Berkeley sprouts creative housing, topped by a working farm
By John King
San Francisco Chronicle
24 December 2016
Photos courtesy San Francisco Chronicle
The unexpected twist in the new housing complex being built on Berkeley’s south side isn’t just its rooftop farm: It’s that the fields of edible greens rest above 18 freestanding structures, vertical pods that hold 77 apartments in all.
The boxy collage of buildings called Garden Village was designed by College of Environmental Design Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Spring 2015 Esherick Professor of Practice Stanley Saitowitz. They promote pedestrian-friendly planning with an underlying concept tied to aesthetics and physical settings.
“Berkeley is a place of detached buildings,” said Saitowitz, who lives and works in San Francisco but taught at CED for more than 30 years. “I wanted to explore how to add density within that tradition.”
Construction methods also shaped the design: Developer Nautilus Group, which also served as architect of record, used prefabricated components throughout the complex. That way, portions of the apartments could be manufactured elsewhere and then assembled on-site.
Saitowitz and his firm, Natoma Architects, responded with a system of two large modules — one containing two small individual bedrooms and a shared bathroom, the other holding the living, dining and kitchen areas. Two snapped together become two-bedroom apartments; bedroom modules on either side of the communal section become four-bedroom suites.
The “village” consists of 18 buildings of three to five stories, with each floor holding a separate apartment. The pod-like stacks are connected by steel bridges with open grillage below. Where the bridges serve as walkways, the square buildings are five feet apart; where there’s a ground-level landscape and fresh air up above, the width is as much as 15 feet, with protruding window frames for added privacy.
Every other pod is clad in a dark red cement board, Saitowitz’s “homage to Berkeley brown-shingle homes,” which also add a contrast to the white pods in between. But the open-air corridors and multistory sight lines make the interior of the grid surprisingly cozy, with a collegial feel that’s much more inviting than the standard apartment block. This is no mean feat given that the 77 apartments together contain 236 beds. And the word “collegial” is appropriate, because UC Berkeley signed a master lease with the developer and will operate it as part of the university’s student housing system.
Two of the interior pods stop at three levels and are topped by communal terraces that get use throughout the day when studies and weather allow. One more level up, one encounters a contrast of panoramic views and dissected farms where one can snip off a sprig of parsley from the urban garden.
As suburbs and cities add housing to their central districts, Garden Village’s design shows the potential for experimentation in functional design. Saitowitz’s layout, which traces back to California’s love of outdoor living, still folds in experimental elements like stacked modular construction and rooftop farming.