written by:
October 3, 2012

This seven-part blog series profiles a new prefab development in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood—a LEED Platinum-targeted building containing 23 "micro-studios". Built in a California factory in a month and assembled on-site in just four days, these 300-square-foot units are paving the path to a new approach to prefab—and to small-space city living. PART ONE: Project Conception.


 

 

The rise of prefab in the U.S. over the past several years has been sparked by great design, sustainability, and the promise of speedier, more efficient construction methods. The next wave of prefab, according to Zeta Communities, a San Francisco design-build firm, and Panoramic Interests, a Berkeley-based developer, will be driven by growth in cities, multifamily urban infill, and transit-oriented development. "The reality of prefab is that the true benefits of manufacturing—cost, time, consistency, lower waste, higher quality, greater energy efficiency—are optimized with scale," says Shilpa Sankaran, cofounder of Zeta Communities.
 
In 2008, Patrick Kennedy and Cara Houser of Panoramic Interests conceived the idea of developing a unique housing option for students and twenty and thirty-somethings. They projected increasing demand for smaller spaces that were super-functional, sustainably built, and stylish—and which promoted the concept of the surrounding city as a communal living room and kitchen. After prototyping the project for a Berkeley site, Panoramic decided to build on a small, constrained site in San Francisco, which they saw as a better testing ground for their ideas. They refined their micro-unit concept to fit into San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood fabric with units around 300 square feet each. Here's a peek into the early stages of the project.

Here's the original project site in Berkeley, California, which was intended for student housing. Later, the developers purchased a site in San Francisco, anticipating a higher demand for micro-units in that city—where, after all, 41 percent of the population are single people living on their own.
1 / 8
This is an early rendering of the rear elevation of the Berkeley project, designed by Taeko Takagi, Zeta Communities’ in-house architect. Like the final version, this was conceived as a prefab multi-unit building.
2 / 8
Early conceptual renderings of the units ended up pretty close to the final version, and included plenty of storage space and convertible built-in furniture.
3 / 8
This photo shows one of the first to-scale physical models produced, showing how the built-in furniture would work.
4 / 8
Panoramic Interests developed this 160-square-foot prototype unit, which they installed in a warehouse in Berkeley. A MIT graduate student lived in the prototype for three weeks and provided feedback that shaped the final design.
5 / 8
Her requests included a slightly bigger and wider space, to better accommodate visitors; a bigger sink that would fit pots and pans; a larger "adult-size" fridge; and an enclosed bathtub/shower (versus the Euro-style tiled bathroom with open shower the developers installed in the prototype). All these suggestions made it into the final design.
6 / 8
In the end, the developers decided to build on a 3,750-square-foot lot at 38 Harriet Street in San Francisco's SOMA district. The street is narrow and alley-like, so the developers knew they'd need to come up with an innovative design to maximize the use of the lot.
7 / 8
The site, sandwiched between two buildings in a transitional area within SOMA, has an eclectic mix of old and new buildings—and some fancy new neighbors, including the new Twitter headquarters. Stay tuned next week for a Q&A with the project's developer and builder.
8 / 8
zeta post1 1
Here's the original project site in Berkeley, California, which was intended for student housing. Later, the developers purchased a site in San Francisco, anticipating a higher demand for micro-units in that city—where, after all, 41 percent of the population are single people living on their own.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
gpphoto44
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016
beverly hills living room piano view
Architect Noah Walker, principal of Los Angeles–based studio Walker Workshop, shares completed and work-in-progress residential designs on his Instagram page (@noah_walker). Take a peek at some of the striking modern houses here, and tour the Venice House on the Dwell Home Tours on June 26.
May 20, 2016
ripple effect san fancisco small space yard outdoor monica viarengo pebble mosiac artificial turf slide
A San Francisco landscape designer finds a small-space solution that’s anything but narrow-minded.
May 20, 2016
Oslo living room with light wood floors and wood slab table
A pair of designers in Oslo, armed with tricks for introducing color and daylight, remake their compact late-19th-century apartment.
May 20, 2016
family affair backyard addition portrait
In coastal Massachusetts, a resourceful couple and their equally enterprising children use reclaimed materials to create a versatile 168-square-foot backyard building.
May 20, 2016
speed machine australian beachside prefab archiblox facade colorbond ultra steel cladding queensland blue gum wood
With little time to waste, an Australian firm erects an efficient prefab overlooking the ocean.
May 20, 2016
Christian Benimana at Design Indaba
When he was younger, there wasn't a single architecture school in his country. Now, as part of MASS Design Group, Christian Benimana shares how architecture can heal and inspire Africa.
May 19, 2016
01 1
This Italian villa is serenity incarnate.
May 19, 2016
michael cobb interior
Alternative materials help a house in California’s wine country tread lightly on the land.
May 18, 2016
13266797 1799532953608317 1984666518 n 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 18, 2016