Housing for Young Adults Brings Back the Classic California Courtyard

Architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa designs a gem and thinks of everything.

Rose Apartments from Street

Jeff Durkin

The California architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa first popped onto the Treehugger radar with Cherokee Studios in 2009, an apartment building that was far ahead of the times in design and performance—and it had nice shades.

I thought of it when looking at their new project, the Rose Apartments, in Venice Beach. Both buildings take advantage of passive solar design and natural ventilation; they are both cutting-edge designs. But the Rose serves a different clientele. According to the architects' very thorough media package,

"This new LEED Gold four-story 35-unit Rose mixed-use 100% affordable apartment structure [is] for transitional aged youths. When kids 'term out', as they say when they turn 18 years old and are forced to leave a youth facility, most wind up living on the street because there is no place for them to go. Rose Apartments provides a home to this young adult who would otherwise be living on the street." 

Jeff Durkin

The project is a courtyard design, a classic California housing type, raised up on top of a commercial podium. The architects explain:

"Courtyard apartments have a rich history throughout southern California ranging from Irving Gill’s 1918 Horatio Court to the classic post-World War ll Spanish Colonial Revival Ambrose Gardens. According to Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues at the Los Angeles Conservancy, a lot of the courtyard apartments build during this time, especially in Hollywood and West Hollywood, was part of a search for indigenous architecture, he says, as much as an attempt to create neighborliness.

"More than any other multi-dwelling housing, courtyard apartments, 'make you feel like you belong to a place.' For people living around the courtyard, the space provides a sense of safety and privacy; the courtyard is a quasi-public space that mediates between the home and the street. For the city at large, the courtyard is an urbane housing type that fits well into neighborhoods."

Walkways for courtyard plan

Jeff Durkin

Another advantage of the courtyard plan is the ability to have cross-ventilation of the units, and all the circulation is open and visible with no corridors, providing eyes on the street.

sustainability diagram
Sustainability strategies.

Brooks + Scarpa

Brooks + Scarpa once again demonstrate how to take advantage of the California sun and air:

"Design of Rose Apartments emerged from close consideration of passive design strategies including orientation, shaping and orienting the building for natural ventilation and designing windows to maximize day lighting. Solar hot water panels are utilized to heat domestic hot water. Based on the Title 24 Energy Analysis for Rose Apartments, the building was 55% more efficient than California's Energy Code, which is substantially better than the national average."

Planting seen from above
Lots of planting on the various roofs.

Jeff Durkin

The building has more planting than is usual, with drought-tolerant species providing stormwater retention and animal habitats. They even think of the birds: "Los Angeles County lies along the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south route for migratory birds in America. In spring and fall, the region plays host to millions of birds coming through Southern California on their way back to breeding grounds in the north or wintering grounds in the south.  The planting is important because birds play a key role in L.A.’s ecosystem."

Interior of unit

Jeff Durkin

This is housing built on a budget for a nonprofit, so it is designed for efficient construction and low-maintenance operation. It is also designed for change; there is parking, but it has a flat floor and can be adapted for other uses "when vehicles become scarce."

Fourth Floor Plan
Fourth Floor Plan.

Brooks + Scarpa

Another thing I admire about Brooks + Scarpa is that they like to share information. They provide the most complete package of photos, plans, and descriptions that I have seen from any architect; the written brief alone is 11 pages, which concludes with a note on sharing—and a hint of past zoning battles:

"We give tours of our completed buildings to professional organizations (such as the AIA), students, lenders and other interested people and we take pride in the fact that a large majority of our clients are repeat clients. We believe in educating others as to our own 'lessons learned' and have also reached out to the Los Angeles Dept of Building & Safety with recommendations to improve the permitting process. A team of Planners from the City of LA has visited the site to discuss the 'unintended' consequences of their restrictive interpretation on rear setbacks, first brought up by us during plan check on the project."
Looking down on seating area in courtyard

Jeff Durkin

The architects note that "not long ago Venice Beach was overrun with crime and gang wars between V13 and The Shoreline Crips. Affordable housing projects were built with little concern of the residents." The approval process of this one sounds arduous: "The project was approved by the Planning Commission but was unanimously rejected by the neighborhood council, who have rejected every affordable housing project for the last seven years." It is a wonder that it got built at all, let alone turned out so well.

Drone shot

Brooks + Scarpa