March 24, 2009

Architecture Watch: 118 Cervantes Boulevard Gone Green/Modern

118 Cervantes Boulevard (www.SocketSite.com)

It’s a rather dramatic rebuild and rebranding of 118 Cervantes Boulevard that incorporates wood, concrete and two arrays of exposed photovoltaic cells on its façade.

118 Cervantes Boulevard: Detail (www.SocketSite.com)

And of course, how it looked before:

118 Cervantes Boulevard: Before (Image Source: MapJack.com)

First Published: March 24, 2009 8:00 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

I like it. It's certainly got a lot more character than what was there before.

However, I weep when I see photovoltaic cells in fog city. I can't help but think how much more productive they would be in Livermore.

Posted by: diemos at March 24, 2009 8:17 AM

A very interesting crossing for big windows:

http://www.mapjack.com/?rUFnWMVxbFnC

Posted by: San FronziScheme at March 24, 2009 8:23 AM

"I weep when I see photovoltaic cells in fog city"

Hopefully this was hyperbole. If not, can we get you some professional help?

Posted by: anonn at March 24, 2009 8:29 AM

Looks pretty awesome to me. How much and when is it coming to market? There are a couple modern developments underway in the Marina right now; most of them are disasters -- this one looks pretty nice.

Posted by: eddy at March 24, 2009 8:34 AM

Nice house.

Looks a little odd next to all those traditional types but nice nonetheless.

Not my type (a little too minimalist) but I'm sure someone will love it.

Posted by: jessep at March 24, 2009 8:38 AM

"If not, can we get you some professional help?"

I can always use help. ;) Someone to take care of the housework while I write grant proposals would be nice. Or even better, a rich sweetie to keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed while I retire to the life of a dilettante scholar and circuit-party boy.

Posted by: diemos at March 24, 2009 8:43 AM

Why dont people get that despite the fog in SF - there is much more solar opportunity than in most other cities in the US.
Look up how many sunny days SF gets - compare that to NY or New Orleans.
Solar should be used in every new development in SF.

Posted by: Kip at March 24, 2009 8:46 AM

Somehow I can't help but think of transformers when I look at that building. I'm sorta scared it's going to extend those stubby legs and start stalking me.

Posted by: Sarah at March 24, 2009 8:48 AM

"...two arrays of exposed photovoltaic cells..."

Yes, far more productive than indoor solar cells :-)

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 24, 2009 8:56 AM

Very handsome. So who is the architect? I can't read the sign on the facade.

Posted by: Jim at March 24, 2009 8:58 AM

incongrous? nah, I'm a sucker for juxtaposition . . . . more please!

Posted by: Rubicon at March 24, 2009 9:01 AM

Yes, very innovative. But two questions:

Why have the solar panels as part of the facade, aside from the coolness factor? Wouldn't they work just as well on the roof of the building?

In the future, when solar panels will be made much smaller and more efficient, which will happen eventually, won't this design look horribly dated?

Posted by: jlasf at March 24, 2009 9:18 AM

Yes, the array would be more productive if placed on the roof and slightly angled to the south. Perhaps there are unseen cells on the roof too ?

I would not count on solar cells becoming too much smaller or more efficient in the near future. Maybe 50% in the next 50 years. Still that is an enormous gain and could take photovoltaic technology past the break even point.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 24, 2009 9:50 AM

The stained wood will look like crap in 5 years after all that sun exposure.

Posted by: David at March 24, 2009 9:52 AM

I love green/modern, but I agree with jlasf - this place looks like a boombox. :)

I don't really understand solar panels on the side vs. the roof. They're tilted upward slightly and the house faces SW so I imagine they get a good deal of light, but .. this feels like a major compromise on energy efficiency for the sake of style.

Posted by: Greg S at March 24, 2009 9:56 AM

i hope those "green" cells on the front of a house in san fran really, really work well for energy purposes...

because that is one ugly house.

