LA's Low-Rise Future

John Hill
20. May 2021
Green Alley Housing, first place in Subdivision category (All images courtesy of lowrise.la)

The City of Los Angeles has announced the winners of Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles, the "design challenge" that asked entrants to propose new models of low-rise housing across four categories: Corners, Fourplex, (Re)Distribution, and Subdivision.

Low-Rise was organized by Christopher Hawthorne, the former architecture critic who is Los Angeles's first Chief Design Officer, with the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Innovation and other partners. With the city running out of room to sprawl, climate change increasing the effects of wildfires in Southern California, and research indicating that affordable housing in the area is ideally built at one and two stories, the Low-Rise "overview" contends that the city "needs to redouble its efforts to build housing more sustainably and locate it more strategically." 

The overview, no doubt written by Hawthorne, continues its argument: "Housing at this scale delivers a host of tangible social benefits: a bolstered sense of community and resilience, an improved ability to age in place, a broader and more inclusive definition of the family unit, proximity to work and transit, stronger support for local retail and the creation of new businesses, and new paths to homeownership." Although many notable low-rise housing projects were built in the first half of the 20th century, the postwar years shifted development to single-family houses, to the extent that today "more than 400,000 residential lots in Los Angeles contain a lone single-family residence."

So, what is the goal of this design challenge that is explicitly "not a competition"? The city sees a vacuum in low-rise, multifamily housing units between the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) being built and its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) program. It finds that the production of "appealing vision[s] for a new kind of living" are needed to convince both the wealthy owners of single-family homes and lower income residents wary of gentrification and displacement that low-rise infill housing is a good thing. The contributions of the architects are meant to assist in shaping the city's housing policy toward more low-rise infill projects.

Lastly, what will the City of Los Angeles do with the winners (below and on the Low-Rise website)? The design challenge is part of a larger research initiative "to explore new paths to homeownership and new models of affordability in low-rise neighborhoods across Los Angeles," with information and ideas from each impacting the other. The challenge started by asking communities and housing advocates what they want and need, in turn informing the participating architects when they developed their solutions. Now the winning designs are going back to those communities, not as final projects but as "part of a larger process to reimagine what it means to live the good life in Southern California."

Corners

Vonn Weisenberger, first place in Corners category

  • First Place: Vonn Weisenberger (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Second Place: Studio TAAP (Austin, TX)
  • Third Place: Kevin Daly Architects (Los Angeles, CA)

Vonn Weisenberger, first place in Corners category

Fourplex

Omgivning and Studio-MLA, first place in Fourplex category

  • First Place: Omgivning and Studio-MLA (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Second Place: Bestor Architecture (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Third Place: Danielian Associates and Urban Arena (Irvine, CA)

Omgivning and Studio-MLA, first place in Fourplex category

(Re)Distribution

Arts and Creatives Designs Ltd, first place in (Re)Distribution category

  • First Place: Arts and Creatives Designs Ltd (Banstead, UK)
  • Second Place: Henry Aldridge (Kent, UK)
  • Third Place: ROART (New York, NY)

Arts and Creatives Designs Ltd, first place in (Re)Distribution category

Subdivision

Green Alley Housing, first place in Subdivision category

  • First Place: Green Alley Housing (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Second Place: Omgivning and Studio-MLA (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Third Place: Elaine Kwong and Kristy Kwong (Los Angeles, CA)

Green Alley Housing, first place in Subdivision category

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