Every building has something to say, but Jon Worden knows modern buildings like the ones he designs aren't always the best conversationalists.

So the Healdsburg architect has been trying to give his newest building something to say to its residents, neighbors and passers-by.

Worden and his wife, Liz, are installing a five-story-high mural on the north side of Humboldt Apartments, the 51-unit low-income apartment building at the intersection of Seventh and Humboldt streets in downtown Santa Rosa.

The clean, modern lines of the mixed-use building offer a stark contrast to the rich ornamentation of the Victorian-era homes of the neighboring Cherry Street Historic District.

Worden hopes the muted colors of the building — alternating cream, gray and brick stucco — will help it blend in better with the surrounding neighborhood.

He's also hoping the large mural depicting various life stages will say something about, and to, the people soon to live in the building.

"To me, every building tells a story," Worden said. "To me, every building is talking to its residents, its neighbors, and to people walking by."

Originally, Worden considered a mural depicting scenes of the natural world before the area was settled. He instead settled on six panels depicting the life cycle of a family. They start with images of birth at the bottom, then mother and child, then a father reading to his children, then the mother with a youngster on her back, the husband and wife reconnecting after the children are grown, and finally, on the fifth story and still partly obscured by scaffolding, death.

The project, the largest art display Worden has ever attempted, has been daunting and "a little bit terrifying, to tell you the truth."

He had to scrap his first attempt at a technique called sgraffito, which involves scraping away a wet layer of stucco to reveal the layer beneath. It didn't scrape cleanly away or create enough of a contrast, he said.

So instead they're painting the mural on with acrylic stucco, a challenging medium because of the fine aggregate in the paint, he said. They hope to complete the work this week.

Residents are expected to begin moving into the subsidized units Nov. 15, with the building fully occupied by the end of the year, according to developer Hugh Futrell.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)