BNIM’s Keeler Court Apartments is an affordable-housing complex with an emphasis on outdoor community space

Nature and Neighbors

BNIM’s Keeler Court Apartments is an affordable-housing complex with an emphasis on outdoor community space

Recessed areas, finished in orange and yellow, brighten the stucco facades. (Chipper Hatter)

Rents in San Diego County have been among the fastest rising in the country, a condition that only accelerated during the pandemic, with prices rising 15.4 percent from November 2020 to November 2021, outpacing Los Angeles and Orange counties. While the rate of increase showed some signs of slowing during the fourth quarter of 2022, local governments have declared the housing shortage an issue of primary importance, with city- and county-level officials working together to propose potential pathways to construct more housing.

In one initiative, the San Diego Housing Commission provides federal rental housing assistance to 16,000 low-income households per year and has acted as a developer, investor, and lender for an additional 23,000 units of affordable housing. In November 2021, this collaborative work came to include the Keeler Court Apartments. Designed by BNIM and developed by Community HousingWorks, the 76,500-square-foot development spans two buildings and contains 71 units. The mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments were built to provide housing for San Diegans whose income is between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, or between $39,050 and $78,060 per year for a family of four. Seven of the units are reserved for formerly unhoused veterans in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

aerial view of orga
The two-building complex splays open from its eponymous cul-de-sac. (Chipper Hatter)

Located on a formerly undeveloped lot in San Diego’s majority-Hispanic Southcrest neighborhood, Keeler Court is close to existing grocery stores, an elementary school, the Southcrest Park and Recreation Center, and public transit stops. The buildings’ appearance is lightened by balconies cut into the blocks and finished in yellow, resulting in a ribbon of stucco on the facade. This move is set above a band of bright orange along the ground floor. The stucco is consistent with the surrounding context, but the orange, meant to introduce warmth, adds an accent color to an otherwise muted color palette.

The two 4-story structures are connected by exterior pedestrian bridges, saving interior space for the units while reducing the mass of the two buildings, which are constructed with timber framing over a concrete podium. The scheme incorporates an interior courtyard, which is intended as a space for communal activity within the complex. The project also includes a children’s play area, laundry room, computer room, bicycle storage room, and garden.

grass in front of orange and white building
(Chipper Hatter)
(Courtesy BNIM)

In addition to providing communal spaces, the design team at BNIM paid careful attention to the buildings’ long-term impact on residents and the environment. They estimate that 45 percent of the site’s energy will be generated through a combination of photovoltaic panels and a solar hot water system on the rooftops. The buildings’ materials contain no or minimal amounts of volatile organic compounds to improve interior air quality. Roof insulation also lowers energy usage. The exterior passages, operable windows, and ample daylighting give residents the opportunity to feel more connected with nature and their neighbors.

If significant gains in housing construction are needed to ease rising costs across the country, complexes like this offer one way to add capacity in a thoughtful, budget-conscious manner.

Project Credits:

  • Architect: BNIM
  • Location: San Diego
  • Owner/partner: Community HousingWorks
  • Landscape architect: BNIM
  • Structural engineer: DCI Engineers
  • Civil engineer: Project Design Consultants
  • MEP engineer: Fard Engineers
  • General contractor: Highland Contracting Group