David Baker Architects (DBA), a San Francisco architecture firm whose solution-oriented work zeroes in on some of contemporary society’s most pressing issues, has received the 2020 California Firm Award. The award, which will join the firm’s already crowded trophy chest, is among the highest annual recognitions bestowed by the American Institute of Architects, California (AIA CA). With recent recipients including Johnson Fain (2018) and HOK (2019), the award recognizes firms 10 years or older which have consistently produced work that has helped better the lives of Californians and those beyond via the built environment.
Founded in 1982 by David Baker, a Michigan native who received his masters in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, the firm is a trailblazer in the realm of affordable housing projects and designing around the values of equity, inclusion, and sustainability. A majority of DBA’s projects foster community, boost density, and champion vibrant, walkable urban streetscapes. As the firm writes: “We have a passion for and deep understanding of the power of humane and respectful environments to transform neighborhoods and elevate the lives of individuals and families.”
In lockstep with the ongoing affordable housing crisis, DBA has expanded significantly in recent years, opening satellite practices in Oakland and Birmingham, Alabama, as well as launching an interiors studio and fabrication workshop as well as DBA_lab, a self-described “flexible research and experimentation studio” dedicated to small-scale and pro bono projects that “engage urban space and user imagination.”
“There is real quality here, and one can tell David Baker design is impact-driven which equals work that lends itself to a higher cause,” said one award juror.
Among the firm’s most lauded and recognizable work is 222 Taylor, a striking, brick-clad apartment house dedicated to low-income housing in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district; Five88, a mixed-use affordable housing complex in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood that was one of the largest buildings of its type completed in over a decade when it opened to residents in 2018; the Lakeside Senior Apartments, a wellness-centered facility for low-income and special needs residents; and Potrero 1010, a two-building residential infill project in San Francisco anchored around expansive public green space that was once a brownfield site.
DBA’s diverse portfolio also includes micro-unit condo buildings, adaptive reuse loft projects, private residences, retail spaces, modular apartment complexes, green live-work spaces, community master plans, and a small handful of luxury boutique hotel properties, including the LEED Gold-certified Harmon Guest House in Sonoma County.
As the AIA CA points out in a press release, the firm is known to “prioritize people over parking and to welcome all with materiality, space and a great front door—none of which are easy feats in the urban sprawl of the Bay Area.”