Tackling the Low-Rise LA Design Competition
The American Dream of single-family homeownership is growing increasingly inaccessible. To explore new paths to affordable homeownership, the City of Los Angeles’ Chief Design Officer and the Mayor’s Office created the Low-Rise LA design competition to promote housing affordability, paths to homeownership and innovative models of sustainable residential architecture.
With a growing housing portfolio in California, our internal group of competition-loving SERA designers, known as Studio S, decided to take on the challenge!
Our submission, titled “Remix Court,” is an amalgamation of design ideas and policy proposals from individual contributions and group working sessions. The resulting design evokes a modern version of Los Angeles’ ubiquitous courtyard bungalow housing.
The Myth of LA
We began by questioning the ‘myths’ of LA. For us this meant clichés of sunshine, palm trees, beaches, freeways and ever expanding sprawl. Are these images still relevant today? What replaces the outdated ideal of detached, single-family homes spreading in all directions, connected by freeways and car travel?
These were questions we felt our design should address. It also became clear through input from the Community Listening Sessions prepared by the competition organizers, that addressing sprawl and removing the car from the daily equation resonated with Angelinos and housing-advocacy leaders far and wide.
Studio S explored an updated (remixed) version of LA’s historical bungalow court typology to address the housing needs of those interviewed. Bungalow courts are a traditional LA low-rise multifamily housing typology in which several small, detached and semi-detached homes are clustered around a central communal courtyard.
We posit that when combined with a nonprofit Community Land Trust that owns the land and then leases it long-term to tenants, the bungalow court typology could be a stepping stone to wealth, by:
♦ Providing a low barrier-to-entry for homeownership
♦ Creating a framework for wealth generation and allowing tenant expansion/addition of units, and
♦ Allowing business opportunities for tenants with live/work units.
The task became to tap into what makes the bungalow court work for Los Angeles while addressing concerns raised in the Listening Sessions.
Enter the Birds…
When considering the complex problem of housing in a place as demographically diverse and experientially rich as Los Angeles, we recognized that housing solutions would need to be as diverse and rich as the people who live there.
A multitude of factors influence what kind of home satisfies a person’s needs, including household size, economic factors, cultural background, source of income, location/commute, lifestyle, values, and more.
Based on a simple diagram of different birds and their diverse nesting patterns, the idea of “different nests for different birds” recognizes that housing is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
The birds and their nests became a metaphor for the diversity of the project, and represented different housing options meeting different residents’ requirements.
The human need for open space — made more pronounced during COVID-19 — was a key design driver in our submission. In the Listening Sessions, community members expressed a desire for private open space, shared community open space, greenery and trees. These were included in our design proposal in the form of roof terraces, private gardens, and infrastructural elements like planted parking areas and a central water storage/recycling brook that enhance the communities’ connection to nature and open space. Each unit was designed to have access to private outdoor space and the ability to open the interior living space directly to the outdoors, increasing fresh air and biophilia.
The form of the bungalow court created a central communal green that could double as storage for private vehicles as well as shared sustainable infrastructure.
An elevated deck interspersed with trees provided much-needed shade to this space, and created a private communal gathering area for residents.
We’re proud of our entry, which reinforces SERA’s commitment to density, sustainability and resilient communities. We hope our team’s research will help inform not only the City of Los Angeles’ approach to the housing crisis, but also enhance our firmwide design thinking around equitable housing and opportunities for design to influence social space.
The “Remix Court” entry fostered cross-collaboration between studios as a fast-paced design sprint. The process and resulting design were a huge accomplishment for Studio S and SERA; the work has contributed to the firm’s growing collection of completed design competition submissions.
Co-authored by Omar Hason, Elizabeth Bishop + Artur Grochowski