A large share of the attention being paid to the nu-urbanism of Mayor Villaraigosa's Los Angeles is on the downtown development frenzy -- luxury residential skyscrapers, Gehry-overseen retail and entertainment meccas, etc. I understand how PR works and that every massive undertaking needs a big, marketable idea to hang its hat on, so as long as what's happening doesn't displace any of the current residents (whoever they may be) or shop owners, and the homeless are treated fairly, I'll withhold judgment for now. With gritted teeth.
However, the real urbanism in Southern California seems to be happening more quietly but with wider dispersal and on a smaller scale -- in well-designed, often affordable low- and mid-rise housing developments situated in already existing neighborhoods. The LA Times has the story...
First sprouts of a vertical cityscape
L.A.'s top architects turn their eye to three- and four-story complexes that could provide a creative answer to the mayor's call for more housing.
By Janet Eastman, Times Staff Writer
ARCHITECT Lorcan O'Herlihy's custom touches were exactly what Sara Beugen and Stephen Mabry wanted in their new home — a light-filled, industrial modern in West Hollywood with polished concrete floors and open-to-the-sky steel catwalks crossing the upper levels of the condominium complex.
Over in South Pasadena, two other architects, Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides, created a private retreat and communal experience for Juan Posada, whose second-floor loft has soaring ceilings and a terrace overlooking a courtyard where he and his neighbors barbecue.
Yet none of the architects worked directly for, or even with, these residents. O'Herlihy, Moule and Polyzoides adhered to the principle that sharp design could entice people into a compact vertical lifestyle. They, along with other progressive local architects, see enormous creative opportunities in multifamily housing of fewer than 50 units on an acre.
And the timing couldn't be better. The designs, which are more about good use of space and light rather than square footage, could help coax Angelenos out of single-family homes and a horizontal way of life.
Adding new homes — a few dozen small ones at a time — to existing neighborhoods is part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to relieve L.A.'s housing shortage. If the new dwellings are close to public transit, all the better. If they rid the neighborhood of an eyesore, longtime residents win too.
Villaraigosa's newly appointed city planner S. Gail Goldberg, who is credited with helping San Diego turn around its downtown with multiunit housing, believes well-situated three- and four-story buildings, not monolithic high-rise towers, are the way to re-energize communities. San Diego's approach to density was to create a city of villages. For Los Angeles' boulevards, Goldberg sees shops, restaurants and people-watching spots. Down the side streets, houses. Filling in between the existing shops and houses, multifamily designer dream pads.
Even critics of the mayor's call for higher density see this as a better way to grow.
"I don't think there is a desire for massive density but a low- and midrise strategy makes a lot of sense," says Joel Kotkin, an urban commentator and author of "The City: A Global History." He often disagrees with Los Angeles politicians, developers and others who "get on density jihads." That includes the mayor, he says.
If built in an underutilized area or if replacing "a crappy strip mall," however, a small condo development is not a high price to pay for a better district, says Kotkin, a longtime house owner in Valley Village. "This is particularly attractive if it brings in stores and other amenities that are in walking distance of single-family homes."
With less open space for traditional single-family homes, housing experts say that a portion of new development will be devoted to urban, mid-size projects especially in existing neighborhoods. Good design, architects and developers say, can make a big difference in attracting residents doubtful about sharing walls with their neighbors.
"There is a new language in housing, a new market for those who want to live in urban areas and who have an appreciation of design," says O'Herlihy, whose Culver City architectural firm shifted from sleek contemporary houses with ocean or hillside views to multifamily projects two years ago. His first project was the condo complex in West Hollywood that Beugen and Mabry moved into in January; the 10 units there sold out before construction was completed. He now has nine mid-size projects under development or construction in Los Angeles. "Our previous residential work was a lab for these new projects."
Many of the new dwellings are 21st century twists on the classic 1920s courtyard apartments designed by Irving Gill, Richard Neutra and others who artfully interpreted living in close-quarters. Besides creating a sun-filtering, roomy and indoor-outdoor ambience, many of the new designs offer custom floor plans, private terraces, generous storage areas and designer touches such as translucent channel glass and stone shower stalls.
