On September 10, 2016, Jill Anthes, Executive Director of Planning and Design, San Francisco State University (SFSU), led a tour of interested design teams of the competition site. The following is a summary of her comments, as well as questions and answers pose by teams present.

Jill Anthes:

This project is important to SFSU because of the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area. Diversity is a key issue as 30% of incoming freshmen are first generation college attendees. Many students travel up to 2 hours each way to campus.  The high cost of housing, coupled with this exhausting commute, impacts academic performance, retention, and graduation rates. SFSU has a six-year graduation rate of only 49.7%. As part of a proposed housing strategic plan, the college would like to be able to guarantee housing for 2 years for undergraduates and create a better sense of community, activity, and life on the campus.


The main entrance to the campus is at Holloway and 19th Avenue, where a major transit stop is located. This is the busiest stop on the entire SFMTA system, with the exception of the downtown stops. The main entrance is located on a busy street that functions as an urban highway with heavy vehicular traffic.  The campus is looking at ways to increase its presence on this busy street, as it is easy to pass by the campus without realizing it is there.


The Architecture at Zero challenge is focused on student housing with a strong residential life component, which will flank the valley leading through the campus from 19th Avenue to Lake Merced. The campus has also recently undertaken a landscape framework and forest management plan to refresh the landscape and make it more resilient to climate change.  This framework plan will provide a plant palette for each character zone, as well as a plan to preserve and enhance the campus forest. The impressive Monterey Cypress and Monterey Pines are character-defining features on campus, but they are in decline. Proper reforestation of the campus and the Eucalyptus grove needs to be addressed.

Weather conditions for a typical day on campus are morning and afternoon fog, overcast skies, and a constant breeze, with temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s year round. The quality of light resulting from these conditions is a factor to consider when thinking about technology and reaching ZNE. Lake Merced is known as one of the foggiest areas in San Francisco, partly due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

The most important landscape garden on campus is the central Quad, with a stand of prominent Monterey Cypress trees. The preference on campus is to maintain a lush, informal, and contemporary landscape, with limited areas of irrigated lawn because of the drought.

The planning department is looking to unify the disparate architecture on campus by implementing a clean background palette of white and gray that plays well against the fog and the foliage on campus.

Q: Should we consider a white and gray palette?

A: You are free to use whatever color palate you choose.

Q: Do you use gray water?

A: All new buildings will be dual-plumbed for recycled water, as SF State is in San Francisco’s “purple pipe district.” While the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission SFPUC (city agency) is building a recycled water treatment plant close by, the campus is unlikely to receive this water for many years. Instead, SFSU is being encouraged to look at on-site water capture, treatment, and reuse. Ideally, SFSU would like a build a blackwater treatment system on campus.

Q: The challenge asks for housing that looks like traditional units, why?

A: With the current housing shortage, SF State has put three beds in shared rooms that normally house two students. One of the findings of a recent student housing preference survey is that students of any age group are willing to give up privacy for affordability. In other words, students are willing to share a room or have a smaller living space, if they could just afford to live in the area. This drives a campus decision to seek efficiency in its housing units. Small living spaces can be a benefit, in that they encourage students to leave their rooms to study or relax in shared spaces. This tends to create a stronger feeling of community within the population and leads to higher student satisfaction with living on campus. It also creates the challenge of building a good mix of community spaces, such as lounges, study rooms, coffee shops, parks, etc.

Q: Does the campus have bike lanes?

A: There is a not a dedicated bike lane from major transit connections to campus. Bikes and cars share lanes, which is not optimum. There are some bike paths on campus, but the central campus is a dismount zone.  Improving bike access to and within the campus will be a priority in future mobility planning. A dedicated, two-way bicycle track is desired around the perimeter of campus.

Q: Who gets the energy from the fuel cell?

A: PG&E gets all the energy from the fuel cell, and the campus gets the waste heat.

Q: Is it natural gas? 
A: Yes

Q: Do we need to keep the wall between campus and the residential area to the right (northern edge) of the competition site?

A: While the wall provides a barrier between the campus a poorly policed urban area where car break-ins are common, the wall is also impenetrable and is an obstacle to connecting all parts of the campus. With redevelopment of the residential property to the north, the campus envisions removing the carports and replacing them with a continuous pedestrian and bike path along the edge of the hill.

Q: Will the parking requirements outlined in the competition brief meet the needs of students and faculty?

A: Yes, we are a “transit first” campus and are working on building bike infrastructure. Many new housing buildings in the city of San Francisco are being constructed with very few or no new parking spaces. The car parking in the program is purposely limited. We will replace a portion of the existing parking spaces with each new development so that the large parking structure can be removed, reopening the historic valley in the middle of campus.

Q: There is only one solar panel on campus, are there plans for more?

A: The new wellness center will have photovoltaics, and we have written a grant that would fund solar on the roof of the library. Remember that SF State is shrouded in fog for a large part of the year.

Q: Can you tell me more about the bridge in the campus master plan?

A:  The 2007 Campus Master Plan was written before the economic downturn, and was very ambitious. The long-range vision anticipated removal of the parking garage and spanning the valley with a suspension bridge. The campus will be updating the master plan soon, with a special focus on universal design. The bridge was a great idea, but is it isn’t economically viable today, so we’ll be looking for other solutions to traverse the valley.

Q: What are current local construction costs for building this kind of housing?

A: Currently, the cost estimates for multifamily, residential construction in San Francisco are as high as $1300/sf total project cost, depending on construction type. We hope to construct campus housing for $850/sf or less.

Q: Are the units open to other construction configurations outside of the brief?

A: The configuration was provided as a formula so you could focus on achieving ZNE.

Q: Can we build beyond the maximum height of 85 feet for buildings outlined in the brief?

A:  SFSU, as a state entity, is not bound by the city / county of San Francisco codes or regulations. Building height is more of a political, economic, and design decision than a regulatory one.  The neighborhood surrounding the campus is primarily single family homes with a handful of multi-unit buildings to the south at Parkmerced.

The suggested building height for the purposes of the competition was determined by the height of the eucalyptus trees on the adjacent hillside, which are a prominent feature of the campus and provide a visual barrier for neighbors.

Q: Are we required to consider access compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act?

A: ADA is required, and we hope to exceed that standard and achieve Universal Design standards.

Q: Are we required to replace the police station that is currently on the competition site?

A: No, it will be relocated to another part of campus, as it contains a large vehicular yard and other uses. However, a small substation would be a nice addition to the program.

Q: The site is on the edge of the campus, is the vision for the porous or non-porous border? 
A: University campuses belong to the people of the city and state, but the campus seems walled off by busy streets and walls. We want to think of the campus as a park within the city for all to enjoy. The decisions we make when we design this residential community will define our relationships with our neighbors and will be telling about our place as an institution within the larger community.