Magnolia Place is a twenty unit multifamily urban infill project located on a vacant site surrounded by warehouse buildings. Although the property was historically zoned for housing, the site remained vacant for decades, its barren condition perceptually isolating it from the established Santa Rosa Junior College and McDonald Historic District neighborhoods which are just a block to the west and east of it respectively. The project is uniquely located with easy pedestrian and bicycle access to local shops, schools, churches, parks, downtown services, the YMCA, Santa Rosa Junior college, and mass transportation stops. Therefore a key goal of the master plan was to encourage neighborhood engagement in the scale and architectural expression of the buildings, and through the shaping of the site layout.
The buildings’ mass is purposefully deconstructed into four blocks in two structures, allowing opportunities for generous penetrations of daylight and cross ventilation, as well as for interaction between residents. The buildings are clad in stucco, Boral siding and corrugated metal panels. The fenestration is a combination of generous awning and casement windows with fixed panes, and French doors. The railings at the balconies are metal flat bar, with Boral slats at the privacy screens. A signature butterfly canopy roof with deeply shading overhangs covers each building. The exterior stairs leading to the apartment entries give scale and texture to the east elevation, while they also celebrate the act of arrival into the home with a transition to the filtered light, shelter and privacy afforded by their slatted screen walls.
The project achieves all of its core objectives, to maximize the allowable density permitted by the zoning code, to conform to the city’s urban design guidelines, and to design two bedroom dwellings and community open spaces which would foster dignity and wellness as essential values of the home. Ultimately, Magnolia Place has also become a landmark in the neighborhood, making the most of its unique location in between two well defined districts, on a corner lot, bounded by major road, to successfully reconcile a gap in the connective urban fabric of Santa Rosa.
Design ChallengeMagnolia Place is an example of architecture as a public work. The project presented a course for the architect to act as civic leader by identifying social needs and creating built solutions for them. The innovations in this project flowed from the collaboration from the start between architect and investor/client/builder to define the project’s scope, budget, and aspirations. The site is ideally situated for a housing project centered on social wellness and sustainable living. It is within easy walking and biking distance to mass transportation stops, community services and shops, parks, schools, churches, the YMCA and the Junior College. The property's qualities invited its development into an urbane housing archetype for both professionals and families, one which could play a role in transforming outdated notions of apartment dwelling in Santa Rosa. Two key aspirations for the project were to overcome the unfriendly presence of the adjacent warehouse buildings as well as common public perceptions of modular construction as sterile or institutional. The resulting building transforms both notions with its familiar and fresh expressions of “house” and “home”. Benefiting from the precision and efficiency afforded by modular construction, the factory built dwelling units were craned into place within one week. The project design was challenged by residents of the adjacent Junior College neighborhood association. They appealed to the City Council to deny the project based on “design context non-conformity”. Opposition was eventually overturned by the Council, which noted that the Historic District was not immediately adjacent to the site and that there was no inherent incompatibility of the proposed architectural style with the immediate neighborhood. The Council stated that there was no precedent to support denial of a project based on its architectural style. The modern architectural expression of the project is in fact purposefully responsive to enduring principles of residential design such as:
- passive energy conservation with deep overhangs, generous fenestration, cross ventilation, and abundant natural light
- balancing functional and automobile needs with the creation of safe community open spaces for social interaction in the courtyard, exterior stairwells, shared entry balconies and private patios and terraces
- layering the sequence of public to private, from paths to entries, to one’s arrival into the private dwelling space