Rooted in studies of thriving European streets, the Santana Row project successfully integrates trendy lofts and townhouses into a busy commercial setting--while preserving a good quality of life for residents.

"We were selected to do four of the eight parcels in phase one of construction," notes Paula Krugmeier, architect with BAR Architects in San Francisco. "The first unit included two levels of lofts over retail space. Another included 21 luxury townhouses over two levels of retail, then finally a building with retail on the ground floor and commercial spaces on the second and third floor."

As the architect for Federal Realty Investment Trust, the firm that purchased the land, Krugmeier and her firm set out to create living spaces evoking turn-of-the-century millhouses. But they also mixed detail styles within buildings to avoid any single plan becoming too ubiquitous. In the 420-foot-long expanse of parcel 4 single-story lofts range from 700 square feet to 1,185 square feet, in three distinct design zones, each with changes in architectural details such as the proportion of windows, trim selections, and cornices.

On the other hand, all of the units share key features: the abundant use of windows and high ceilings. Another interesting (and cost-saving) choice of the architects: leaving the concrete floors above retail spaces unfinished.

"We left it with all of the irregularities," notes Krugmeier, "and just sealed it." That choice fit in with other industrial themes in the buildings, including stainless steel appliances, exposed steel stringers for stairs, and exposed steel tubing in some third-floor units (needed to meet the seismic code).

For the sexy exterior details on the buildings, Federal Realty brought in a well-known Seattle firm called Maestri Design. The company is known for its thoughtful use of local history and culture as a design reference. The central "tube figure" on the project represents Lee DeForest, a local character who invented the vacuum tube. On one of BAR's buildings, Maestri added an ironwork "garlic garland" as a nod to the nearby town of Gilroy, which calls itself the garlic capital of the world.

Another intriguing aspect of Santana Row: It comes at a time when the Silicon Valley area is in deep recession--making a slow climb up from the dot-com debacle of years past.

"The city of San Jose is very forward thinking about urban infill," notes Krugmeier. "They have a growth boundary, and they really want to make the urban fabric more dense."

Doug Dun/BAR Architects

To make that happen, she says, they use techniques such as allowing for taller buildings in the center of a new development, which allows for lower densities (read: single-family homes) on the residential fringe. "It's about good leadership," Krugmeier notes, and does not necessarily reflect what the general public might prefer.

Demand for Santana Row apartments has been booming. With nightlife to offer, including about 11 new restaurants, even the 3,400-square-foot, corner turret apartments in parcel 6 rented easily, at more than $12,000 per month. And to the surprise of the architect, apartments with a view of the street now outprice those looking into the countryside on the other side of the building.

Category: Mixed-use community; Entrant/Architect: BAR Architects, San Francisco; Builder: Bovis Lend Lease, San Jose, Calif.; Developer: Federal Realty Investment Trust, San Jose; Land Planner: Streetworks Inc., White Plains, N.Y.; Landscape Architect: SWA Group, Sausalito, Calif.; Interior Designer: Babey Moulton Jue & Booth, San Francisco; Environmental Designer: Maestri Design, Seattle

Separation Anxiety

One challenge in mixing 340 units of rental housing into a large-scale commercial project was controlling noise and vibration. Critchfield Mechanical, a design/build engineering firm in Menlo Park, Calif., came up with a novel approach.

"We decided to dedicate Building 13 at Santana Row as a central plant," notes Kevin Fielding, Critchfield's project manager. "We have 7,000 tons of capacity, with several cooling towers, along with boilers. The water circulates in 24-inch mains under all of the buildings."

Each of BAR's residential units, he notes, has an individual heat pump that taps into the main mechanical jugular. And every apartment has its own electronic water meter, allowing the owner to assess usage with a handheld radio device.

"This is a good solution for mixed use," Fielding says, "because commercial buildings usually need cooling all the time, while apartments may need heat in colder months. This way we can transfer the heat to where it's needed."

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