Zack de Vito Architecture enjoys the freedom, control, and sometimes repercussions of its develop/design/build model. Before completing this infill project, for example, the firm purchased a typical lot of 25x100 in 2006, which included a cottage in the rear yard. Architect Jim Zack recognized that the existing placement would allow for two units and designed a detached duplex with the required yard space in between. Zack got permits in 2008, just before the housing crash. “My partner lived in the little cottage for three years,” he says, “until recession was over and we could afford to build.”

The wait was worth it. Both houses sold for 25 percent more than asking price. Our jury lauded the “consistently detailed, tailored, efficiently packed, and luminous” design.

“As the developer, we could be intentionally provocative,” Zack explains. “We wanted to do something that stands out but that’s also appropriate for its time.” The same material palette of stucco and painted wood was applied to both buildings with the addition of Cor-Ten to the front unit. “We had this idea of a metal skin and a modular look using careful massing, scale, and proportion,” Zack says. “We wear multiple hats,” he adds, “so we have to be concerned about everything, but the architect hat is the biggest one and sometimes we get into trouble if we over design. In this market design has value, however, and we can get away with it.”

On Site This project squeezes two 1,450-square-foot houses on a single 25x100-foot lot. Having done other development in the city, Zack knows local zoning codes well, plus planning boards are fairly liberal in allowing high density.

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