In the hillside neighborhood of Castro Heights in San Francisco, a nondescript, midcentury terrace home has been transformed by Aidlin Darling Design into a three-story, multi-generational oasis crowned with a wild roof garden. “The existing home was dwarfed by its neighboring houses,” says architect Joshua Aidlin, cofounder of Aidlin Darling Design. “The final massing of the home thoughtfully fills in what had been the ‘missing tooth’ among the existing row of homes on the street.”
The renovation not only accommodates the clients and their three young sons, but also two grandparents. With the addition of the third floor, the home boasts spectacular views over the city to the east and the iconic Sutro Tower to the west. “The design intent was to create a glass house that captured and framed these two opposite conditions that flanked the house east to west,” says Aidlin.
The east and west facades feature expansive windows to capture the dramatic views, while the north and south facades have minimal apertures to maximize privacy. The steel brise soleil that extrudes from the front and rear facades of the house shields the interior from the sun at various times of day, as well as providing privacy from neighboring buildings.
The vertical layout of the home is driven by the relationship between the three generations that make up the household. The grandparents’ and three boys’ bedrooms are on the first floor, adjacent to a small family room. This layout offers the opportunity for the grandparents and grandchildren to bond.
The second floor of the home contains public spaces for the family to come together, including the kitchen, dining, and living rooms as well as two built-in study nooks. The living room, which features a fireplace as the focal point, overlooks the front garden, while the kitchen and dining room overlook the rear garden.
The third floor is the master suite, which provides the couple a space to escape the high activity of the children when needed, but also a welcome respite for the kids to play with their parents in the extended master bedroom. This floor also features a hidden work desk and a fireplace with a remarkable view over downtown San Francisco.
“There is an innate required intimacy to the house that you usually find in European or Latin American homes,” says Aidlin. “It was wonderful to address the three-generation urban home as a design problem, where every square inch of the house is necessarily utilitarian.”
The three floors are connected by a central, steel, switchback stair with floating wood treads that nestle between a three-story plaster wall and a three-story mahogany cabinet. “The clients requested the main stair be a heroic and sculptural experience,” says Aidlin. “It is quite porous and captures dramatic views of the San Francisco skyline, and more intimate views of the rear garden, from its numerous landings.”
The clients were also interested in incorporating sustainable architectural strategies where it made sense. The brise soleil controls light and heat gain, deep overhangs offer passive solar control, and cross-ventilation is enabled by the narrow footprint and operable windows and doors.
Perhaps the most spectacular realization of this ethos is the living roof, which performs multiple functions: it forms an insulating body for the interior, naturally filters rainwater prior to entering the public sewage system, and provides the occasional biophilic prospect to view the city from. “Sitting in a beautiful field while on the roof of one’s city home is quite a unique experience,” says Aidlin.
This connection with nature is also found on the ground floor, where the boys’ bedroom and the playroom open out onto the garden. On the second floor, the connection is much more dramatic, with a 10-foot-long steel bridge extending out into the rear yard hillside, providing access to the garden below.
“The home expresses the clients’ very individual values while pleasantly surprising them on a daily basis,” says Aidlin. “A perfect example is the magic of how the light changes throughout the day and the year—I often get photos from the clients capturing an amazing light phenomenon that they are currently experiencing. It is incredibly gratifying. Your house should be a living, breathing source of inspiration.”