Posted by: Louis at March 24, 2009 10:00 AM

won't this design look horribly dated?

it could always be rehabbed if it bothers the owner. Besides, I personally think that becoming dated is part of the appeal of modern architecture...

there is "timeless" architecture (craftsman homes, victorians, etc), "bland" architecture (row upon row of suburban tract homes, granite countertops etc) and then there's modern. of course there are many other "types" too.

perhaps I have it wrong, but isn't becoming dated part of the appeal of modern architecture??? high style changes so fast that modern of today is passe of tomorrow, right?

but that doesn't mean that "dated" can't be cherished later on. I think specifically of the mid-century modern that dominates places like Palm Springs. That stuff is all very dated but coming back into style around the country, and is cherished.

I personally think this place looks quite cool. will it date quickly? yep. is that bad? I don't think so.

I'm especially happy that this place seems modern-ish but not too cold.

I'd love to hear a professional's viewpoint on the issue of modern architecture/design becoming dated. noearch? others?

Posted by: ex SF-er at March 24, 2009 10:00 AM

does anyone have any guestimates on how much it costs to rebrand in such a dramatic fashion? I'm loving it, btw

Posted by: steve at March 24, 2009 10:06 AM

does anyone one know if those solar panels will be the only source of energy required to power this house? Or is this just a way to use less PG&E?

Posted by: viewlover at March 24, 2009 10:10 AM

I like modern, but somehow I am not a fan of this one. Too symetric.

Posted by: flaneur at March 24, 2009 10:13 AM

Reminds me of a piece of Lego...guess I don't get it. I do admire the effort though.

Posted by: ok at March 24, 2009 10:25 AM

I'm going to go along with the "too symmetrical" comment.

It looks like it could have been revived to cute before, why not tear up a Richmond special instead?

Posted by: kthnxybe at March 24, 2009 10:29 AM

I live on Cervantes and this house been remodeled for the past 3-4 years. Not sure what the deal is -- my guess a developer/RE guy owns it and using his own labor to get it done. Not sure how affective those solar panels will be in that side of town. Looks totally out place with the rest of the houses around, interesting to know how they got thro planning

Posted by: Mark at March 24, 2009 10:35 AM

"I don't really understand solar panels on the side vs. the roof."

Here, let me explain it for you:

"HEY ALL YOU POLITICALLY CORRECT ,PRIUS DRIVING, OBAMA WORSHIPPING NEIGHBORS. I'M GREEN!!! REALLY FREAKING GREEN!!! HAHAHA. I'M WAAAAYYYY GREENER THAN YOU. PUT YOUR FACE INTO MY SOLAR PANELS AND SMELL HOW GREEN I AM!"

Does that explain it well enough for you?

Posted by: tipster at March 24, 2009 10:46 AM

"HEY ALL YOU POLITICALLY CORRECT ,PRIUS DRIVING, OBAMA WORSHIPPING NEIGHBORS. I'M GREEN!!! REALLY FREAKING GREEN!!! HAHAHA. I'M WAAAAYYYY GREENER THAN YOU. PUT YOUR FACE INTO MY SOLAR PANELS AND SMELL HOW GREEN I AM!"

I must say, that was rather poor use of Socketsite Hating Techniques TM there, Tipster. The facade of the house faces southwest. OK? Think about it. Plus, none of you know whether there are panels on top to get light all day, or on the back too, grabbing morning light. Jeez.

Posted by: anonn at March 24, 2009 11:04 AM

"does anyone one know if those solar panels will be the only source of energy required to power this house? Or is this just a way to use less PG&E?"

Since solar doesn't produce at night the house will draw power from the PG+E grid.

Typically urban solar installations "push" power back onto the grid during the day and then pull it back during darker periods. You pay PG+E for the net difference. I believe that it does not make sense to produce more than you consume as PG+E does not write checks to homeowners.

Rural "off the grid" installations are different and use a large battery to store up power during the day for use at night. There's no need for a storage battery in urban installations since the grid effectively acts as an energy market to buy and sell power.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 24, 2009 11:04 AM

According to this, for example, San Francisco is actually quite high up there. I was a bit surprised-- I imagine this varies a fair bit by neighborhood, so that may be in the Mission or something.

Posted by: Alexei at March 24, 2009 11:07 AM

I don't know much about solar, but I will go on record and say that between the tilt angle and shadow effects, the solar insolation for these panels is a disaster.

