Sparks Way Commons (1984), Hayward, California.

Mui Ho

B.Arch. '66

Sparks Way Commons (1984), Hayward, California.

Architecture for the People

By Maiko Sein, B.Arch. '23

Designed by Mui Ho, Sparks Way Commons in Hayward, California, was the first affordable single-parent family housing project in the U.S. Ho's innovative approach to the project put residents first from start to finish.

Conversations with the community informed her design, which included a garden for each unit where families could sit or barbeque while children played nearby. Sparks Way Commons exemplifies Ho's mission to create architecture that considers the people she designs for. "Design is not something you do for yourself," she says. "You have to think about the people you are serving."

Photo of an older Asian woman reviewing a small architectural model

Ho reviewing an architectural model.

Coming to the U.S. from Hong Kong, Ho first attended Cornell as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor of science in 1962. After attending Pratt Institute to study design, she returned to Cornell to pursue a degree in architecture (B. Arch. '66). At Cornell, Ho says she learned "to bring history back into your design," a lesson taken from noted architectural historian Colin Rowe. After moving to Berkeley, California in 1969, Ho worked with a group of architects with a strong social mission and credits them for helping her to discover community design. "I learned how to talk to the people of the community," she says, "how to get to them, and find information from them first-hand. That was important training for me as an architect."

For Ho, the importance of community extends to her leadership in the design field. In 1972, she cofounded the Organization for Women Architects (OWA), which marks its 50th year in 2023. Innovative from the start for its focus on the integration of career and a balanced personal life, OWA's mission is to create a community for women in the field of architecture and design — a place where they support each other in both their lives and their careers.

A woman with gray hair and a group of middle-aged men, all wearing hard hats, stand on a platform outside of a building that's under construction.

Mui Ho working on-site in December 2019.

Ho's reputation is both in research and teaching design. Combining her own architecture and community housing practice with teaching, she taught at the University of California–Berkeley College of Environmental Design for more than 30 years before retiring in 2008. She also taught classes on regional architecture in China, where students would learn "to understand a place's people, culture, and environment." According to Ho, the vernacular architecture of a place "has the ability to reflect the culture, their values, the people, and the environment."

Ho recounts her proudest professional accomplishment as an educator when, nominated by her students, she received the Distinguished Professor Award by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. Her conviction is that architecture as a part of culture must relate to its time, its place, and its people. Ho shares this advice to young architects: "If you don't know history, your design has no foundation. Everything is interrelated."

Mui Ho's website:


Education: Peizing College Auditorium, Huadu, China (2010)

Exterior view of a beige building and lush greenery.



A roof with large glass windows covers the entry forecourt.

Entry forecourt.

Entry forecourt

Exterior of a glass-walled building and entry forecourt.

Entry forecourt.

Entry forecourt

View of a lobby with wooden walls and metal beams.

Lobby, interior. The auditorium became a hub on campus as a space frequently used for large lectures, performance arts, and formal school ceremonies.


View of lobby stairwell and a wall of windows

Lobby stairwell. Travertine limestone was used to create a feeling of warmth in the lobby.

Lobby stairwell

Lobby stairway to an upper level.

Lobby stairway.

Lobby stairway

View of a long hallway and doors to outside



Blue seats in a large, empty auditorium face a lit stage.

Central auditorium, designed to house large college-wide lectures and performances for the arts.


View of blue seats in an auditorium.

Central auditorium. Built-in air-conditioning and windows on both sides of the auditorium promote ventilation and airflow throughout the auditorium, while shades over the windows block out excessive direct sunlight.


Education: Peizing College Activity Building, Huadu, China (2006)

A tree-lined pathway leads to a four-story building.

Exterior west. The building's design concept was organized along a covered street, enabling the students using the building to be aware of other activities.

Exterior west

A pool of water reflects a four-story building at its far end.

Exterior west. The exterior is clad with locally made tiles to ease maintenance and prevent mold. Brise soileil shield windows on the south and west facades from direct sunlight.

Exterior west

View of the northeast side of a rectangular building

Exterior northeast. Two ventilation towers create a continuous airflow siphoning warm air at the top to bring cooler outdoor air in at the lower levels.

Exterior northeast

A long, open atrium bisects the building.

Central atrium, designed to visually link the activity spaces at the center of the building. 

Central atrium

Upward view of a long atrium.

Central atrium, designed to provide natural ventilation throughout the building.

Central atrium

View from ground floor of railings lining upper floors overlooking the atrium.

Central atrium. An intermediate glass ceiling at the third floor dampens sound at the upper floors and helps to make the height of the seven-floor atrium less imposing.

Central atrium

Students hold a dance pose in a studio.

