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Playing the Angles

Would you believe this puzzlelike condo is in the Inner Richmond?

Each of the six floor plans is distinct. Some feature dramatic shed roofs, while others have balconies overlooking the street. (1 of 4)

 

One unit has a street-level commercial space beneath it, which the developers intend for a store. (2 of 4)

The six-condo development replaced a former smog-check station. (3 of 4)

Due to the unusual site, “every unit becomes a corner unit,” says architect Owen Kennerly. (4 of 4)

With its macaron-colored single-family homes and flats, the Inner Richmond isn’t known for daring feats of architecture. Nor is it synonymous with new-money luxury like, say, SoMa or Mission Bay. So when architect Owen Kennerly was tapped to build a high-end development there, he knew that he would have to be creative—particularly after viewing the proposed site: a trapezoidal lot bordered by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and California and Cornwall Streets, formerly occupied by a smog-check station. “It felt like no-man’s land,” he says. “You had this sliver-block bordered by asphalt and bus traffic.”

The real question, then, Kennerly says, was “How bold do you get?” The eventual answer: pretty damn bold. “We stepped up to that threshold and went beyond it,” he says. Although the architect was conservative in terms of height, capping the building at four stories, he went big in all other respects: color (contrasting white and blue-green paint), materials (mixed stucco, wood, and glass), and structure. “We were trying to push design forward, to contribute our generation’s version of a landmark,” Kennerly says. What used to be a dreary strip of blacktop now stops passersby in their tracks.

The building contains six two-story residential units, stacked three on three. The front door is accessed through a palm-filled courtyard intended to offer a sense of refuge. “When you’re developing luxury condos, how do you make them feel like home?” asks Kennerly.

The solution came in a complex design of interlocking floors that gives all six units light exposure from both the north and south. No two floor plans are alike, an unusual distinction in the condo business. The three top units have views of Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum, Congregation Emanu-El, St. Ignatius Church, the Presidio ridgeline, and Sutro Tower; balconies on the lower units overlook the street or courtyard.

Kennerly may have achieved the impossible: making a condo development in no-man’s-land feel enviable—even welcoming. “Even though it took rigorous spatial planning, the final effect feels kind of loose and casual,” he says. “It’s sort of a cognitive puzzle.”

 

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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