Posted by: EBGuy at March 24, 2009 11:18 AM

>>perhaps I have it wrong, but isn't becoming dated part of the appeal of modern architecture???

@ ex-SFer, have you ever been to the Marina? I don't know where your idea applies, but in the Marina, we are here to be seen TODAY. I am not sad about my $1,000 Kate Spade fading from the desirability, only because that would be a sunk-cost emotion. But to suggest that I'm going to keep it because I'm excited to see it become retro? That's just so, um, Hayes Valley? No one in the Marina buys anything for tomorrow's retro appeal. Please. By the way, this building is ugly today.

Posted by: marina girl at March 24, 2009 11:44 AM

I like it.

OTOH, I hope they are well insured. That's some expensive hardware in easy reach of far too many people who wouldn't mind tagging it (or worse).

Posted by: tony at March 24, 2009 11:47 AM

I am getting 1853 watts from my Solar Panels right now, in the Sunset. So if you want to out them up in Livermore go ahead - but it's silly to say that they are wasted in San Francisco because of the fog.

Posted by: Eoral at March 24, 2009 11:48 AM

The facade of the house faces southwest.
I think you mean south east.
And to top it off, we (PG&E ratepayers) probably subsidized this &*#%@ (errr... suboptimal) installation.

Posted by: EBGuy at March 24, 2009 11:53 AM

No EBGuy, the facades of even numbered houses on Cervantes face southwest. Their lots run away from the street, to the northeast. Those panels are well placed.

Posted by: anonn at March 24, 2009 12:04 PM

Did they chop down 2 sidewalk trees so that light could reach the 10 solar panels?

That would not be very green.

Posted by: treelover at March 24, 2009 12:19 PM

For a rectilinear curve-rejecting homage to the right angle, this place isn't bad.

Posted by: Delancey at March 24, 2009 12:28 PM

anon,
Thanks for the correction, I suffered some geographic dyslexia until I zoomed out on the Google map. I heartily disagree that they are well placed, though. The SW orientation is fine, and would be beneficial for PG&E time of use (TOU) metering, but the tilt angle is horrible.
To calculate the best angle of tilt in the winter, take your latitude, multiply by 0.9, and add 29 degrees. The result is the angle from the horizontal at which the panel should be tilted. Or around 62 degrees for Ess Eff (in the winter). And you usually want to maximize during the rest of the year (read: not winter time) to get the most benefit for net metering. For TOU metering, the author of web link above calculated that at latitude 38 degrees north, the most economical orientation is to face 37 degrees west of south, and tilt 31 degrees from horizontal. Those panels are way off of 31 degrees, not to mention they are shadowed by the structure. Again, I shudder to think we subsidized this installation. Someone please tell me there is another array on the roof with better siting.

Posted by: EBGuy at March 24, 2009 12:32 PM

good info milkshake, thanks!

Posted by: viewlover at March 24, 2009 12:42 PM

"we (PG&E ratepayers) probably subsidized this &*#%@ (errr... suboptimal) installation"

Are you equally bitter about all the natural gas, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear & coal powered plants that you as a ratepayer/taxpayer also subsidize?

Posted by: Eoral at March 24, 2009 12:53 PM

Fugly...

Posted by: gh at March 24, 2009 12:58 PM

poor trees :(

Posted by: sfnative at March 24, 2009 1:05 PM

Eoral, I think it should be abundantly (or at least somewhat) clear from my posts that I object to subsidizing a "vanity" solar installation that probably (at best) produces 50% less electricity than one that is properly sited. That is just wasteful.
FWIW, I saw a rumor on the internets (relitter in the Trulia forums) that said Sterling Bank is providing fractional loans and they are about it at the moment. Can anyone confirm?

Posted by: EBGuy at March 24, 2009 1:32 PM

lol@that yellow truck w/ green spikes.

Posted by: lolcat_94123 at March 24, 2009 3:04 PM

No one in the Marina buys anything for tomorrow's retro appeal

ROFL. great post Marina girl.

I don't know nothing about fashion or trends for the most part.
I wear Merril's for god's sake. and Target jeans. Half my clothes come from Costco.

my work clothes are off the rack at Macy's.

it's really a very sad existence I lead.

