Jonathan Segal has some ideas for ending housing crisis in one corner of California.

The lauded FAIA architect is a do-it-all developer/investor/owner/general contractor/property manager. One recent project showcases how defying conventional wisdom can help ease affordability constraints in housing markets such as San Diego. Segal’s self-described “demonstration project” is called The Continental, an eight-story, 27,000-square-foot community of 42 studio apartments that average 380-square-feet plus glass-walled balcony/patio.

Why demonstration? Because there was nothing like it in San Diego. The property is a test of amenities … or better, lack of them. Parking? Barely, just a couple spots. Dog park? No. Community room? No. Pool? No. Fitness center? No. Staffed front desk? No. The Continental travels light. Segal has little interest in the category’s “can you top this?” amenity wars.

Workforce Housing Solution

“The Continental was created because downtown housing is so expensive. We provide urban workforce housing,” Segal explains.

To that end, The Continental’s signature amenity is comparatively low rent: about 35% below competing properties. It’s a good deal in a killer location (walkability score: 98).

Segal develops his properties with a build-and-hold approach, self-performing management and maintenance. Consequently, he designs and builds his properties with an eye on low-cost upkeep and no structural surprises. Only one building system fits his requirements for maintaining below-market rents.

“The building is made out of concrete, so the maintenance is next to nothing,” Segal says. “I’m not painting it. I’m not staining it. I’m not doing any redos.”

Beautiful Material

Segal’s last six projects have been exclusively concrete. “It’s such a beautiful material. It’s plastic adds texture, and performs design gymnastics wood or steel can’t match,” he says. “It’s like a 1956 Maserati I own. Over the years the original finish has evolved into a gorgeous patina that can’t be duplicated.

“Concrete is like that. It looks better over time.”

As an owner/operator, Segal is serious about resilience. Concrete scores big there, too. “Post-tensioned concrete lightens the structure, important in this seismic zone. Lightness helps with lateral stability and the foundations,” he says.

24-Story Encore

What does Segal have in mind for his next project? It’s right next door to The Continental. You might call it the architect/developer’s magnum opus: the Air Rights Tower.

The 24-story, 73-unit pencil tower is described as an ultra-high-density housing on a 50x100-foot infill parcel. “We’re doing it on a non-buildable lot,” Segal says of the parcel framed on three sides by existing structures. Like The Continental, the Air Rights Tower is being built with post-tensioned concrete.

“It’s an experiment. No one has done it. We’re giving away eight units to San Diego for affordable housing. It’s a good deal for everyone,” Segal says. “Each project we do is sort of an experiment of what we think is pertinent to the time and what’s at issue.”

For a country grappling with a housing crisis, innovators such as Jonathan Segal are helping point the way forward.

Learn more about how building with concrete is sustainable, resilient, and right for the times.