Design Process: Potrero Hill Duplex

"Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context - a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan." -Eliel Saarinen
Rendering of the future Potrero Hill Duplex

Rendering of the future Potrero Hill Duplex

I love this quote from Eliel Saarinen because it succinctly describes what is essential to creating great design, and is something I constantly strive for in my work. To walk you through my design process for a building, here's the short story of our Potrero Hill Duplex. 

STEP 1: START WITH THE PEOPLE & NEEDS

When I began designing this project, I began with the interiors of each unit. Who are the families who will be living there and what are their needs? How should the spaces flow to enhance one's daily rituals? What combination of elements creates a well-crafted, comfortable home? What is the feeling we want to create in each room? From there, these considerations had to be married with the ideal interaction of the two units. How much privacy does each unit require? What spaces can be shared and should be shared to enhance neighborliness?

STEP 2: SHAPE THE INTERIOR

In short, these questions led to the design of a top-level penthouse with a roof deck, and a two-level family home with a deck and master suite opening to the yard. With both main entry doors on the second level, a reverse floor plan was designed for the family home with all bedrooms on the first floor. (I'll be sharing floor plans in a future post.)

STEP 3: SHAPE THE EXTERIOR (THEN GO BACK TO STEP 2, REPEAT)

The interior spaces then began shaping the exterior form of the building, creating a dialogue that not only had interior needs informing the exterior form, but also exterior needs informing the interior spaces. In San Francisco, there are strict residential guidelines to how a building must look on the exterior to retain the character of a street. To share a consistent language with our neighbors, we had to mimic the second floor entry ways and bay windows of the neighboring multi-units, even though the existing home has neither. This was not a linear process at all, but involved much back-and-forth, seeing how the interior decisions affected the exterior and vice versa. Dozens of configurations were tried to finally arrive at a harmonious interior and exterior composition that had minimal compromise to function and form.  

STEP 4: CONSIDER THE CONTEXT

The context is always considered from the beginning to provide the boundaries of what is possible. But it's especially relevant when designing the exterior and how it relates to the street. When deciding on the exterior building materials of corrugated steel and stucco, I drew upon the history of the neighborhood. Formerly a blue-collar and working class community next to the factories, warehouses, and shipyards in Dogpatch, Potrero Hill started attracting tech professionals in the 1990's. While mostly gentrified at this point, the character of the houses and buildings in Potrero Hill are incredibly diverse due to development occurring over many decades. Because corrugated steel is affordable and durable, it's often used for industrial and commercial buildings and is still commonly seen in the Dogpatch. The prevalence of stucco buildings in California is tied to the influence of Spanish Mission-style architecture, and it felt right to combine these two very different materials in a modern way given the diverse nature of the neighborhood. The contemporary design of the house is true to its place in time and the way people live today, while the exterior materials give a nod to its history.

STEP 5: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER 

Throughout the design process, these considerations push and pull at each other to create a singular solution that fits the needs of the client and context. It requires a lot of hard work to get there, but you know you've arrived when you stop asking yourself, "what if...?" The design is then, finally, where it needs to be.