I'm just happy this place doesn't look like a morgue.

Posted by: ex SF-er at March 24, 2009 3:10 PM

The building is not going on the market (unless the owner's circumstance has changed since I found this out). The owner wanted a dramatic change. When finished is will still be a 2 unit building she will stay in one unit and rent out the other. I went in with the construction mgr before the windows were in - the front rooms are very dramatic and the windows have much better appeal from the inside than out.

Posted by: neighbor at March 24, 2009 4:41 PM

"i hope those "green" cells on the front of a house in san fran really, really work well for energy purposes... because that is one ugly house."

Yeah, but it's a cool looking robot. :)

And to all those people bashing the house because of solar panels... lay off.... For two reasons: one, every little bit of energy helps and two, because we need more people to buy solar panels so more research goes into them and three so prices will come down. (Well I guess I had three reasons, not two- so sue me.)

Now... back to being properly catty.... Can we put drapes over the thing? Or maybe a black hood, which would keep it toasty warm? :)

Posted by: StockBoySF at March 24, 2009 8:08 PM

WHO is responsible for the way the tree was cut back? In fact, why are so many San Francisco trees butchered this way?

Posted by: anonandon at March 24, 2009 8:22 PM

"every little bit of energy helps"

That's the point. If you took them down and transported them to someplace with more sun they would produce more power.

"we (PG&E ratepayers) probably subsidized this &*#%@ (errr... suboptimal) installation"

we subsidize point of use installations because it reduces the hassle and expense of trying to build more transmission lines. Not because it's a cheaper way to produce power.

Posted by: diemos at March 24, 2009 8:24 PM

diemos - the tree was removed. If you look at the new photos and the old one, the garage door shifted/enlarged and the tree is gone.

That 'chopped' look is called pollarding. The London Plane trees in front of City Hall or the de Young are pruned this way. I am not sure if there are reasons beyond aesthetics for doing it. It's certainly higher maintenance every year!

Posted by: Eric in SF at March 24, 2009 8:44 PM

from the permits they pulled and from personally having watched this evolve endlessly over the past 3 or so years, i'd concur with others that

1) someone must've paid off the planning dept or threatened to break the neighbors' legs to get such a hideous thing approved.

2) I'd bet money that this "green" building will literally take hundreds of years to save the amount of energy it took to cart the old structure to a landfill, manufature the materials for the new one and install everything.

Posted by: resp at March 24, 2009 9:33 PM

Plus, none of you know whether there are panels on top to get light all day
Okay, I went and pulled the electrical permits. They are supposed to install 16 (210W) solar panels on the roof in addition to to the 10 (200W) panels on the front of the building. Still don't think the ones on the front are a good idea (waste of everyone's money) but I will give the project a thumbs up... Not that anyone's askin', but if it was up to me, any new SFH construction in California with air conditioning would be required to have solar panels AND a ground source heat pump.

Posted by: EBGuy at March 24, 2009 10:35 PM

"but I will give the project a thumbs up..."

Me too. And if it really turned into a giant friendly robot I would like it even more.

Posted by: anonn at March 25, 2009 12:02 PM

I actually like the look of the place. It reminds me of the mini robots in Silent Running.

As for the effectiveness of the panels, the mounting angle is much less of a problem than the shadow the building itself casts on the pannels. If you look at the first image, half of the right-side array is in shadow. This decreases effectiveness by much more than 50%.

Posted by: Contented (for now) Renter at March 25, 2009 1:19 PM

The large apartment building across the street blocks about half of the afternoon sun from this heinous creation.

I live a block away and was laughing about the panels with a friend (who works for Sunpower) who also lives a block away.

Posted by: gh at March 25, 2009 1:43 PM

Contented Renter, good call on the "Silent Running" comment.
I remember the movie - and see the resemblance.

Here's another shot of that droid:
http://www.nonaverage.net/insomanywords/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/silent-running_droid.jpg

Posted by: jlasf at March 25, 2009 1:59 PM

diemos, "That's the point. If you took them down and transported them to someplace with more sun they would produce more power."

