Northeast Corner of Sixth and Howard Streets San Francisco California

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The Plaza Apartments exemplify how to create a humane, healthy, noninstitutional environment for extremely low-income residents. A colorful, urban high-rise building, this newly constructed project provides studio apartment housing and on-site supportive services for formerly homeless residents. Each of the building's 106 residential units includes a full bathroom and kitchenette and averages approximately 300 square feet. This mixed-use building also includes ground-floor retail (approximately 2,200 square feet) anchoring the corner of Howard and Sixth Streets, a 99-seat community theater (still to be built out), and community spaces comprising a kitchen, a courtyard, and laundry facilities. Located in San Francisco's South of Market area, the project is part of broader efforts to revitalize its gritty Sixth Street neighborhood.

In 2005, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to adopt green building principles for all new affordable housing projects. The Plaza Apartments are San Francisco's first "Green Communities" project, built to the standards of Enterprise's Green Communities criteria. In 2002, the Public Initiatives Development Corporation (PIDC) was created as a nonprofit subsidiary of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) to develop affordable housing and, specifically, this project. The Plaza Apartments were chosen to serve as a model in creating sustainable design for other developers to follow. The project was done in partnership with several other entities. Global Green USA acted as a catalyst, facilitating a green building charrette1 that clarified the team's green building goals. The Enterprise Green Communities Initiative provided technical assistance and grant funds later in the development process. The city of San Francisco's Department of the Environment provided information on topics such as renewable energy and manufacturers of sustainable flooring.

Project goals included providing a noninstitutional, comfortable, and healthy environment for a population with disabilities and challenged immune systems, lowering operating costs through energy and resource efficiency, and using durable and easily maintained materials and equipment.

The Plaza Apartments are one of eight recipients of the American Institute of Architects' 2006 Show You're Green

This new, urban high-rise building has added color and character to its surrounding San Francisco locale.

© Tim Griffith Photography.

This new, urban high-rise building has added color and character to its surrounding San Francisco locale.

© Tim Griffith Photography.


Construction Cost: Total Project Cost: Construction Cost/Unit: Completion Date:

Project Team Owner/Developer:



Engineer: Electrical Engineer: Civil Engineer: Structural Engineer: Landscape Architect:

General Contractor: Construction Manager:

Green Building Consultant:

Commissioning Engineers:

One 65,000 sq ft building (9 stories plus basement) with 106 residential units, ground-floor retail, support services, and community theater; replaced a 2-story, 38-unit single-room-occupancy building with ground-floor retail and theater $16.5 million; $255/sq ft $22.8 million $150,000 December 2005

Public Initiatives Development Corporation (PIDC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and Paulett Taggart Architects, in association

C&B Consulting Engineers POLA, C&B Consulting Engineers Telamon Engineering Consultants OLMM Consulting Engineers Gary Leonard Strang Landscape/Architecture Nibbi Brothers

Armando Vasquez Architecture and Construction Global Green USA: charrette, LEED documentation/ coordination done in-house LMS Architects, Timmons Design Associates

Awards, presented to projects that provide "outstanding housing that is both affordable and green." The project is also on track for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating.


The program for the project was to redevelop a dilapidated single-room-occupancy building with 38 inferior 100-square-foot units and only 1.5 bathrooms for the building as a whole, no kitchen, and no open or common spaces. The project team wanted to deconstruct the existing building and recycle construction waste, setting a goal of diverting at least 75 percent of construction waste from landfills. The team surpassed this goal with a diversion rate of 94 percent. Another crucial goal was to provide a healthy and comfortable indoor environment for tenants that was aesthetically attractive and avoided an institutional feeling. The team also wanted to provide building systems and materials that would be efficient to operate, durable, and easy to maintain over the long term.

Healthy Indoor Environment: Among the most unique aspects of this project are the synergies between the needs of the target population—formerly homeless individuals—and sustainable design. This is one of the first green projects to be built for such low-income residents, many of whom suffer from addictions, mental health problems, physical disabilities, and challenged immune systems from years of living on the street. The healthy features of this building go beyond improved indoor air quality and energy efficiency and address less tangible human needs by providing plenty of natural light and ventilation, attractive views, and a warm, noninstitutional feeling.

Good indoor air quality is critical in such a building because many residents are frail or have complicated medical and psychological problems. Offgassing materials were avoided wherever possible when specifying cabinetry, paints, carpet, and other finishes.

Design That Reinforces the Green Goals: The building was designed to bring plenty of daylight into all residential spaces and corridors, as well as to most public and support spaces. Standard double-loaded corridors are avoided through a pinwheel floor plan that offers windows and views from all vantage points in the short corridors, allowing residents to orient themselves to the outside cityscape.2 All units have windows that provide plenty of

A storefront design provides ample daylight.

© Tim Griffith Photography.

light and views, including floor-to-ceiling "aluminum storefront" windows that have smaller, operable windows embedded within them. Each unit has ample glazing opposite its entry door, which reflects light off the walls and brings it back to the kitchen area.

