Station Center

Union City, California

Union City is one of the farthest-flung BART stops in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one of the least developed. As part of a regional effort to focus transit-oriented development around transit stations, the city developed an ambitious plan to build a research development campus, market-rate housing, offices and live-work spaces around BART. With the housing crash of 2008, the developer and the City trimmed their efforts and focused on building an affordable housing project for families as a catalyst. David Baker Architects took that assignment and ran with it, designing a remarkable building that succeeds on virtually all levels.

“This 157-unit housing block simply has it all,” said Jeff Speck. “TOD, affordability, great public spaces indoors and out, LEED Platinum, hidden parking, community gardens, social services, recreation, and public art, all wrapped up in a lively, contemporary package. This is an exemplary way to grow density around rail.”

Station Center Union City walkway
The development uses various architectural elements. Source: Bruce Damonte.

The project remediates a brownfield sandwiched between existing commuter and freight lines. The residential buildings frame a public playground and overlook a new landscaped plaza. The main entry court features a towering entry portal adorned by a 62-foot community-sourced mural.

Along the arterial thoroughfare, the south elevation is lined with a double-height retail arcade. At the rear, a neighborhood-serving parking garage buffers the homes from the sounds of the adjacent rail lines and provides parking for the retail and commuter needs. The flexible common room opens entirely to the courtyard, creating a large indoor-outdoor gathering space that is the heart of the development. The courtyard features allotment gardens for residents and a play area populated by whimsical concrete gorillas.

Station Center Union City gorillas
The development installed adorable cement gorillas for the children living there. Source: Bruce Damonte.

The development aims to become a model for sustainable affordable housing and smart growth development as well as the catalyst for a brand-new City Center.

Elements of the design troubled some jurors, but the tremendous merit of the project was undeniable. “This is a masterful example of how a contemporary architectural design solution can celebrate new urbanist thinking and create a distinctive livable environment,” commented Will Bruder. “It is a mastery of proportion and scale, materials and detail.”

Top photo: The development is covered in public artwork. Source: Bruce Damonte.

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