Duh.. I understand that these are not in the most efficient location. But you're missing MY point, which is that we need to support innovation to make advances. The jet airplane wasn't invented by the Wright brothers and the early computers were ugly, costly and practically worthless.... Yet people supported them and today we have amazing computers which have benefited everything from medicine to art.... If everyone on teh 70s and 80s had the attitude of, "it's not efficient" then no one would have bothered to develop computers. There would be no cell phones, or the advanced technology necessary for today's cars, planes, etc.

My point is we need to support these technologies so they will be fantastic in the future. Who knows... in 20 years installing solar panels might be as easy as going to Home Depot, buying a roll, which can be cut like a fabric bolt (though much thicker than cloth) buying a few other widgets and then installing them ourselves..... We might even have numerous color options. But we can't get there if no one supports the clunky technology now.

The house still reminds me of a robot.

Posted by: StockBoySF at March 25, 2009 6:08 PM

I find it amazing that this property passed the neighbor's approval as well as the planning dept. and building approval. I live in Lake district and can't even get a permit for an over-the-counter project that is not visible from the street because of my neighbors. Though the installation of the solar panels is admirable, the Cervantes house is extremely out-of-character for the neighborhood and that will most definately affect it's resale value. Wonder how the neighbors feel now?

Posted by: Tootie at March 25, 2009 7:43 PM

Nice. I like the solar cells on the front of the house. I don't know if it's a more or less efficient location than on the roof, but it certainly looks more attractive.

Am I the only one who think that solar cells on the roof look ugly? I suppose that's mostly because the are not well integrated with the roof.

Folks, don't try to hide them, make them look nice. ;-) I recall seeing a very attractive multi-story building in Japan that did just that.

Posted by: John at March 25, 2009 8:22 PM

I see that some people say that they find the building ugly. Can someone who agrees with that statement describe what they mean? In what way is it ugly? What makes it ugly? Or, is that an emotional response which can't be explained?

It's not finished, so I don't know what it will look like in the end. I can also find fault with it's looks, but I don't see it as ugly.

Posted by: John at March 25, 2009 8:32 PM

I find it amazing that this property passed the neighbor's approval as well as the planning dept. and building approval.

Or maybe they just get along with their neighbors. Each neighborhood, even each block, has its own character this way. It only takes one crank to make your life hard, but on my block for example, everyone has a "live and let live" attitude about this (and all other kinds of things, like parking on the sidewalk, or even blocking the driveway by an inch or two, as long as the person can get out).

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at March 26, 2009 10:07 AM

For all of you wondering how this design managed to be approved by the neighbors... it wasn't.

I live a couple houses away on the same side of the street and we received no notification. We're not pleased.

And FWIW... a sale sign went up this weekend.

Posted by: Pogonip at April 14, 2009 12:25 PM

You can count on this one coming to market at least $1 million over fair value and sitting there for a while, like most of the other Sotheby's listings in the 94123. Places are trading in that zip, 200-300/sqft lower than initial offerings by Sotheby's.

Posted by: Mizz at April 15, 2009 9:29 AM

I like integrating the panels into the walls of the building. Like it or not this is a practice we will see in buildings in the future especially as PV prices drop. I think someday soon PV arrays themselves will be made much more aesthetically-pleasing - I mean, how hard could it be for PV manufacturers to make all the parts the same color as the PV substrate itself? They would look just like windows...

BTW I heard there is a PV array on the roof of this building, too.

Posted by: afaik at April 15, 2009 5:01 PM

Posted by: SocketSite at April 17, 2009 11:56 AM

Anyone else notice the price drop and the 'Motivated Seller' phrase added to the MLS listing.

I'm still in shock the 'Green' Laguna house sold before this one.

Posted by: MarinaLocal at June 9, 2009 1:04 PM

Posted by: eddy at June 27, 2009 5:36 PM

Very unfortunate to see amazing technology like PV be used purely as a design element. I think its beautiful but designers should do their homework before using it and wasting their clients money. There is no way this applcation is as efficient as if it were placed on the roof not to mention the HUGE shadow that casts upon it reduces it BIG time. Imagine if a shadow from a telephone wire can reduce efficiency by 50% what would this shadow do? Sad...

Posted by: keoki at July 8, 2010 3:32 PM

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