the lightwell. The resulting form is a collaboration that sets up a dialogue between the interior and the exterior spaces. Depending on the time of day, the courtyard is used in a variety of ways: from kids riding their bikes around the oculus and playing on the hillside, to residents enjoying solitary moments in the garden. Says one relocated resident, who shares a three-bedroom apartment with her family, “We are just across the street, but it’s totally different. It’s so relaxing, so peaceful. It’s not so stressful.”
Name of the project: 901 Fairfax Hunters View
Project category: Residential Housing
Role of the entrant in the project: Landscape Architect
Other designers involved in the design of landscape (if any):
Architects: David Baker Architects and Paulett Taggart Architects
Civil Engineer: Carlile Macy
Structural Engineer: KPFF
Irrigation Design: RMA Irrigation
Lighting Design: HLB Lighting
Project location: San Francisco, California
Design year: 2014-2016
Year Built: 2017