david baker faia & partners, architects, san francisco

Faced with reconciling artistry with the constraints of a limited budget, architect David Baker, FAIA, brought dignity and a sense of play to a building for very-low-income tenants. Pensione Esperanza, a residential hotel, does indeed look optimistic in its spot on the edge of a blighted business strip. Baker avoided a barracks look by shifting the plan's axis within the rectangular site and using colored stucco and steel to create discrete volumes. The skewed corner elevation, taking its cue from the plan, adds some drama to the street. "It's a quirky site plan and does a lot with a limited budget," the judges said.

Double-loaded corridors, with their dead ends and dark corners, usually give buildings a bad name. But there's daylight at the end of every hallway here, thanks to the banks of windows and widened areas for lounging. Although the units are tiny, "this is something people coming out of crummy hotels can afford," Baker says. For seniors, in particular, the rooms are simple to furnish.

"One of the struggles we had was convincing people we wouldn't be downgrading the neighborhood," Baker says. Now, they claim the building as their own.

project architect: David Baker, FAIA, David Baker FAIA & Partners, Architects
developer: Dan Wu, Pensione Esperanza SRO c/o Catholic Charities, San Jose
general contractor: Barry Swenson, Barry Swenson Builder, San Jose
landscape architect: Brent Cottong, Cottong & Taniguchi, Burlingame, Calif.
project size: 227 to 260 square feet per unit
site size: 0.9 acres
construction cost: $97 per square foot
rental price: $200 to $500 per month
units in project: 110
photographer: Brian Rose