[Editor’s Note: We have a new contributing architect, Sven, and this is his first post ever. Please take a moment to read his post, and welcome Sven Lavine.]
I decided to do a little brainstorming on the factors affecting San Francisco house design. I want to steer clear of discussions of the city’s historical & stylistic influences – that’s a whole different discussion. There are universal forces which have always applied, regardless of the style of the time (or the whim of the builder) which make our houses look similar.
1. Lot size:
Most San Francisco lots are 25 feet wide by around 100 feet deep. That’s long and skinny by most standards. This results in a long linear arrangement of rooms, often loaded on a long corridor. This can result in some weird spaces and long halls, but this sort of thing is quintessential San Francisco. And it can also fuel some really creative solutions.
In SF, builders have been allowed to build houses right up to the lot lines, with no side or front yard (they do require a back yard though). The exterior identity of the house usually comes entirely from the front facade, which is usually sandwiched tightly between it’s neighbors. This is where the whole false front thing came from. And it also creates an opportunity to get creative with the facade to keep things interesting.
3. Bay windows
Bay windows have always been allowed to extend past property lines and hang out over sidewalks. There is a very specific size and shape prescribed in the code. Designers have always jumped at this opportunity to capture more floor area and views. This is why many San Francisco streetscapes are lined with a familiar rhythm of regularly shaped bays.
Like bay windows, small roof overhangs have also been allowed. Designers have used this to their advantage over the years by adding interesting features to flat fronted San Francisco houses.
I wanted to come up with some way that the environment has shaped the vernacular, like you might see in the desert, or the mountains. but it occurred to me that unlike residents in those extreme climates, we have such a moderate climate, that we can build in whatever style we damn well please, and we have. Certain styles predominate, but if you really look, you can find (or build) just about anything here. But chances are it will still look like a San Francisco house.
-This post contributed by Sven Lavine, San Francisco architect.