EVERY NOW AND THEN, constraints can work in a project's favor. At Italian Gardens, a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments, an irregular site led the architects to design a blend of buildings that unfold in an “episodic manner,” with central courtyards acting as both a children's play space and a pedestrian route to the nearby light-rail station.

The budget dictated that simple materials such as Hardiplank siding and composite shingles be used. “That's all that we could afford, but we took the opportunity to vary the styles of siding, using some as vertical elements and others as horizontal,” says the project's architect, Alexander Seidel. “Those pieces and parts all cost the same, but how you deploy those various textures comes through in the design. We followed up with color to reinforce the same message.”

Massing also played a key role. “We looked for ways to delete a few bedrooms on the top floor so that you get an up-and-down profile of the building,” says Seidel. “A lot of times, buildings of this ilk will just be a three-story, straight-across building of whatever length. That's a difficult design problem to solve, and we tried to attack [it] right at the massing level.”

CATEGORY: Apartments (rental); ENTRANT/ARCHITECT/LAND PLANNER: Seidel/Holzman, San Francisco; BUILDER: Branagh, Oakland, Calif.; DEVELOPER: Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, Redwood City, Calif.; LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: The Guzzardo Partnership, San Francisco

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