2023 AIA Housing Awards: Sister Lillian Murphy Community by Paulett Taggart Architects with StudioVARA

Sister Lillian Murphy Community 

Architect:  Paulett Taggart Architects with Associate Architect:  StudioVARA

Owner: Mercy Housing California    

Location: San Francisco

Category: Excellence in Affordable Housing

Project site:   Brownfield

Building program type: Residential – multi-family, 5 or more units

Shaped by community concerns about the large mixed-use and industrial buildings that characterize the Mission Bay redevelopment area in San Francisco, this project cracks the perimeter block typology into four articulated wings. The building exceeds the clients’ goals of offering equitable and affordable housing for the city’s disadvantaged families while also contributing significantly to the overall transformation of the neighborhood. 

At just over 300 acres, Mission Bay was once marked by rail yards and industrial buildings that were built on top of a landfill. Its redevelopment, which began in the 1990s, incorporates a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, business and employment opportunities, and enhanced infrastructure. The nonprofit client for this project was an early supporter of Mission Bay’s transformation, opening the neighborhood’s first affordable housing project for low-income seniors there.

This new addition to the neighborhood, named after a champion and developer of affordable housing, offers 152 homes, from studio apartments to five-bedroom units, for households that annually earn up to 80% of the area median income. Its easily identified wings are connected by open-air circulation and multilevel landscapes that offer residents visual connections to the surrounding neighborhood while maximizing daylight in outdoor areas.

Input from the community also shaped the program placement and the design of each wing’s facade to reflect those area’s contexts. The building’s main entry and ground-floor child development center face Mission Bay Kids Park. The building’s south entry fronts Mission Bay Commons, viewed as the neighborhood’s “backyard” park, and contains a children’s music school, courtyard, and community room. The final wing is lower in height to respect the scale and intimacy of a mid-block pedestrian passage. 

“In this project, solutions to the Framework for Design Excellence principles are so thoughtfully and graciously integrated into the building design that it should be recognized for quality instead of quantity,”  – Jury comment

The project’s interiors are open and airy, warmed by the wood elements throughout. A corner stair tower at the main entry is a new beacon for the neighborhood with a dynamic pattern of light shaped by its unique window configuration. It provides sweeping views for residents, encouraging them to use the stairs as part of an active and healthy lifestyle. 

“This is a complicated building program, but the design solution is extremely thoughtful and elegant.” – Jury comment

Outdoor spaces on the ground floor and the upper-level courtyards work in concert with other vignettes as an extension of the indoor common areas. They all boast a range of seating options and vibrant landscaping. The perforated patterns of the bicycle pavilion, an additional enticement for healthy living, casts playful shadows in the sunlight and glows as a lantern in the evening. These spaces and the building’s outdoor circulation offer ample fresh air, a critical consideration that was spotlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 151571 sq. ft.

Project team

Prime Architect/Architect of Record:  Paulett Taggart Architects Paulett Taggart, Principal  Roselie Enriquez Ledda, Associate Principal Karl Vinge, Associate Melissa Steenport  Jacob Kackley  Mojdeh Kasraie  Hanna Sul Matthew Ridgeway  Elise Riley

Associate Architect:  StudioVARA Christopher Roach, Principal Jacquelyn Fung, Studio Director   Nick Brown, Associate

Landscape Architect: GLS Landscape | Architecture, Gary Strang, Principal 

Civil Engineer: Luk & Associates Jackie Luk, Principal  

Structural Engineer: KPFF Greg Wagner, Principal

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing:  Emerald City Engineers John Toman, President

Dry Utilities/Joint Trench:  Urban Design Consulting Engineers Jason Ling, Principal

Green Consultant & Energy Modeling:  Bright Green Strategies Sharon Block, Director of Sustainability 

Lighting Design: Auerbach Glasow Patricia Glasow, Executive Vice President 

Acoustic Consultant: Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc. Alex Salter, Vice President

General Contractor: Cahill Contractors Arash Baradaran, Vice President

Photographer: Bruce Damonte


Catherine Baker, FAIA, Chair, Nowhere Collaborative, Chicago

John DeForest, AIA, DeForest Architects, Seattle

Brian Lane, FAIA, Koning Eizenberg, Santa Monica, Calif.

Amit Price Patel, AIA, DIALOG, Vancouver, British Columbia

Michael D. Robinson, AIA, Robi4 Architecture & Planning, San Diego

AIA Framework for Design Excellence

The AIA Framework for Design Excellence represents the defining principles of good design in the 21st century. Comprised of 10 principles and accompanied by searching questions, the Framework seeks to inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment.

Framework for Design Excellence / Sister Lillian Murphy Community

Design for Integration

Was there a design charrette? No

Design for Ecosystems

Site area that supported vegetation (landscape or green roof) pre-development: Unknown

Site area that supports vegetation post-development:  20%

Site area covered by native plants supporting native or migratory species and pollinators: 20%

Strategies used to promote Design for Ecosystems:  Biodiversity, Dark skies, Bird safety, Soil conservation, Habitat conservation, flora/fauna, Abatement of specific regional environmental concerns

Design for Water

Is potable water used for irrigation?  Yes

Is potable water used for cooling? No

Is rainwater collected on-site? No

Stormwater managed on-site: 100%

Design for Energy

2030 Commitment baseline EUI:  78kBtu/sf/yr

Predicted net EUI including on-site renewables:  30kBtu/sf/yr

Reduction from the benchmark:  38%

Is the project all-electric? No

Design for Well-being

Level of air filters installed:  Yes

Was a “chemicals of concern” list used to inform material selection? Yes

Do greater than 90% of occupied spaces have a direct view to the outdoors? Unknown

Design for Resources

Were embodied carbon emissions estimated for this project? No

Embodied carbon emissions, including the extraction and manufacturing of materials used in construction:3989 kgCO2e/m2/yr

Design for Change

Estimated service life:  50

Floor area, if any, representing adapting existing buildings:  0% 

Ability to survive without utility power: Passive survivability

Which of the following risk assessment and resilience services were provided? Building vulnerability assessment

Design for Discovery

Has a post-occupancy evaluation been conducted? No, but a POE will be conducted

Building performance transparency steps taken: Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the office


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