Satellite Communities, Oakland CA



A community of 5 buildings renovated for structural upgrades, and revitalizing community spaces to serve the modern life of elderly residents. All without displacing a single tenant.




The communities refer to the original concept of five buildings across Oakland and Berkeley, California, with one central building (the largest at 10 stories) containing a majority of the community spaces. Built over 40 years ago, tenants were shuttled around between the five buildings to visit friends and attend community functions. Over time it became clear that each building needed at least a small amount of its own community space and outdoor space, along with some convenience and accessibility upgrades.

Each building received structural upgrades, increasing life safety during an earthquake, and expanded common rooms. Entrances were reimagined with a common design language that brought some new prominence to the front door, while bringing everything up to the latest accessibility codes and best practices of universal design. Ramps and door operators meant more tenant could come and go on their own schedule without assistance.



All five building facades received some architectural and structural touch-ups, along with a new color scheme. Architectural elements and sections of wall were given a single color scheme, fairly consistent across all buildings, and balconies were used to inject some variety and moments of color into those areas. While some neighbors nicknamed these buildings “wonder bread,” the tenants enjoyed the fresh bright colors, which were selected and contrasted with each other so that even those with poor color perception or eyesight could still enjoy the building from afar.

With my years of experience as a metal fabricator and draftsman, we set to design a series of awnings, canopies, and building entries. Utilizing hot-dip galvanized steel members without any additional coating or painting, these elements could be realized on a low budget and predictably consistent weathering over the years. Instead of repainting every few years, the zinc coating will fade from a semi-glossy silver to a dull gray.

Heavy steel members are modified and paired in order to minimize on-site steelwork, and could simply be shop fabricated and bolted into place. Most buildings were able to include an outdoor balcony at the 2nd level of the entrance canopy, allowing tenants to get some fresh air while greeting their guests, or just watch passers-by to pass the time.




Renovation work to the units was limited to structural upgrades and necessary repairs, in order to allow tenants to remain in place while work was performed a few hours at a time. Much of the design and budget was put towards upgrading the common areas, particularly the building lobbies, corridors, community rooms, and outdoor garden patios. With existing low ceilings and elevator landings, we elected for a thin epoxy-cement floor coating and wood slat ceilings.

New community boards were installed in all building lobbies, and at each floor’s elevator lobby, so that residents and community managers can make sure that all tenants have access to the latest information in a format familiar to them. All signage is oversized without shouting, and additional HVAC was incorporated so that residents had more spaces to look outside from a comfortable space throughout the year, no matter the weather.


Each of the five buildings were part of their own distinct neighborhood, with their own distinct tenant populations. Tenants of this building in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood were concerned that the architectural details would be modernized to the point of losing any cultural expression. The design team worked with tenants of each building throughout design and construction to make sure they were heard, and their comments and suggestions were incorporated whenever possible.

One suggestion for this building was to add bamboo-like elements to the gardens and facade. Custom benches with integral planters were added to create bamboo screening of the common garden patio, and these large perforated metal elements were installed to mimic a sort of giant bamboo grove. The color scheme and balcony variation ties the building together with the rest of the community, but these unique elements of each building let them remain unique to their own context.