Ballet studio, interior view. Tall operable windows let in natural light and provide ventilation in all activity rooms especially the martial art and ballet studios.

Ballet studio

A male student dances in front of a large mirror.

Ballet studio, interior view.

Ballet studio

Interior view of an empty dance studio.

Ballet studio, windows. All rooms have operable windows for daylighting and natural ventilation.

Ballet studio

View of a rectangular stairwell with white walls and stairs and wooden railings.

Stairway, interior. 


Education: Peizing College Administration Building, Huadu, China (2003)

Exterior view of the east side of a rectangular building with a tall, rectangular tower. Many windows line the building's walls, creating a grid-like design.

Exterior east. This four-story administration building was designed to house the large administrative staff, as well as offices for professors.

Exterior east

Bushes and flowers line the south entry into a building.

South entry. The Administration Building sits prominently on top of a hill, making it visible from afar.

South entry

A long hallway is lined symmetrically with railings and windows.

Central corridor. Clerestory windows allow natural light to evenly light the long central corridor.

Central corridor

A decorative railing adorns an interior stairway.

Stairway, lit by clerestory windows.


Open atrium in a building entrance

Entry atrium. The walls between offices and corridor were glass windows to allow natural lighting to spill into offices.

Entry atrium

A wooden, donut-shaped table fills a conference room.

Conference room, interior.

Conference room

A rectangular building sits behind a running track and sports field.

Exterior north and track field. 

Exterior north

Housing: Hongnam Village, Huadu, China (1998-2003)

Aerial view of many eight-story dormitory buildings and smaller apartment buildings.

Located 20 miles from the nearest town, Peizheng College acquired the piece of land across from campus to create a college town and house more students and staff.

Village overview

Buildings and houses overlook a pond surrounded by trees.

Hongnam Village is a mixed-use community, with both residential and commercial spaces.

Village overview

Three people walk down a wide sidewalk toward dormitories.

Students reside in either the eight-story dormitory or in apartment buildings.

Dorm buildings

Two people stand outside a four-story apartment building.

Prior to this construction, no university in China offered student apartments. Mui Ho advocated for the apartments as an opportunity for students to learn to live independently.

Student apartments

Exterior view of a brick red building.

At the heart of the project are six buildings and parking structures of the town center, with larger apartments and commercial space.

Commons building

Bikes line the sidewalk in front of small kiosk buildings.

The village's commercial spaces created new economic opportunities for local farmers and merchants to open small kiosks, improving community relations with the college.

Commons kiosks

A patio umbrella stands outside a kiosk building.

The shops are located under the covered arcade, typical of cities in Southern China, to create shade for pedestrians and keep products out of the sun.

Commons kiosks

View of grey and brick-colored dorm building exteriors.

The Hongnam Student Housing complex comprises 13 buildings, some devoted strictly to dormitories and others to small apartments, arranged to form one large and one smaller courtyard.

East dorm courtyard

View of grey and brick-colored dorm building exteriors and basketball court.

Basketball and tennis courts in east dorm courtyards.

Basketball courts in east dorm courtyards

Exterior view of entry into eight-story dormitory.

East dorm entry.

East dorm entry

Corridor in dormitory building.

The dormitory design included open air stairways and corridors to account for the hot and humid climate.

Dormitory corridor

Small square table and chairs next to small counters with kitchen appliances in a dorm room.

Dormitory room: The dormitories that were built reduced the number of students living in each room, which had its own bathroom and a balcony for hang-drying laundry. All dorm rooms were designed to have windows on both ends to allow for increased ventilation.

Dormitory room

View of gray multistory dorm and apartment buildings.

West dorm courtyard, the smaller courtyard, as viewed from its parking structure deck. 

West dorm courtyard

Multistory apartment building facing basketball court in courtyard.

Tennis court in west dorm courtyard.

Basketball court in west dorm courtyard

Skywalk leading to an entryway of a gray multistory apartment building.

West dorm entry. The sculptural facade of the dormitories was created by adding undulating balconies, a minimal addition to costs in concrete construction. The deep-set balcony shields the glass window from direct westward sunlight.

West dorm entry

Entry to a parking garage near apartment buildings.

Entrance to the parking structure.

Parking entry

A presentation board with photos and text overviewing a building complex.

Project presentation board for the OWA Reception at the 2009 AIA Conference in San Francisco.

Presentation board

Housing: Sparks Way Commons, Hayward, California (1984)

Sidewalks and plants in community housing complex.

Community center. The primary concept of the design was to create a "home within a community" for a total of 45 units.

Community center

Cars are parked outside homes in community housing complex.

Central parking.

