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This sliver of land upon which 236 affordable homes are now situated could easily have been the poster child for unwanted lots. Wedged between the CalTrain commuter rail tracks and an elevated freeway, the parcel was noisy, odd-shaped, and required serious brownfield remediation.

Crescent Cove offers proof that no land is unsalvageable. Architects David Baker and Peter MacKenzie started by sketching out an arc of stacked townhomes against the curve of the train tracks, allowing the building mass itself (with sound dampening rear walls) to serve as an acoustic buffer. A local artist is already vying to use the convex side, which has no windows, as a giant canvas for a city mural.

The rest of the neighborhood is a work of art in its own right. A four-story anchor building with a double-height glass lobby establishes a straight edge along the street and then sprouts four perpendicular appendages to the rear. “The site isn’t a rectangle, so we came up with the idea of buildings in the shape of a hand,” Baker says. “The fingers extend out into the landscaped area to form courtyards.”

Façades are activated with bright colors, rhythmic bays and recesses, clever window groupings, patios, and decks. Further texture comes by way of aluminum panels and Hardiplank siding in varying widths. And then there’s the artists’ signature: a custom Douglas fir entry door painted fire-engine red. “We have a guy in Oakland who builds those for us,” says MacKenzie. “We have the same door on our offices.”

CATEGORY: Affordable housing
ENTRANT/ARCHITECT: David Baker + Partners, Architects, San Francisco
BUILDER: Nibbi Brothers, San Francisco
DEVELOPER: The Related Cos. of California, Irvine, Calif.
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Andrea Cochran Landscape Architects, San Francisco

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