The Nove Residences challenge a stodgy San Francisco staple: the “block” apartment building with double-loaded corridors, energy-consuming elevators, and single-exposure units that require mechanical ventilation. Handel Architects’ scheme for the nine residences set three two-unit buildings along the main street and three smaller ones behind it, with a green courtyard between. Every unit has cross ventilation, a balcony, and natural light from two exposures.

“We were looking to make a very common-sense building that would fit into an already great urban neighborhood close to amenities and multiple public transit options,” says Handel Architects senior associate James Hakes. Common sense, perhaps, but not yet common practice. Ranging in size from 1,290 square feet to 1,990 square feet, the units outperform Title 24 Energy Code by 54% to 71%. The project achieved that by requiring no refrigerants, thanks to the careful façade design, blanket-insulated R-21 walls, light-colored roofs, and, of course, San Francisco’s mild climate. Solar thermal tubes, supplemented by a 95% efficient boiler, heat the tap water and radiant flooring.

Inside and out, the finishes deftly balance multiple requirements for durability, nontoxic ingredients, resource efficiency, and polished good looks. The architects opted for trimless interiors and hard flooring surfaces such as engineered wood planks, along with low-VOC paints and an FSC-certified hardwood rainscreen and decking.

The artfully rendered elevations caught the judges’ eyes, too. Even in the midst of urban diversity, these buildings stand out with their arcing rooflines, white fiber-cement panels, and wood cladding. A judge deemed the project a good neighbor, noting that “the colors and the ripple effect fit the context.”