Central parking

Outdoor facade of community housing

Units facing parking.

Units facing parking

Exterior view of a tan-colored duplex unit.

Duplex unit. Single parents expressed in interviews and community meetings a preference for their homes to be non-apartment-like in nature.

Duplex unit

Kids play in the entry courtyard.

Entry courtyard. The court is designed to be used for play by small children who can be visually supervised by their parents from the house.

Entry courtyard

View from a threshold of a housing unit looking out onto the common space with plants around

Entry courtyard. Small groups of five units are arranged around a pedestrian court, creating a sense of neighborhood and security.

Entry courtyard

Outdoor facade of community housing

Entry courtyard.

Entry courtyard

A vine plant with flowers covers a wooden fence in a private yard.

Private yard. Each unit has its own small garden which allows a space for outdoor family activities. To further enhance privacy, all the outdoor spaces are enclosed with a low wood fence.

Private yard

A table is set in a dining room.

Unit interior. Community members expressed a preference for their homes to include the amenities of single-family homes.

Unit interior

A detailed plan for a housing complex.

Partial site plan. All 45 houses sit on the sloping portion of the site to leave a large flat area for recreation, such as a softball diamond and play structures.

Partial site plan

A presentation board shows a colored, drawn plan of the housing complex and photos of the completed housing.

Presentation board. Sparks Way Commons, designed in association with HGT architects, was the first affordable housing project in the U.S. to be developed specifically for single parents with children. 

Presentation board

Housing: Henry Street Condominiums, Berkeley, California (1985)

Facades of houses in a small complex.



An adult children walk through a courtyard link.

Courtyard link. To achieve privacy and security, entry to each house is located through two courtyards.

Courtyard link

Housing facades

View of houses from street. The use of stucco and pitched roof exterior is to blend with the existing neighborhood in scale and in form.

View of houses from street

Facades of houses in a small complex.

Entry to courtyard.

Entry to courtyard

A walkway between houses.

Courtyard link.

Courtyard link

A small stairway landing contains a rocking chair and throw rug.

Upper floor landing. The spaces are designed to be fluid, open, and full of light, while partitions provide visual privacy.

Upper floor landing

A small kitchenette

Kitchen. The spatial quality and ambience of these houses are modern, achieved through the modulation of unusual ceiling heights and interlocking spaces.


A staircase to the upper level of a home.

Living room staircase. These houses might appear "traditional" in an urban sense yet elicit an element of surprise not perceived from the outside.

Living room staircase

A plan for the housing complex.

Site plan.

Site plan

Presentation board depicts plans for the housing complex and photos of the finished buildings.

Presentation board. This project is a nine-house complex in a village-like setting that reinforces the sense of neighborhood and gives identity to a rather busy artery in Berkeley.

Presentation board

Community: Tassajara Bath House, Tassajara, California (1983)

Entry to a bath house.

Entry. The design of the Tassajara Bath House constitutes a series of baths and bathing areas, both communal and private for the Zen community.


An outdoor wooden walkway leads to the bath house.

Entry walkway. Similar to other Eastern religious centers, a long passage precedes the entry to the bath.

Entry walkway

A long mirror lines the wall next to a tiled tub. An open doorway and a window overlook the tub.

Tub room. Materials were used in such a way to be tactile and sensuous. The hand-planed Alaskan cedar beams, railings, and benches are pleasing to the touch and give the architecture a Japanese craftsman building quality.

Tub room

A room with openings to the outside.

Pool room. Similar in effect to the aggregate of small buildings in Japanese architecture, the staggering roofs let in animated sunlight from the east and west through clerestory windows.

Pool room

A small shrine

Shrine. The building is designed to capture the spirit of practice, tradition and philosophy of Japanese Zen Buddhism.


A wooden bridge crosses a creek, providing a path to the bath house.

Exterior from creek. Situated at the bottom of the valley, this long narrow building is partly nestled into the hillside and partly extends over a stream. 

Exterior view from creek

A wooden bridge crosses a creek, providing a path to the bath house.

View from the creek. The building form reflects the attitude of Zen practice and is stylistically integrated with its rustic environment.

View from the creek

Presentation board depicts plans for the bath house and photos of the finished building interior and exterior.

Presentation board.

Presentation board

Community: True Sunshine Church, San Francisco, California (1992)

Exterior view of the church's western side.

Exterior west. Design of a new sanctuary for the Episcopalian Church in Chinatown.

Exterior west

A small chapel with white walls, wooden doorways and trim, and metal folding chairs.

Chapel. The new sanctuary will replace the existing multipurpose room as a place of worship


Interior view of the chapel from the rear.

Chapel interior.

