Photo of MacArthur Commons
Photo of MacArthur Commons
Photo of MacArthur Commons
Photo of MacArthur Commons
Photo of MacArthur Commons

MacArthur Commons

Village Life, Renewed

On former parking lot adjacent to one of the busiest BART stations in San Francisco, right up against the I-580 freeway in Oakland, we imagined an entirely new place for people to live and play. Transforming the site’s car-centered history—car shops, garages, parking—into a small, lively, pedestrian-oriented village, our mid-rise housing project of MacArthur Commons now contributes 400 homes, retail and flex space, and a public mews at an intimately residential scale. Even though we refined it, re-centered it from cars to people, we kept this new place grounded in its historic past. Street-level pathways, community courtyards, and the people-friendly landscapes of MacArthur Commons add to the area’s culture and overall spirit. Its colorful, visually compelling design welcomes travelers, many departing the nearby BART station, to this artistic and vibrant neighborhood in central Oakland.

Oakland, California
  • 385 units
  • 6 stories
  • 448,975 sq. ft.



Architecture , Planning




Architecture: Jason Roberts

Planning: Will Grimm

Architecture Story

Three Thoughtful Solutions

From two parcels of a vacant 8-acre parking lot, we created three buildings, a community of homes for Oakland’s young professionals and families: 400 apartment units connected to a major transit line, with easy walking access to buses and shuttles and bike parking. Each building has a different vibe. Each responds in its own way, from active to private, to the surrounding neighborhood. Combined, they make up the conditions that support healthier living. The building against the BART station mimics the movement of transit. On the façade, green, grey, and black patterns dance playfully like cars zipping by, a highly visible “billboard” that draws visitors in with vibrant colors and materials. Inside, the individual units are efficient, clean, modern, and cool; upstairs on the rooftop, a lounge presents views of the city. The courtyard building, the largest in MacArthur Commons, offers its residents larger units and extra space, along with plenty of ground-floor retail. Comfortable and private within, the exterior is all about corners and activating Telegraph Avenue: A simple palette of strong, white corners and balconies attracts passersby. The corner building’s strong presence moves from urban/public—meeting the energy of the BART station—then tapers to more private residences on a quieter residential side street. At the busy corner, a bold red color at the walk-up units slowly disperses to the less-trafficked side residences, whose balconies and opportunities for respite echo a mix of retail space and residential support services. Shared by all three buildings, the commons mews offers a buffer from the highway, with an outside kitchen (complete with a barbecue, of course) and raised planting beds. Our design for this public space encapsulates our plan for MacArthur Commons overall: To catalyze this neighborhood’s development through new architecture that fits in while standing out, by enhancing the quirkiness and character that’s already here.


Planning Story

A Transit-Centered Community

Located in a transit-oriented part of Oakland, MacArthur Commons is an active, central space that brings together the existing neighborhood with people visiting via public transit. To create the perfect conditions for livelier community life here, we started by exploring how people walk through it. Thus we placed the buildings in a way that both reinforces the public space and buffers the pedestrian street from the nearby freeway. Travelers leaving the BART station are immediately greeted by our design’s strong, colorful identity. Strategically positioned at the site’s perimeter, retail at the ground floor of all three buildings beckons passersby and visitors. We’ve tucked away the resident lobbies, walk-up unit entries, and mixed-use spaces from the primary street, but we kept the entire lower level as transparent as possible to create sightlines through to the centralized courtyard. The outdoor space—as well as terraces and pathways—enhance the block, connects the buildings, and catalyzes this neighborhood’s development through a new village that fits in while standing out.