exterior of the fenix building, white and gray volumes

David Baker Architects’ La Fénix Masters the Art of Affordable Housing

Located above a BART station in San Francisco, the complex consists of 157 affordable apartments including 20 percent set aside for formerly homeless families.

In San Francisco, home of nefarious NIMBYs, multiyear environmental impact reviews, and a staggeringly complex building code, the completion of any building is a feat. But La Fénix at 1950—a new project by David Baker Architects located directly above a BART station and consisting of 157 affordable apartments (including 20 percent set aside for formerly homeless families)—feels like a miracle.

Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, just across the street from a highly contentious (and ultimately canceled) mixed-use project nicknamed the Monster in the Mission, La Fénix came to fruition not out of conflict but via community-based planning and design. From the start, the architects met frequently with a group of local artists. Project architect Caroline Souza notes that it was key to connect to the Mission’s vibrant arts community, which has been impacted severely by the neighborhood’s ever-rising property values. 

colorful interior and lobby
The building, displaying folding screens, etched panels, colorful tiles, and local artwork, reflects its creative neighborhood inside and out (top and above). The vibrant rooftop park (below) contains a community garden and playground.

“It’s the Mission—everything is colorful and active,” explains Souza. Work from local artists is on display throughout the project, and the building takes inspiration from its surroundings: Metal awnings, screens, and gates reference papel picado, a traditional Mexican cut-paper art form; Mexicali Rose–colored tile clads columns, walls, and stairways; and the firm has carved out the Paseo de Artistas, a midblock passage brought to life with murals, affordable artist studios, and a gallery space.

The site, says Souza, “shows how wonderful and community-building transit-oriented development can be when you don’t need to include parking. Instead, the ground floor can house a childcare center, a Laundro-mat, and community-serving retail spaces.”

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Solar water heating panels adorn one of the building’s rooftops; on the other is a park with native plantings, a community garden, and a playground for the building’s youngest residents, complete with jaw-dropping views of Twin Peaks and downtown. Named for the phoenix, a symbol of rebirth, the building is ultimately a sign of a community’s commitment to care for its neediest with the vitality and verve that characterize this singular neighborhood. 

aerial view of the rooftop garden and recreation area

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