THE FLOOR PLANS OF MOST mid- and high-rise buildings have inherent inequalities. Inevitably, buyers of prime units—i.e., those on the upper levels or those facing the water or park—get the cushy spots, while everyone else settles for what's left. With the waterfront-located 255 Berry Street project, McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners found a commendable solution that attempts to equalize this imbalance.

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“We created a U-shaped building so that more units will have [visual] access to Mission Bay,” says partner Ernesto Vasquez. Instead of a typical box, the architects combined two kinds of traditional San Francisco housing types in one building: townhomes with ground-floor entry stoops on the outer perimeter, and upper-level flats that offer penthouse-style living on every floor. The two-story townhomes at ground level mask a two-level interior parking structure, while the luxury flats are organized around a garden on the roof of the garage. The resulting configuration is also much more architecturally interesting.

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Despite its urban location, Berry Street offers a fair number of common spaces in addition to the courtyard areas above the garage. “It has outdoor amenities around all three sides,” Vasquez says. The site abuts a public park, fronts a boardwalk that anchors the lobby entrances, and there is a small mews nearby.

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The units range in size from 875 to 2,575 square feet and are targeted at the luxury buyer, with single-level flats appealing particularly to empty-nesters, Vasquez explains. The two-bedroom townhomes are popular with single professionals and couples. All units feature open floor plans that facilitate entertaining and clean, contemporary kitchens with an attractive built-in look, Vasquez says.

Category: Condominiums—for sale; Entrant/Architect: McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners, Irvine, Calif.; Builder: Devcon Construction, Milpitas, Calif.; Developer: Signature Properties, Pleasanton, Calif.; Landscape architect: Cliff Lowe and Associates, San Francisco; Interior designer: Laurie Ghielmetti Interiors, Pleasanton

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SURE FOOTINGS California may have a temperate climate envied by other parts of the country, but the threat of earthquakes hovers over all aspects of daily life, including construction. This was the case for 255 Berry Street. “The building is built over Bay area mud,” says architect Ernesto Vasquez, “which forced us to construct over pilings placed at 130- to 140-foot depths.” In addition to the foundation, the architects constructed the entire building with concrete, which made the project expensive. “Fortunately, this is a desirable market, so [the project] was able to absorb the high construction cost.”

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Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA.