///////Project Info

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CLIENT: withheld

SITE: undisclosed rooftop in SoMa area of San Francisco

PROGRAM: single person residence: parasitic, surreptitious live work environment, with kitchen/bath and bedroom PRO/con units

SIZE: 720 ft2

COST: $100,000

COMPLETION: Winter 2004 (design)

NOTES: PRO/con units housing bedroom and kitchen/bath with fully glazed steel framed living/working space-between; fully encircling translucent and opaque segmented track mounted sunshade; slewing ring on steel dunnage

PUBLICATIONS: GA Houses 80, Project 2004


This residence for a software developer (computer hacker) is sited in the undiscovered rooftop landscape of San Francisco’s “multi-media gulch,” a neighborhood of the South of Market (SOMA) area.

Once the city’s industrial periphery, SOMA’s largely abandoned lowrise and midrise loft buildings offered an affordable home in the late 1980s to artists, architects and designers and the first wave of computer entrepreneurs, when they were hackers rather than business people. The emerging software development and multi-media companies that ushered in the internet revolution were attracted to the area for the same reasons in the following decade. With the boom of the so-called “e.conomy” property values in this area soared, and the old loft buildings became upscale live/work spaces and high-end offices for dot-com start-ups and internet millionaires. As this once marginalized area mutated into some of the most expensive, desirable urban real estate in the world, its attractions for the original visionary colonists faded and they began to look for a new domestic frontier to explore.

Lurking above, just out of sight of the “progressive” lawyers and “artist” MBAs who now populate the area, lies an as-yet-unspoiled terrain: an endlessly varied topography of rooftops extending to the horizon and beyond. This boundless democratic roofscape is where the client has chosen to make her home. In contrast to the sanitized streets below, it is as edgy, sunlit and ripe for exploitation as cyberspace itself.

The design for new home is based on the PRO/con package house system, developed by J,P:A to solve the problem of low cost housing in an age of mobility. The PRO/con system is based on a primary structural use of 20’ standard ISO shipping containers, and takes advantage of the global intermodal infrastructure established to support the movement and storage of these containers. The fully pre-fabricated unit will be delivered to the site by Skycrane helicopter and placed upon an arrangement of steel dunnage, like that used to anchor billboards. This dunnage transfers the loads of the new structure to the host building’s structural hardpoints. A rotating subframe and slewing ring assembly rests immediately upon this anchoring, stabilizing dunnage and, in turn, supports the basic PRO/con module of two containers. The containers are fit out with compact sleeping, kitchen, and bath facilities; framed between them is an unprogrammed free space that serves as the living and working area for the dwelling. The living and working space is glazed on all free sides (including acrylic plank flooring), using an orbiting track and rolling screen assembly for flexible sun and privacy control.

The rooftop dwelling unit “hacks” parasitically into its host building for water and power, and to evacuate its waste. Plugged into its host building, but flexibly oriented to this newly discovered dimension of space (via the 360 degree rotation of the slewing ring), the rooftop dwelling unit does not wholly abandon mainstream society, but instead takes up a critical position on the fringe. As such, it occupies a boundary condition between that which is known and unknown, between normal and deviant, exuberantly testing the limits of those classifications and allowing our client to truly live on the edge.