Essex on Lake Merritt

Essex on lake Merritt Oakland Mixed-Use
Lake Merritt Essex Oakland Mixed-Use
Essex on Lake Merritt Oakland SmithGroup
Essex on Lake Merritt Oakland Mixed-Use
Essex on Lake Merritt SmithGroup Mixed-Use

The Essex is a luxury high-rise residential building on the lakefront adjacent to downtown Oakland. It takes full advantage of its remarkable location, which has two main elevations – to the west, the relatively modestly scaled older apartment buildings of downtown Oakland, and to the east, a dramatic bend in Lake Merritt. 


Essex Property Trust


Oakland, California


Architecture, Mixed-Use, Residential


213 FT / 441,000 GSF


When Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland in the early 2000s, he pledged to build 10,000 units of housing for the city. The Essex on Lake Merritt was a result of that initiative, bringing the first 270 high-rise, high density units into the city’s rental stock, (later would be converted to condominiums). The client, Essex Property Trust, a REIT, sought to build high-quality rental housing stock and hold on to it for an extended period.

Our team was brought on to develop a design for the Essex, that would focus on the building’s context and take full advantage of the outstanding views around the site. To the west are mid and low -rise apartment buildings in a variety of architectural styles which our design responded to with a nine-story wing that anchors the contemporary architecture of the Essex into its traditional residential surroundings. This includes four arch-shaped roof elements visible in the skyline. To the east is a 22-story tower that takes the shape of the rounded curved edge of the streetscape and lake in plan, occupying a dramatic point on the lake where there is an inflection.


Essex on Lake Merritt SmithGroup Oakland

At the corner of the building is a soaring slender spire that extends from the ground to above the top of the tower, marking the Essex on the skyline.


Both buildings, which are linked by a glass bridge, are sheathed in a light-colored cementitious material, whereas at ground level gold stone accents lend a sense of strength and permanence. The multiple unit configurations include tower penthouses and two-story townhouses at street level. Amenities abound: a covered motor court at the entry; an outdoor garden; adult’s and children’s pools; a clubhouse and a fitness center.

With the demand for housing in the Bay Area, it would be easy to construct an ordinary building that is an island unto itself, unconcerned with its context. But the Essex on Lake Merritt takes special care to relate to its unique and one-of-a-kind setting, to contribute to the urban growth of Oakland.