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Green Building Blog

Row House Recharged

A historic home in the heart of San Francisco maintains its traditional facade while embracing high-performance, modern design everywhere else

One house, two styles. The Edwardian facade of the home was preserved to help keep the existing aesthetic of the neighborhood intact. (Edwardian architecture is similar to but less ornate than Victorian architecture.)
Image Credit: Rob Yagid

I first met Bill and Zahra through a school charity event and soon after designed a new set of stairs for them. A couple of years went by before they called with a bigger project in mind: to expand and rehabilitate their two-unit edwardian home on the sunny south side of San Francisco. The home was a standard San Francisco row house that had been lived in continuously for more than 30 years and was in poor condition. The house needed a lot of work, and the transformation would be dramatic. Bill and Zahra wanted a more modern home for their growing family and envisioned a house that would generate enough energy to power itself and all transportation associated with living in it.

A facade worthy of preservation

As is usually the case here in san Francisco, the entire plan had to be accommodated without significantly altering the appearance of the building from the street, which is a preservation requirement instituted by the san Francisco planning Department’s residential Design guidelines and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

It has taken me some time to appreciate the unique nature of this part of San Francisco, and even longer to see how environmental regulations could be invoked in the process of preserving it. Every row house contributes to the overall fabric of the city, and that is one reason why people find this neighborhood, Noe Valley, such an appealing place to live. Discussions of style and aesthetics are always subjective, as is the debate over how we Americans should best manage historic resources. My opinion is that we need to develop a more enlightened approach to contextualism when we are working in historic districts. As for this project, there is nothing wrong with preserving a turn-of-the-century piece of craftsmanship. Yet strict…

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