Sansome and Broadway

San Francisco, California

In the middle of the last century, a new network of elevated highways slashed through San Francisco’s delicate historic neighborhoods. The most harmful of those was the Embarcadero Freeway, which careened along the city’s waterfront before landing gracelessly in the beloved North Beach.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Embarcadero was demolished— reconnecting the city to the water and opening new areas for development. Sansome and Broadway, a four-building project with 156 affordable residences on opposite sides of an urban thoroughfare, completes the neighborhood’s rebirth.

Sansome and Broadway San Francisco Skyline
Sansome and Broadway is within walking distance of downtown San Francisco. Source: Tim Griffith.

“They are timeless, graceful buildings that provide low-income residents, many of whom came from very unstable living conditions, with stable and beautiful homes in the heart of the city,” says Kim Piechota, Development Manager, Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC).

The project incorporates first-floor shops, community rooms, administrative and social services, neighborhood child-care, internal courtyards, and a roof deck to make life more comfortable for low-income residents.

Sansome and Broadway San Francisco deck
The interior courtyard within Sansome and Broadway. Source: Tim Griffith.

Many urban poor suffer not only from economic hardship but also isolation and the stigma of squalid housing—Sansome and Broadway offers a pride of place. “It is a most wonderful example of good design applied to housing for people of modest means—demonstrating that thoughtful, not necessarily expensive, design, can uplift people’s everyday lives,” says the former chair of the CCDC.

Sansome and Broadway inserts affordable residences, with flair, into an area dominated by office, converted warehouse, and industrial buildings. The buildings are clearly places to live, but they are similar in massing to nearby commercial structures. The well-detailed, budget-constrained buildings are contemporary—yet they fit comfortably with the San Francisco vernacular style and geography.

Sansome and Broadway San Francisco both buildings
Another perspective on the Sansome and Broadway project. Source: Bruce Damonte.

Neighbors at first reacted negatively to affordable housing, but they wound up welcoming the development. This project began facing hostile neighborhood groups “and ended as a complete love-fest with neighbors, public officials, tenants, and project sponsors celebrating the opening of Phase II with the Mayor and Chinese lion-dancers,” according to Mithun | Solomon, the designers.

Top photo: The Sansome and Broadway project. Source: Bruce Damonte.

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