The building's entire concrete structure is exposed, and is used as part of the finish on both exterior and interior, reducing the need and associated cost for other materials. The building façade features Parklex panels, which consist of a core made of recycled kraft paper core infused with nontoxic resin, and a hardwood veneer that is durable and weather-resistant. Parklex wood veneers are from sustain-ably harvested forests, and are certified by the Pan-European Forest Certification Organization [PEFC]. Although Parklex has been used widely in Europe for the past decade, it is just beginning to be used in various applications in the United States.

Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency provides clear, direct benefits to affordable housing projects, as energy cost savings increase the budgets of the owners or residents who pay utility bills. As PIDC project manager Erin Carson notes, "Affordable housing is so difficult to manage on a shoestring budget that if you can control energy costs, you have done a lot. Most strategies are easily replicable, and you can do fairly simple things to improve energy efficiency without a lot of cost." The exterior design includes a rain-screen, which is a second skin that involves an exterior wall with an exterior layer of insulation, then an air gap, and then the exterior cladding (Parklex). This combination creates air flow in the cavity, which equalizes pressure and temperature, helping with interior heat gain.3 The rainscreen also helps prevent moisture from entering the building.

The heating system is comprised of a hydronic hot-water system with central boilers, eliminating inefficient electric baseboard heating and providing more even, energy-efficient heat for tenants. The building relies on natural ventilation, supported by a small air-handling unit on the roof that blows in air on each floor near the elevators. This mainly passive system saves energy and also creates better indoor air quality.

Operations, Maintenance, and Durability: All flooring materials were chosen for their durable qualities, as well as for being resource-efficient and/or low emitting. Hallways of the buildings feature carpet tiles, which can be selectively replaced as needed. Originally, the architects also included carpet tiles in the individual units because the project manager was adamant about including carpet in the living spaces to strengthen the noninstitutional feeling. However, the property management team predicted the need to replace an entire unit's carpet whenever there is tenant turnover, which meant that replacing carpet tile would be much more expensive than replacing conventional broadloom carpet. Thus, lower-grade carpeting was installed, and ample sums for carpet replacement were allocated to the operations budget.

To assist with waste separation, recycling collection areas are located on each residential floor, and tenants are provided with trash and recycling receptacles in their units. Enterprise Community Partners commissioned the development of green maintenance manuals for the Plaza Apartments' tenants and property management staff. These



• Transit-oriented development proximate to bus and regional rail. Increased density by redeveloping underutilized urban site

• Neighborhood appearance improved through creative design utilizing colorful façade with numerous windows

• Impact to city stormwater system minimized by water filtration directly to soil for entire courtyard and east façade runoff through deck areas


• 1.5 gpm low-flow showerheads and 1.6 gpm low-flow toilets

• Irrigation control system with drip irrigation combined with bubblers


• Exceeds California Title 24 Energy Code by 22.2%.

• Tight building envelope includes a rainscreen with additional continuous rigid insulation to minimize heat gain and loss

• 26 kW photovoltaic system on roof provides approximately 12% of electrical design house electrical loads

• Hydronic heat used (95% efficiency central boiler with radiant heating in units)

ENERGY STAR® appliances

• Insulated windows with lightly tinted glass to minimize heat gain

• Insulation with increased R-value on exterior walls and roof.

• Efficient light fixtures

• Lighting controls and occupancy sensors installed in public spaces

Materials and Resources

• 94% diversion of demolition and construction waste

• Concrete structure used as part of exterior and interior finish, reducing amount of additional finish materials required.

• Fly ash used in concrete as replacement for 50% in foundation and 20% on suspended slabs

• Steel framing and rebar minimum 20% recycled

• Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products used for concrete formwork and other temporary construction elements

• Fiberglass rigid insulation with 35% recycled content from glass bottles

• Expanded polystyrene board roof insulation with 30% postindustrial recycled content

• Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label carpeting with minimum 45% recycled content, 100% recyclable

• Sustainable flooring includes recycled-rubber flooring in residential bathrooms and laundry room, bamboo in common areas, and linoleum in kitchenettes

Health and Comfort

• No-/low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, adhesives, and sealants

• Low-emitting CRI Green Label-compliant carpet (tiles and broadloom material)

• Formaldehyde-free wheatboard cabinetry

• Direct daylighting and views in all units and corridors

• Operable windows in units and most public areas

• Individually controlled airflow, temperature, and lighting

Durability and Ease of Maintenance

• Durable slate tile flooring used in elevator lobbies and ground-floor main entry path

• Green maintenance manuals provided for residents and building management

• Carpet tiles in hallways can be selectively replaced

• Linoleum flooring used in kitchenettes (lasts up to 3 times longer than vinyl flooring)

• Exterior façade comprised of Parklex, a durable and easily maintained material manuals are meant to serve as models for other San Francisco/Enterprise Green Communities affordable housing developments. The building owner is also developing a "green rider" to the retail space lease, which stipulates that retail tenant improvements and maintenance meet sustainable criteria consistent with the rest of the building.

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