Sofia Lofts is a 17-unit multifamily rental development consisting of two eight-unit, Midcentury Modern–style apartment buildings inserted on either side of an existing house in Golden Hill, a neighborhood one mile (1.6 km) east of downtown San Diego. The three buildings, certified Platinum under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, surround a generously sized interior courtyard landscaped to serve as a shared space for informal resident gatherings, special events, and access to parking. Nakhshab Development & Design (NDD), a family-run development company, used an integrated design/build process to streamline the construction schedule, improve flexibility, and reduce costs.

The house, east building, and front yard, as viewed from Broadway. At left, the east building’s foundation cantilevers out over the hillside and an old cobblestone retaining wall. (NDD)

The house, east building, and frontyard, as viewed from Broadway. At left, the east building’s foundation cantilevers out over the hillside and an old cobblestone retaining wall. (NDD)

Site and Concept

In 2013, brothers Soheil and Nima Nakhshab were combing central San Diego for multifamily development opportunities. The brothers and their parents would gather around the television each evening—not for the usual television fare, but to review prospective sites. “My brother,” Soheil Nakhshab recalls, “would drive around town with a video camera” to walk around listed properties.

“We’d watch as a family to say, ‘Hey, that’s not bad; maybe we should go for this property.’ ”

A listing for the house at 3045 Broadway popped up one night, then just as quickly disappeared. Months later it came back. And “the same day,” Soheil Nakhshab says, “I called the agent and put in an offer, put schematics together, and met with city staff to see the options.”

The 0.41-acre (0.17 ha) site offered just enough space to create a self-contained, internal courtyard, essential to NDD’s idea to create a boutique-scale oasis—a bit of Palm Springs or the French Riviera close to downtown San Diego. Around the courtyard, NDD wanted to offer a range of units that could accommodate a variety of tenants: a three-bedroom unit in the existing house, duplex and flat two-bedroom units, as well as studio apartments.

More ULI Case Studies | More on Sofia Lofts

Planning

Soheil Nakhshab describes his combined role as architect, engineer, and builder of Sofia Lofts as being its “master sculptor.” The central element of this sculpture is the courtyard, which serves as a communal gathering and entertainment area for all residents.

He wanted to “create [substantial] outdoor space for interaction within the property,” where residents could gather as well as see one another as they come and go—a marked contrast to anonymous corridors and elevators. A human-scaled courtyard could “bring some life and spirit to the environment, [and] create friendships and bonds between people.”

Residents can park in seven garages lined up along the alley or in six garages accessed via the courtyard. The plans show seven parking spaces within the courtyard itself, immediately in front of the garages. Those spaces, however, are functionally off-limits for parking, resulting in a common area that looks like a garden rather than a parking lot. A surface of pea-sized gravel, whose texture slows cars down to walking speed, ensures that the courtyard feels like a place where cars just happen to be allowed.

Construction

NDD also served as general contractor on the project, with Nima Nakhshab supervising the day-to-day construction activity. He strongly recommends an integrated design/build approach for projects of this size. “If there are certain changes that need to be made on a whim, right there we’ll be able to make [them],” without time-consuming requests for information flying back and forth among the architect, engineers, and contractors.

Sofia Lofts delivered in August 2014 and was leased up within two months. Events showcasing the courtyard as a sociable space have proven key to the project’s marketing success.

Payton Chung is ULI director of case studies and publications.

To read the full case study, visit ULI’s new Case Studies website: casestudies.uli.org.

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