Chapel interior

Two people dance in the center of the chapel.

View of chapel from loft. The new church will embody both Chinese and Christian cultures.

View of chapel from loft

A woman exits a stairwell.



A drawn plan of a section of the church.

Section plan. The existing building is renovated to meet the church's needs for a community gathering space, classrooms, daycare, and administration.

Section plan

A small model of the chapel.

Chapel model of a new sanctuary for the Episcopalian Church in Chinatown.

Chapel model

Community: Bonita House, Berkeley, California (1982)

House exterior

Exterior viewed from street. Bonita House, designed in association with HGT Architects, was a demonstration turn-key project, funded by HUD to accommodate former mental health patients for up to one year after their release from mental institutions. 

Exterior viewed from street

Parked cars line the street in front of a house

Front facade viewed from street. The concept of small houses, instead of one large one, was designed primarily to keep the new structure in scale with the immediate neighborhood and the community-at-large. These two houses, similar in size and material to other houses in the neighborhood, minimize the connotations of a halfway house and furthermore, do not draw attention to themselves.

Front facade viewed from street

View of rear deck and stairs.

Rear deck and stairs. There is a private patio on the garden level and private deck on the second level for the residents’ use. A long narrow fenced garden with fruit trees was also incorporated into the design for the residents to stroll in privacy.

Rear deck and stairs

Roof beams cast a shadow across a door on the upper deck.

Upper deck.

Upper deck

Interior stairway leads to the upper floor of the house.

Entry stair.

Entry stair

Stairwell viewed from upper floor.

Entry stair.

Entry stair

Living room with a meeting table, two couches, and a glass wall facing outside.

Living room.

Living room

View of a kitchen



Homes: SoHo House, La Jolla, California (1994)

Exterior facade of a private residence.

Entry. SoHo House is a large private residence for a designed around a central courtyard for a Chinese-American couple and their extended family. 


Exterior facade and courtyard of a private residence.

Courtyard. The design of the home recalls both the courtyard houses of China and of Spanish Colonial times. 


Light and dark red shingles cover the roof of a private residence.

Courtyard. The building material is stucco and Spanish tile, compatible with houses in La Jolla.


A small round pond in the courtyard.

Courtyard pond.

Courtyard pond

A hallway leads to a room with a table and chairs in front of a window.

Entry hall. An open covered walkway provides a view of the central courtyard and links the house's three wings. Designers used unglazed Spanish tile for the walkway.

Entry hall

A vase of pink flowers on a table in the library.



A table and wire frame chairs face glass doors leading to the courtyard.

Breakfast area.

Breakfast area

Two chairs face a coffee table and bench in a living room.

Living room. Designers used wood for the living area floor to give the space a simple and calm aesthetic. 

Living room

Two chairs face a coffee table and bench in a living room.

Living room.

Living room

Six wooden chairs surround a rectangular table decorated with a vase of flowers.

Dining room.

Dining room

A white model of a large private residence decorated with tan and brown fake plants.



Homes: Twin Brook Farm House, Napa, California (1995)

Tall green trees surround a white house.

View of site from north. This small house sits on a remote property in the hills east of Napa.

View of site from north

South facade of a white house with glass doors and a deck.

Exterior south.

Exterior south

An exterior view of a white house with warm indoor lighting seen through the many glass doors and windows in the evening.

Exterior northeast. The structure uses the vernacular of a traditional rural farmhouse with some modern accommodations.

Exterior northeast

A living room with two loveseats and two lounge chairs.

Living room.

Living room

An open kitchen featuring long counters and a wall lined with cupboards.



A line drawing depicting the the farmhouse and property.



Homes: Sutch Home Studio, Berkeley, California (1992)

Bookshelves filled with books line a wall.

Library. The Sutch house is a remodel of an existing 1920s single-story bungalow, originally an auxiliary house, to be used as a study for an economics professor in Berkeley, California. 


A wooden seating area outside the house.

View from the deck. Wooden trellis arches function as gateways between the study and the house.

View from the deck

A brick pathway leads to a small wooden deck.

Deck. Wooden trellis arches function as gateways between the study and the house.


A table and chairs in front of a bookshelf in the home library.

Library. The layers of spaces are connected axially with a tall archway and then a pediment, which represent a tie to classical learning.


A small step stool in front of a bookshelf.

Library. The design separates the work area and the conference area with a library alcove. This sequence of spaces subtly divides the various functions of the study, creating a sense of layering and making a very small building feel more generous.


An older man sits next to a desk with a small, older computer model.

Office. The objective was to create an office/study that could accommodate technology for work but still maintain the old-fashioned feeling of a scholar's study.


