Let a crisis become an opportunity! New rules intended to grow more density offer designers a chance to rethink the San Francisco home. Send us your visions for the 21st century  that offer up innovative approaches to lifestyle and architectural style, and show that the single family house is not the only dream home in California. As society grapples with challenges including homelessness, a changing climate and social fragmentation, consider forms of housing that are light on the earth, obtainable in cost and social in nature. 

Frances Anderton, Author & Former Host | DnA on KCRW (Los Angeles)

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The Housing+ San Francisco 2050 Design Competition seeks design ideas and typologies that address an ongoing housing crisis. How to increase available housing while embracing the character and scale of this city? A large percentage of the city’s land zoned for residential use is designated for single-family homes only. While California Senate Bill 9 (SB9), The California H.O.M.E Act, and proposed San Francisco-focused legislation aim to redress the inequity inherent in current land use patterns, many areas are still affected by being down-zoned from multi-unit to single-family-only in the late ‘70s. This competition seeks solutions for innovative new housing typologies for the city of San Francisco that look to the future, creating more equitable and resilient urban communities.

As architects, designers and urban planners, we must address global warming, and therefore, we encourage each submission to address sustainable design solutions that address the local climate of San Francisco. Design proposals can use the AIA Framework for Design Excellence as a general guide and for inspiration and also integrate the general energy conservation principles of Passive House.

During AIA San Francisco’s 2022 Housing Symposium (see “Housing+ | Future Typologies for a Livable and Equitable San Francisco”), a vital discussion highlighted the extraordinary benefits San Francisco could enjoy in denser neighborhoods that provide housing that centers community and social connection. With increased housing density and type, comes diversity, improved mass transit, mutual security and understanding, a sense of community, and neighborhood connection. With increased housing, neighborhoods will grow with walkability to local merchants, schools, services, and community centers. With increased housing availability and options, rents and housing costs will come down, and working families can return to the city.

The competition seeks to raise the issue of housing development to the top of the political and popular agenda. Entries will offer designs to inspire the next generation of residential growth in San Francisco.

Historical Context

San Francisco’s many tech booms and its rare beauty attract people from all parts of the world and place it in the heart of this country’s housing crisis. A large percentage of the city’s land has been limited to single-family-only use since 1978, when the city's residential areas were downzoned to limit growth. These zoning requirements effectively excluded access to people of color and limited means thereby creating redlined elite neighborhoods. In the past 20 to 30 years, broad swaths of middle- to low-income San Franciscans have been forced to leave the city due to ever-escalating rents and exorbitant home prices driven by scarcity.

Neighborhoods on the city's west side have seen virtually no growth in the past 50 years. Housing built in San Francisco is concentrated in downtown, South of Market (SoMa), and parts of the Mission. Fewer than 10% of the 82,000 units mandated by the state of California’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) have been built this past year.  Many entities in the city, from the Mayor’s office to YIMBY and housing organizations, support increased housing density and are looking to the west side for opportunities to help solve the city's housing needs with equitable, inclusive, and affordable neighborhoods.

Part of the down-zoning that occurred in the late 1970s resulted in eliminating multi-unit housing in all but selected neighborhoods in San Francisco.  According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, this single-use zoning can be traced to a single day, September 18, 1978 (Buss, April 21, 2021)  when the board of supervisors voted to essentially make apartments illegal in all but a handful of neighborhoods. It is estimated that apartment buildings are illegal in about 76% of San Francisco.

Design Goals

San Francisco has a rich history of housing typologies, including two- and three-flat buildings on single lots and Victorian and Edwardian single-family homes. In some neighborhoods, including the Richmond district and Noe Valley, 4-unit apartment buildings are common on corners built in the 1940’s. The organizers envision new typologies of multi-unit buildings integrated into the existing urban fabric of the city’s western neighborhoods, including the Richmond and Sunset districts.

Two types of lots are being reimagined, the Single-family mid-block lots and the corner lots of these western neighborhoods.  Each lot type is being re- imagined to include multi storey and multi unit buildings at the same time that the SF Planning Department is modifying these two zoning designations in the current edition of the Housing Element to provide more housing and eliminate single-family zoning.

Submission Requirements

  • 350-word (maximum) narrative PDF file. Consider questions mentioned in above section.
  • Compose submittal on two 24” x 36” sheets oriented vertically and upload as one (1) PDF file which includes a 50-word summary statement placed on one of the submittal sheets; be sure to include the following exactly as noted at the bottom right corner of each sheet: Parcel Type_Project Name

List of Deliverables:

  • Site plan with proposed design inserted into partial block context at a reasonable scale to illustrate the surrounding area and street(s).
  • Floor plans with furniture at ⅛” = 1’-0” (minimum) required. Ground floor plan to show adjacent context.
  • Site section(s) to include the entire  parcel at ⅛” = 1’-0” minimum and showing the relationship to the  surrounding buildings and street.
  • Exterior elevations including adjacent context elevations at ⅛” = 1’-0” minimum. 
  • Renderings of exterior views in context 
         - convey proposed vision for San Francisco 2050
  • Renderings of interior or indoor-outdoor spaces to convey livability
         - 3 dimensional renderings of exterior are encouraged.
  • Provide diagrams to convey the design concepts 

Call for program submissions are now open for the 20th Annual Architecture + the City Festival. Festival programs currently will offer in-person and virtual experiences.



  • Thursday, March 6: Call for submissions opens
  • Friday, May 5, 11:59 PM (Pacific Time): Deadline for submissions proposal
  • May 8-19: Review process
  • Monday, May 22: Accept/Decline notifications 
  • September 8-30: Festival

(Updated 3/17/23)

Co-presented by the Center for Architecture + Design in collaboration with AIA San Francisco, the annual Architecture + the City Festival celebrates San Francisco's built environment through a variety of behind-the-scenes programs, walking tours, home tours, literature, exhibitions, and presentations. 

Questions? Contact info@aiasf.org

The following are suggested topics to consider when submitting a program proposal. View the 2022 Architecture + the City Calendar of Events for inspirations.

  • What has been the narrative of architecture and design amidst a global pandemic?
  • How has architecture impacted you and the (re)use of space?
  • How have you stayed connected during a time of separation and what types of architecture and design have you found inspiration?
  • What challenges continue to be part of housing, climate change, economic and health equity?
  • How do we design with connection in mind, that is human-centered and focuses on health, inclusivity and resilience?
  • How can we seamlessly connect the present urban community to empower a more deliberate, livable San Francisco?

Each year the festival explores and reveals the many layers of San Francisco and how ­architecture and design play a key role in the ever-changing urban landscape. We look forward to hearing your programming ideas that reflect the current narrative.

Proceeds from Architecture + the City Festival program benefits the Center for Architecture + Design; proceeds from the Festival Home Tours benefit AIA San Francisco.

Additional details to be provided to selected projects; all programming is subject to change.


Annabelle Udo-O'Malley, Programs Director, auomalley@centersf.org

Claire Hansen, Programs Associate, chansen@centersf.org