Kanner Architect's 26th Street Low Income Housing project thoroughly integrates a sustainable approach with high caliber Modernist design, effectively challenging the paradigm for affordable urban housing.
Located in Santa Monica, California, the project—which won both an AIA National Honor Award and an AIA National Housing Award—is a celebration of the environment. Providing open spaces at every opportunity in this urban setting, the design takes advantage of fresh air, sunlight and open sky.
The location—adjacent to main bus routes, retail, restaurant and community service outlets, as well as public beaches—provides access to a quality of life often beyond the reach of low- and moderate-income residents while the design carries that intention through every detail. Kanner Architects has created a secure space that feels open, friendly and warm.
Optimizing the experience for all who encounter it, the design of this four-story, 44-unit building displays sensitivity to pedestrians and motorists as well as the building’s
residents. The primary street facade has been elegantly sculpted to break up the massing. A vivid white frame around the upper levels helps the first floor apartments recede away from the public sidewalk.
The first floor edge, along Santa Monica Boulevard—one of Metropolitan Los Angeles’s most heavily travelled streets—is further broken by alternating greened vertical fencing with horizontal earth toned slat walls, which also provide transparent security.
The juxtaposition of the delicate vibrancy of nature with unadorned manmade materials, and the vertical with the horizontal, mitigate the impact of the large building for pedestrians and commuters. Small personal gardens bring nature to the doorstep of these urban homes and provide a buffer for engagement with the street. The perpendicular walls of each recessed balcony are painted in a variety of primary colors, hinting at the life inside each apartment and personalizing the units.
The result of an exhaustive outreach effort with the socially progressive Santa Monica community, the building draws inspiration from regionally sensitive historical precedents of Southern California Modernist architecture, yet is progressive and unique. The linear design maximizes the area’s famously temperate climate, facilitating cross ventilation and eliminating the need for environmentally offensive, noisy, view obstructing rooftop equipment.
Enhancing views plays a substantial part in tending to the experience of the residents. By framing views with scaled overhangs and carefully sculpted edges, the design offers
the urban dwellers the promise of nature. The numerous open spaces throughout the project fulfill that promise.
Paying reverence to California Modernist legend Irving Gill, a courtyard exalts the communal space, culminating in a perforated mesh-wrapped sculptural staircase that draws the eye upward toward the open sky. The elevator opens onto large weather protected exterior communal areas that offer impressive views of the city. The courtyard doubles as a small park, with planters, seating areas, and a children’s play structure. The colors of the street-front balconies are repeated on solid panels that rhythmically divide the open corridors railings that ring this light filled space. These colors provide delightfully personalized identifiers for apartment entries. Again, mass is broken by the use of color and by setting the front doors back—which also provides a transition space between public and private zones.
Downward-facing light fixtures at each entry reinforce that boundary, provide security and a warm glow at night. During the day, sunlight streams into this open space. In what would have been the only shaded corner, a mini-atrium has been carved out of every level through the rooftop, bathing the corner apartments with natural light. Throughout the upper levels, the design opens everything up rather than shutting it off, providing viable communal space as well as passive security.
On the first level, a community room has been strategically placed along the most public side, 26th Street. Above this space, the exterior western elevation is sculpturally divided, with earth toned louvers covering windows and protecting the apartments from intense afternoon sun.
The balance of the facade is composed of solid walls of pristine white stucco cut by vertical and horizontal slivers of windows. From the street, the louver holds the public back, while the receded glass sliver draws the eye into the interior spaces. Together, these horizontal/vertical elements create a dynamic tension and again emphasize the articulation of massing found throughout the building. A street level mural reflects the palette of the balcony return walls, engaging pedestrians and motorists while paying homage to a previously existing mural. Landscaping along the 26th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard sides softens the presence of the building.
Both of these street-facing sides feature dual-glazed and laminatewd windows to mitigate street noise. Two levels of subterranean parking—accessed from the alley to minimize traffic congestion—exceed the city’s requirements. Drywells beneath the project collect and disperse storm water runoff and minimize the project’s impact on the city’s storm sewer system.
By incorporating the region’s mild climate, unique environmental features and the human scale of residents and pedestrians as well as drawing upon the firm’s modernist roots,
Kanner Architects has designed an innovative response to affordable urban housing and created a building definitively of its time.