And unlike high-rises and economical apartment buildings of the 1960s and '70s, in which budgets and construction restraints dictated look-alike floor plans and tunnel-like hallways, these new mid-rise buildings are designed not only for looks but also for getting people out of cars — "feet on the street," as city planner Goldberg puts it.
"We fell in love with this place," says Posada, 36, a photographer who lives in his one-bedroom loft in South Pasadena with his wife Sally McKissick, 39, and their 10-month-old daughter, Maria. They wanted to buy a house with a yard but sticker shock brought them to this rental near the Gold Line's Mission Station.
Although the three-story, brick-clad, Mission-style structure looks like the century-old building next to it, generous windows wash his rooms in sunlight. "There is lots of light, and it feels big with 18-foot ceilings," Posada says.
Where he and his family live used to be a parking lot. Now parking is underground for the block-long redevelopment, a mix of ground-floor shops with courtyards, lofts, Craftsman-style duplexes and single-family houses designed to blend with the 1920s single-family bungalows across the street.
The courtyard approach is appearing in high-end and subsidized mid-size housing. For the Crescent in Beverly Hills, where monthly rents are as high at $7,000, architect Johannes Van Tilburg designed the apartments to face a courtyard, while brownstone-style town houses front the street. Brian Lane's award-winning contemporary apartments on Harold Way in Hollywood where rents don't exceed $700, is built around two courtyards where streamlined stairways almost resemble sculptural installations.
Beugen and Mabry's high-design condo is across the street from an auto shop and stucco apartment building — what architect O'Herlihy refers to as "six pack," repetitive units stacked on top of each other. An orderly line of single-family houses fills out the rest of the block, with stores and restaurants around the corner.
Beugen, 32, a marketing and communications professional at Cresta West, says her new neighbors are as design demanding as she and Mabry. "We had an informal talk here about everyone using a similar window treatment," says Beugen, who grew up in Chicago next door to architect Walter Netsch in a contemporary house her father built. "We took a deep breath when we saw that no one hung big drapes, but simple off-white museum shades."
With so many restaurants so close, the couple is surprised that since they moved here they have enjoyed more meals at home. "There is more room in the kitchen than in our old place," says Mabry, 45, an actor and photographer, "and we like to eat on our patio. We have two chefs who live in the building, one, Albert Melera, is a private chef for celebrities, and they come by and ask, 'What's for dinner?' "
HAROLD WAY: Private but public housing
"THERE are no hidden corners here," says Brian Lane, left, of Koning Eizenberg Architecture in Santa Monica. He wrestled with a tight budget, ignored the pitfall of designing bland affordable housing and found ways to make 51 apartments near a busy intersection off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood feel safe and private.
As a built-in safety measure, the four-story buildings line up around two interior courtyards. "All units are accessed from exterior walkways so neighbors can see the activities," says Lane, near one of the open stairways that make it easy to watch comings and goings. Even the community laundry room in this stylish gated complex has windows to the courtyard and playground.
For privacy, entrances to most of the three-bedroom town houses and one- and two-bedroom apartments are set back 3 feet from public walkways to create a porch-like setting. Apartments have their own decks, patios or balconies. Trees and bamboo are strategically placed to screen views for privacy. Bedroom windows are tucked away from areas where people congregate.
Subsidized rents for the 500- to 1,200-square-foot apartments go for $350 to $700. The complex built for the Hollywood Community Housing Corp. received Residential Architect magazine's affordable housing merit award in 2004.
Future project: Hancock Corner in West Hollywood with stores and restaurants, 38 condos and affordable apartments.
MISSION MERIDIAN: Going for the Gold Line
"ALOT of people fear density because there are a lot of terrible, overly dense projects in Los Angeles," says Elizabeth Moule of Pasadena-based Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists. "Making slightly denser places around transit lines is a way to accommodate the growth to L.A. that also preserves single-family houses and yards."
When Michael Dieden of Creative Housing Associates of Los Angeles asked Moule and husband Stefanos Polyzoides to create housing and shops on a block near a Metro Gold Line stop in South Pasadena, the duo came up with a series of buildings with different heights and façades, right, to blend into the Mission Street neighborhood. "We wouldn't put a high-rise on a street like that," says Moule.
A brick-clad, three-story nearest the busy street has small shops on the ground level — a bakery, florist, spinning gym and a gift store; none is a chain store.
