More than trophy homes: AIA East Bay rethinks its annual home tours

The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects is hosting home tours, housing forums and a bike tour aimed at exploring all forms of shelter.

In East Oakland, Tiny House Empowerment Village provides 26 previously homeless youth with their own 8-by-10-foot home built by volunteers through Youth Spirit Artworks of Berkeley, which also provides job training for the residents. The homes are included in AIA East Bay’s architect-led home tours, built this year around the theme of “Shelter: Design for Everyone.” Submitted photo

The aftereffects of 2020 were not lost on Ursula Currie, an associate at Noll & Tam Architects in Berkeley, or her fellow board members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) East Bay chapter. 

Currie was in charge of the chapter’s 2020 home tour, which was canceled due to the pandemic. As she worked from home and considered plans for 2021, the idea of showcasing luxurious single-family homes felt tone deaf after a year of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protests, discussions about redlining and wildfires.

“Shelter means an awful lot more to us than it did in January 2020,” says Currie. “The whole BLM movement raised the idea of equity. Some people don’t have homes. Some are in apartment blocks, in their own single-family homes, or in a community setting,” Currie adds. “We also have to recognize that our built environment has a big impact on our natural environment. So we’re trying to bring in all those things that are of relevance and importance today and opening up conversations around them.”

The result: The AIA East Bay chapter will still hold two days of architect-led home tours, only this year it aims to explore the idea of shelter in all its forms. The chapter is calling August the “Month of Shelter” and offering, for the first time, design forums that address regional housing issues and a bike tour of four Berkeley homes chosen for their sustainable technology. All events, save for the bike tour, will be held via livestream.


Home tours

The Aug. 14 and 21 tours are built around the theme of “Shelter: Design for Everyone” and will feature 10 projects, from tiny houses for homeless youth in Oakland to the first net-zero, all-electric mixed-use building in Palo Alto and communal senior housing in American Canyon. This year’s emphasis on a wider range of projects seeks to illustrate how architects work with various types of clients and how architecture can transform both individuals and communities.

Because this year’s tours are virtual, the chapter opened up submissions to work from beyond the East Bay, giving the tours a more global perspective. In this category are NSW Arkitektur of Oslo’s conversion of a former Norwegian chocolate factory into housing and the architect Fernanda Canales’ own off-the-grid home in Valle de Bravo, Mexico.

The Aug. 14 home tour will feature two Oakland projects that respond to the need for more housing — in different ways.

In East Oakland, Tiny House Empowerment Village provides 26 previously homeless youth with their own 8-by-10-foot home built by volunteers through Youth Spirit Artworks of Berkeley, which also provides job training for the residents.

In the backyard of an existing home, the architect Kerstin Hellmann of Oakland turned a work shed lacking a proper foundation and ceiling height into what she describes as “a miniature house,” complete with a kitchen and bath. Initially intended as a home-away-from home for a visiting grandmother, the ADU has ended up serving as an extension of the house, from a home office to a dinner party space.

The Aug. 21 home tour includes the sole Berkeley project on the tours, Jones Berkeley, named after its Jones Street address.

Jones Berkeley is the city’s sole project on the AIA home tour this year. Credit: David Wakely Photography

The 1.7-acre property housed a Cadillac dealership for 50 years and is now a mixed-use development featuring 11,000 square feet of commercial space, 11 town homes and 159 apartments, including 16 affordable housing units. Pyatok Architects in Oakland designed the massive project, encompassing almost an entire city block, for Shorenstein Properties of San Francisco.

Completed last year, Jones Berkeley has racked up a LEED Gold certification for sustainability and industry awards for how its cohesive design elegantly straddled two zoning districts: a commercial section along San Pablo Avenue and a residential zone along 10th Street. “That allowed us to transition from the taller, five-story apartment building on the San Pablo side to the three-story townhouses in the back,” says Kevin Markarian, the project architect and a Pyatok principal.

What brings the various types of housing together is a shared courtyard with large-scale planters and an aqueduct system for stormwater retention designed by the San Francisco landscape architect Jeffrey Miller. The wood and steel aqueducts carry water from the roof into the planters, where it is filtered and used to water the foliage, before being released into the municipal stormwater system.

Housing symposium and panel discussion

On Aug. 4, “Housing for All” is the topic of a housing symposium with speakers Crissand Giles, executive director of HomeAid Northern California; Sally Hindman, founder of Youth Spirit Artworks of Berkeley; Toby S. Levy, founding principal of Levy Design Partners in San Francisco; Ben Metcalf, managing director of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation; Ellen Morris, associate director of real estate development at Eden Housing of Hayward; Lorcan O’Herlihy, founder of LOHA in Los Angeles; and Madeleine Zayas, project manager and architect at Mogavero Architects in Sacramento. 

On Aug. 5, architect Seth Watchel, director of the Architecture & Community Design program at the University of San Francisco, will lead a discussion with the organizers, designers, builders and residents of Oakland’s Tiny House Empowerment Village.

Bike Tour

On Aug. 28, the architects who designed the four homes will lead the six-mile bicycle tour in Berkeley. The tour is limited to 30 attendees and requires reservations. Stops are:

  • 2308 Derby St., a backyard hay bale cottage, designed by David Arkin of Arkin Tilt Architects of Berkeley.
  • 2320 McGee Ave., the home of Cate Leger, a principal in Leger Wanaselja Architecture of Berkeley. The San Francisco AIA chapter awarded the firm a 2013 Merit award for being “one of the most thoroughly green houses in the Bay Area.” One of the highlights of its design is the home’s cladding made from junked cars.
  • 2321 California St., a remodel and expansion by sustainability architect Dan Johnson of Beyond Efficiency of Berkeley, who will be on hand, and architect Francis Garcia of Walnut Creek. The resulting two-story home is so well insulated, the second floor does not include a full heating system.
  • 1204 Peralta Ave., designed by Johnson and architect Scott McGlashen of Berkeley’s McGlashen Architecture. Johnson will describe how the single-story home became a two-story and all-electric home.
2321 California St. Credit: F. Garcia

The tour will end with refreshments at Westbrae Biergarten, 1280 Gilman St., concluding the month-long series of events.

Learn more about the AIA East Bay chapter’s series of events focused on shelter.

Correction: The Tiny House Empowerment Village is now in East Oakland, not West Oakland.