Homes: Joseph Shop House, Pondicherry, India (2009)

Women in colorful saris walk down the street.

Street outside the shophouse. The owner/director Linda Joseph hired Mui Ho to work on the shophouse project in Pondicherry, a historic town in India.

Street outside the shophouse

Motor bikes parked outside a coral-colored building.

Street facade. Pondicherry has been designated an UNESCO town, and therefore, all the buildings had to comply to the historic standards. To maintain cohesiveness among the historic buildings, the town required buildings to be painted one of three designated colors — pink, yellow, and gray.

Street facade

Coral0-colored building facade viewed from the courtyard.

View from the courtyard. Mui Ho found it a challenge and an opportunity to learn about the building practice in the area as well as the vocabulary of the 19th century French colonial style in which the buildings were designed.

View from courtyard

A courtyard with a tiled floor and stairs leading up into the building.

A primary concern was to make the interior of these long, narrow buildings bright with natural light. Three courtyards provided light and cross-ventilation. 


Clothing hang next to a doorway that opens into the courtyard.

Shop floor.

Shop floor

Shop filled with racks of clothing and accessories.

Shop floor.

Shop floor

The mezzanine floor features wooden tables and shelves of pottery.



Mezzanine balcony overlooks the shop floor.

Mezzanine balcony.

Mezzanine balcony

An apartment contains wooden furniture in an open living room and white drawers and frosted glass cupboards in an open kitchen.

Interior of one of the upper floor apartments that occupied the top two floors of the shophouse.

Upper floor apartment

An open kitchen and living room open to a small balcony.

Upper floor apartment. A private entrance to the housing on the upper floors separated residences from shops below.

Upper floor apartment

Research: Hakka House, Fujian, China

Aerial view of Fujian landscape with lush green landscape and round tan houses.

Fujian landscape. The Hakka people migrated from the Henan area more than 300 years ago to settle in the southern Fujian and northern Guangdong province. 

Fujian landscape

Aerial view of Fujian landscape with lush green landscape and round tan houses.

Hakka round and square clan house. Known also as the Kejia people, the Hakka built fortress-like apartment buildings, generally on hilly higher ground to leave flatter areas for agriculture. They lived in large groupings originally for protection from bandits. 

Hakka round and square clan house

Circular house.

Hakka round clan house and clan shrine. Made of rammed earth, these clan houses could be circular, square, or sometimes shaped to fit the site. 

Hakka round clan house and clan shrine

Hakka rooftop.

Hakka round clan house. The diameter of the house ranged from 50 meters to 250 meters, each capable of being self-sufficient for extended periods under siege. 

Hakka round clan house

Kitchens inside the round clan house courtyard.

View of kitchens in clan house courtyard.

Kitchens in clan
house courtyard

Round clan house courtyard.

Round clan house. The clan houses were usually four stories with one main entry and two side doors. Stairs to the upper levels were built at the four corners. 

Round clan house

Well inside the clan house.

Each clan house contained two or three wells.

Clan house well

Exterior view of weathered square clan houses overlooking a narrow stream of water.

Hakka square clan house.

Hakka square clan house

Courtyard of a square clan house.

Square clan house courtyard.

Square clan house

Family temple inside clan house courtyard.

View of family temple. The central building was the ancestral hall used for family celebrations and other formal occasions.

Family temple

Family temple inside clan house courtyard.

Interior view of family temple.

Interior view of family temple

Research: Taishan Towers, Guangdong, China

Exterior of masonry tower.

These masonry towers stood five to seven stories high along the southern coast of Guangdong province.

Tower near farm field

Exterior of masonry tower.

The towers were built as protection against marauding bandits, wardlords, and pirates from South China Sea. 

Tower exterior

Exterior of masonry tower.

There are 4,000 towers in the Kaiping and Taishan area. Most were built between 1870 and 1930 by villagers to store their valuables during peacetime and used as refuges during raids.

Tower exterior

Exterior of an old tower built around a hundred years ago.

View of tower exterior.

Tower exterior

Tower exterior.

Villages communally owned the earlier towers, which were usually located near the entry to the village. Privately owned towers came later and were located among other houses.

Tower near village houses

A newer white building with a red roof stands in contrast to an older tower near the entrance to a village.

View of new and old towers. Chinese people living abroad financed towers to provide protection and garner local respect and prestige for their family members left in the village.

New and old towers

Tower village.

The location of the towers was to be cosmological to the larger landscape and in harmony with the village.

Village of towers

Stairway inside century-old tower.

Interior tower stairway.

Interior tower stairway

Kitchen inside century-old tower.

Tower kitchen.

Tower kitchen

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