San Francisco State University Manzanita Square

Forward‑looking student housing that’s affordable, sustainable and integrated into the city fabric.

San Francisco State University had an imperative to build more student housing amid the city’s housing shortage. With the first new building planned across the traditional campus boundary of Holloway Avenue, the University’s goal was to create a contextual design and community resource. We designed residential units to prioritize affordability for students, retail to be community-serving, and common spaces to create a desirable and safe urban student living experience.

The L-shaped volumes of the building are arranged to harmonize with the scale of the area, responding to the University’s desire for a building that would fit appropriately in its built and urban context. The siting of the building creates a shortcut, allowing activity to flow through the courtyard to the campus at large. This created a continuous accessible path of travel for all from the light rail stop to the main entry and through to the campus, and helped navigate the 20-foot grade change across the site.

The courtyard is a public space, featuring free wifi, a variety of tables, heated benches and integrated greenery where students and the community can relax in an urban oasis.

The main entrance and shared amenities—lobby, multipurpose room, academic success center, social and game lounge—are visible through a transparent glass box adjacent to the courtyard. Concentrating these social and academic spaces at the ground level creates an activity hub that in turn helps enliven the courtyard, for a vibrant student environment 24/7.

The common spaces are designed with a rich combination of biophilic materials and textures, which have been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. The lobby takes visual cues from local Bay Area artist Jet Martinez’s vibrant floral mural, and the lounge with its moss and wood living wall invites students to gather and relax on soft seating.

To reinforce a sense of place, the building’s wayfinding graphics are inspired by the Seven Hills of San Francisco. Each residential floor has a unique but related graphic identity, and the entire composition is visible from the glazed main stairwell.

Integrated Sustainable Approach: 1. Rainwater Collection; 2. Heat Recovery Ventilation/Air Slide Heat Exchanger; 3. Super Insulated Exterior Wall; 4. Campus Cogeneration Heat Capture; 5. Air Source Heat Pump; 6. Integrated Artwork; 7. Public Gathering Space; 8. Accessible Parking Facilities; 9. Solar PV Ready Roof; 10. Occupant Sensor Control; 11. Natural Ventilation/Cooling; 12. Courtyard Vegetation + Irrigation; 13. Rainwater Treatment; 14. Bicycle Parking

The LEED Gold building capitalized on the site’s foggy and cool microclimate to design an efficient, all-electric building that advances SFSU’s sustainability goals. Passive house principles—including continuous insulation without thermal bridging and double-pane windows—reduce baseline energy needs. The high-performance building envelope is a super-insulated rainscreen that eliminates the need for active cooling, dramatically reducing heating load and costs.

Image of Manzanita Square taken from Holloway Avenue at dusk.
While the finished building is truly extraordinary, I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude not just for what you built, but how you did it: your ongoing support, diligence, consultation and partnership along the way have been deeply appreciated. [...] Please know that you’ve made a lasting contribution to our campus and the community that will serve thousands of students in the years to come. Jason M. Porth VP for University Enterprises, San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA
245,000 sq.ft. | 597 beds & 2 staff units
Sustainable Design
LEED Gold | All‑electric residences
Student Housing Business Innovator Awards
Best Public‑Private Financing Solution
Student Housing Business Innovator Awards
Best Use of Green & Sustainable Construction & Development
American Campus Communities
Pacific Union Development Co.
General Contractor
Build Group
Tim Griffith & Bruce Damonte
Multistudio asterisk