Of all the pads chosen for this year’s AIA San Francisco Living: Home Tours, only one found me smiling from start to finish. I wondered why as I wandered through this intriguing Glen Park residence… suddenly, on an upstairs landing, I spied a strange note stuck inside a fire-engine red Royal typewriter. I crept closer, just to get a peek. Staring back at me, three words, all caps: NOTHING BUT EVIDENCE. The owners’ motives began to emerge, as clear as the double-height glass wall behind me. Strachan and Melissa Forgan, it seems, had volumes to gain — more space, more light, even sheer satisfaction and enjoyment — simply by digging in, building up and letting Architecture and the City take its course.

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This capable couple bought the small property in 2004. Three variances and several years later, they completed construction and moved in. Their infill development of a small, steeply sloped orphan lot capitalized on existing urban infrastructure in an established community, and produced a “jewel of a house” and a valuable Gold Nugget to boot (for “a balance of innovation in sustainable practices and architecture of transparency” — 2008 Best Custom Home under 5,000 sq.ft). Other awards and attentions soon followed.

The architect behind this master plan turns out to be none other than the owner himself. Mr. Forgan, a LEED-certified senior associate at Sasaki, explored a gold rating as well as a third bedroom for his four-story, two-bedroom creation, and passed up both. “The planning of the house was a real jigsaw puzzle,” he affirms, “though hopefully the result seems really obvious.” And then some — even the building contractor’s homepage celebrates Forgan’s stairway to heaven.

Upon further questioning and closer inspection, I unearthed other signs of sustainability: underfloor radiant heating supplied by an ultra high-efficiency (95%+) condensing gas boiler… LED downlighting inside and out… integrated HomeWorks and Home Automation to control lighting, shades, heat and security systems via an iPod, laptop or the Internet… high-efficiency Energy Star appliances (Bosch) and TOTO fixtures (Aquia)… and interior materials such as edge-grain amber bamboo floors and cabinetry, low-VOC paints, carpets with recycled content, and floor tile made with stone dust.

Clean lines and durable, low-maintenance exterior materials (cement board siding, stucco, metal roofs) are enhanced outside by a backyard waterfall and ripe bamboo, surrounding Eucalyptus trees and a nearby park, and on the inside with window treatments, warm colors, works of art and thoughtful elements (diverse panes and accordion doors, a telescope, that typewriter…). A white membrane cool roof covers the lot-defined structural envelope with high insulation values that surpass Title 24 by 23.7% (6-inch studs at perimeter allow R19 walls and R40+ roof insulation).

The Forgans have listed their home for sale as they begin construction on a new place outside Sebastopol in Sonoma. Their advice to other audacious homemakers? “There are thousands of underutilized lots in San Francisco, so there is plenty of opportunity for designers to get creative and help finish off the urban fabric. There is an oddball property on almost every block of this city that either needs a creative solution or some TLC or both! You don’t get to build new in San Francisco often, so build as well as is possible.” The resulting evidence shall speak for itself.

+ Sasaki

+ Bradford Construction

+ AIA SF Architecture and the City