Above them are 14 lofts that make the most of their 845- to 1,120-square-footage with a minimum of interior walls and two-story-high windows. Two levels of parking underneath the building accommodate residents' and train riders' cars.
Next to the flat-roof brick building are four duplexes built in the Craftsman style. These green-shingled buildings with pitched roofs begin to blend — in height and façade — with the new housing with the street's original single-family houses.
Adjacent to the duplexes, at the end of the new development, are three 2,400-square-foot single-family bungalows that fit in with the 80-year-old ones across the wide street.
To encourage occupants to people-watch, architects designed porches and large windows. "People like urbanity and being with one another," says Moule, who co-founded with Polyzoides and others the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national association of architects, planners and environmentalists focused on improving suburbs and urban centers.
Three courtyards in the center of the buildings also create a sense of community, Moule says. Residents pass through courtyards to reach their front doors. One night last year, the electricity went out and neighbors took their dinner plates and candles to the courtyards and ate together.
There are no security gates to block the courtyards from the sidewalk, a decision the architects made so neighbors can have a more positive experience when strolling by.
The 67 homes were completed in June and sold during construction for $350,000 to $850,000. The development received a Tranny Award from the California Transportation Foundation, and it will be featured in the Urban Land Institute's annual book on outstanding housing projects.
Future project: Granada Court in Old Town Pasadena with 31 flats and town houses, private balconies, decks or patios, two internal pedestrian courts and an auto court.
— Janet Eastman
THE CRESCENT: It's valet all the way
"THIS is all about livable cities with the focus on the street, actually the sidewalk," says Johannes Van Tilburg, above, of Santa Monica-based Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh, whose new complex is the first apartment building constructed in Beverly Hills in 25 years.
In 2001, the architect looked at a parking lot with a chain-link fence and a worn commercial building on Crescent Drive. Van Tilburg knew he could upgrade this area near the famous Rodeo Drive with a new type of luxury housing.
"Small lawns in front of live-work town houses and garden apartments on top is a very European and urban lifestyle," says Van Tilburg, who worked with Los Angeles developer J.H. Snyder Co.
Residents and their guests can enter the property through the motor court, hand their keys to the valet, pass the concierge in the atrium lobby and enter into one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, which rent for $4,000 to $7,000.
The 12 two-story town houses that front the street have the silhouettes of traditional brownstones but with a California contemporary twist. They have bay windows, Juliet balconies, stoop entries, awnings and private gardens.
Exterior walls have alternating sand-colored plaster and red-brick veneer to create the look of a streetscape that has evolved over time.
The town houses hide parking from street view, and there's also subterranean spaces.
Overlooking a landscaped courtyard at the 1.7-acre site is a building that houses 76 apartments. Amenities in the 815- to 1,810-square-foot spaces include stone-finished showers, stainless steel appliances and walnut-stained cabinets.
Future project: Granite Park in Pasadena with 71 live-work town homes and flats sited around courtyards and an auto court.
GARDNER STREET: Lighten up
"LIGHT is an architectural material, equally important as others," says Lorcan O'Herlihy of Culver City-based Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects, who designed a tight, but sun-catching cube of 10 contemporary condominiums on a side street off Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
The 1,300- to 1,700-square-foot condos are built around a U-shaped central courtyard. Four units are on the first and second levels and two penthouses on the third level. Each has windows or doors on three sides with views of the sky; a courtyard water sculpture, below; and, because this is an urban setting, alleys and nearby buildings.
To capture as much sunlight as possible, O'Herlihy used light-filtering materials. Steel catwalks that connect front doors on the levels above the courtyard are perforated to allow streams of sunlight into the complex and into the homes.
Translucent walls of industrial Profilit Channel Glass encase the vertical stairwell at the front of the building.
At night, the lighted stairwell looks like a lantern. Next to it, a cedar entrance gate veils residents from passersby on the sidewalk, but inch gaps between the slats illuminate the courtyard.
The condos, which were developed by Richard Loring of Habitat Group Los Angeles, sold on average for $670,000 before construction was completed in December.
Future project: A 19-unit building adjacent to the Schindler House, now the MAK Center, on Kings Road in West Hollywood will have a courtyard, pedestrian-inviting setback with benches and light wells on the top of the three levels that open up to the sky and bring light into each unit.
via Curbed LA