Stoney Creek Apartments

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Stoney Creek Apartments, with its cheerful red and white exterior and arts and crafts style architecture, has attracted a lot of attention in its neighborhood as well as among developers, architects, and planners. The ten residential buildings constructed around five shared courtyards were designed to flawlessly blend with the traditional single-family residences that surround the community. Architect Chris Lamen won several awards for the design of the apartments, starting with a city-wide design competition which secured the land from the City of Livermore, California.


"Its just gorgeous," says the manager, with a smile. "We have people stopping in daily, interested in renting an apartment at Stoney Creek."

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 A view of the private porches opening onto the common green


Stoney Creek Apartments was built in 1992 to address the need for affordable housing as the population of nearby San Francisco spilled over to Livermore. With this influx of people, housing costs soared and became unaffordable to many people who worked there. Chris Lamen worked with non-profit developer Eden Housing, Inc. towards the goal of a safe development with a sense of identity. The result was a neighborhood reminiscent of country cottages rather than the traditional perception of urban affordable housing.

Stoney Creek is not only a beautiful development its design has engendered a unique sense of community.

Front doors and patios facing the courtyards encourage residents to linger outside, chatting with other neighbors and enjoying the California weather. Each of the five courtyards is decorated with animal sculptures designed by a local artist, Martha Heavenworth, favorites with children whose imaginations conjure them to life. The courtyards are interconnected, giving children the freedom to move from one to another and the orientation of doors, windows and patios toward the courtyards allows parents to keep watch over the children playing in them.

The five-acre site is long and narrow with only limited street frontage. Therefore, the buildings and courtyards were assembled in a row, with one courtyard fronting the street. Consequently, the developer added a small alley that ran the length of the site (perpendicular to the street), allowing easier access for residents who live further back on the lot and allowing an area along the alley for residents to park.

Each courtyard is entered from the alley. The courtyard lawns are encircled by a sidewalk that connects to the front doors and patios of each of the units. The courtyards contain a circular bench in their center, trees along the edges, flowers and wide expanses of lawn, on which the children love to play. Each courtyard connects to the next along a path, which parallels the alley, along the opposite side of the narrow property. This path also connects to the tot-lots, which include wooden play-structures, and the basketball court, on which children play daily. Two residents, an elderly man and an elderly woman, have used the courtyards as an ideal space to exercise their love of gardening, planting large and beautiful flower beds for the rest of the residents to enjoy. The manager notes that this is a common occurrence in apartment complexes where open space is available, especially developments in which elderly people make their home.

The complex consists of 70 units in ten detached buildings; two buildings surround each of the five interior courtyards. There are both flats and townhouses, half of the units have two bedrooms and half have three bedrooms, and each has two patios  one fronting the courtyard and one in the backyard. The back patio fences are high, but only encircle two-thirds of the private backyards.

The backyards are large enough to hold patio furniture and are often planted with flowers. The back patios are more private, but still connect with the community.

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A children's play area in the courtyard

The front patios are also large enough to include porch furniture and are separated from the courtyards with low 'pasture' fences that while clearly delineating public and private space are open enough to allow easy visibility of the courtyard.

According to the manager, residents spend most of their time outdoors on their front patios, talking to other neighbors and watching the children. Since all neighbors arrive at their homes by way of the courtyards, there is always a lot of activity and socialization.

The manager notes that residents take remarkably good care of not only their homes but also the shared space that makes their development unique. She attributes their care to the beauty of the development's design: "it's been around for eight years, and most residents have been around that long. They really love it." Chris Lamen, the architect, confirms her experience: "We have learned that developing the opportunity for the residents' possession of exterior space and for personal identification of the individual unit creates a tie between the residents and their homes. This feeling of ownership is in direct correlation with the way the resident takes care of the housing."

Residents' respect for their development has made maintenance of the apartments relatively easy. Eden Housing pays $1100 monthly to mow and water the courtyards, leaving additional gardening up to inspired residents. Within an urban context, the developers of Stoney Creek Apartments have created a place with the neighborly accord, the beautiful open spaces, and the sense of community life, desired by many people, regardless of income.

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