There are two ways a neighborhood-scale project can go wrong. One is that everything looks the same and quickly turns stale. Another involves buildings that are arbitrarily different, resulting in a Disneyland feel: Here’s the classical building, there’s the colonial façade. Tassafaronga Village’s 157 affordable housing units get it right by providing complexity and diversity, within a unified whole.

David Baker + Partners Architects made it happen with varied massing and a muted palette, sprinkling bright accents and mix-and-match details across the project: a 60-unit apartment building, a 20-unit renovated pasta factory, and 77 townhouses. Built on a 7.5-acre former brownfield containing decrepit public housing, the new neighborhood was in need of something special. Its anchor is a three-story apartment building with vivid hues and voluptuous curves. Capping the double-height lobby is a vegetated rolling roof; inside, a wood ceiling does the wave. “It felt like there was no center to the neighborhood, so we wanted to create some space that felt exceptional,” says associate partner Daniel Simons.

The firm also finessed the more mundane challenge of parking—one space per unit—in a high-density project. More than half the spots are in parking spaces on new private streets, and the apartment building wraps an on-grade garage topped with a play courtyard. That eliminated all but one small surface lot.

One question: How can an affordable-housing project achieve LEED Neighborhood Development-Gold (the first in California) and LEED for Homes-Platinum certification on a $232-per-square-foot construction budget—and artistry too? “We try to pick a few spectacular things that are shared by residents, like the lobby and community room,” Simons says. The team knew the drill on LEED, in part because many measures related to energy and stormwater management are already regulated in California.

What green move provided the most bang for the buck? The solar hot water systems, which are relatively inexpensive and can handle up to 70 percent of the domestic load, resulting in a five- to seven-year payback. “Domestic hot water is probably the single largest aspect of energy consumption on a project like this,” Simons says. But, he adds, “The really important thing is that everyone is on board. We had a really great team of players who wanted to do something incredible.”

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