For more than a century Los Angeles has been the epicenter of innovative residential architecture in the United States, if not the world. Countless pioneers, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry, have taken advantage of the city’s diverse landscapes, openness to new ideas, culture of making, ideal climate, and steady influx of new residents to create homes that have defied imagination and convention, fostering both a new lifestyle and a different image of what architecture could be.
But Los Angeles has become — both by necessity and demand—a very different place in recent years, shifting its emphasis from single-family homes and the private realm to a culture of density and inclusivity. At the same time it faces new challenges, like population saturation, stratospheric costs, crushing congestion, and unprecedented environmental crises, which can no longer be met by existing residential typologies.
Shelter encourages six Los Angeles design practices to meet these challenges, proposing creative new housing models for a changing Los Angeles. The teams include Bureau Spectacular, LA Más, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, MAD Architects, PAR, and wHY.
Their single and multi-family proposals are located along two of the city’s most fertile new development zones: the Wilshire Corridor, where a new subway extension will reach miles to the west; and the Los Angeles River, where a more than billion-dollar restoration is catalyzing a surge of new building.
This work is complemented by a selection of inventive new residences taking form throughout the city.
Los Angeles is no longer the city it once was, and it needs fresh solutions to adapt to these groundbreaking shifts. Shelter endeavors to instigate a critical dialogue about housing, and ultimately, set the stage for much-needed change.
                           6030 Wilshire, PAR
Five Normal Houses: The L.A. River Story

Bureau Spectacular

Along the L.A. River, there is a language within the typologies of domestic architecture. This raises an important question: Just what makes a house normal in L.A.? If the word shelter suggests a lack of extravagance, what are some of the qualities of “normal” architectural languages in Southern California, and how are they constituted? Is it possible to study the techniques of normal, and produce almost normal architecture?

Bureau Spectacular embarked on field research along the river. When they returned, they noted five conditions to pursue. The wet and dry pool cultures, the fascination with vegetation on facades, the car culture and the dingbat, the physical de-compartmentalization of a domestic unit, and the asymmetrical mash-up of Spanish Styles or Queen Anne Revivals. The firm proposes five applications of normal vocabularies of domestic architecture, spoken with some sense of hyperbole.


Backyard Basics: An Alternative Story of the Granny Flat


In Elysian Valley, also known as Frogtown, the rising tide of developer-led speculation and neighborhood-wide fear brings into question the nature of new development, and how future projects can and should support housing, affordability, and mixed-use. LA-Más proposes a resident-led and resident-owned model for low-rise high-density housing. By critically engaging lot lines and speculative buildable space level this strategy reconsiders the granny flat as a collective development area capable of supporting studio and one-bedroom apartments through cooperative development, combined entitlements, and consolidated services.

The firm has structured combinations of two and four collective lots to accommodate a variety of uses. Each grouping has at least one shared parking entrance, with direct access cores leading to raised granny flats. The firm has also organized each block end with shared parking hubs and shared bike stations to coordinate a larger community transit plan, allowing for increased density without taxing the already at-capacity infrastructure of the residential streets abutting the Los Angeles River.



Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects [LOHA]

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects investigates the relationship between urbanization and water use to develop new models of densification that tap into existing ecological and infrastructural patterns. By occupying publicly and privately owned land remnants and capitalizing on the redundancies created by outdated land use and infrastructure networks, a new model for urban regeneration can emerge.

In these traditionally overlooked residual spaces, LOHA has designed a system of interventions at multiple scales, combining living, public space and water-based infrastructure into a hybrid patchwork that will capture, recycle, purify, loop, and reconnect ground and storm water back to the water table and the Los Angeles River. The network of interventions makes the best use of limited space and finite ecological resources, developing an urban culture that sets in motion critical transformations.


Cloud Corridor


With new facilities being planned for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Petersen Museum, and the Purple Line Metro, L.A.’s Museum Row — one of the city’s cultural epicenters — needs to activate its community after museum hours. MAD places residential architecture at the “front door” of the area’s institutions. Among L.A.’s sprawling street grid and multiple city centers, Cloud Corridor offers a contemporary housing typology — the vertical village — to connect the disparate neighborhoods surrounding Museum Row by redistributing density and creating a sense of community. Cloud Corridor transforms everyday urban experiences into opportunities for residents to interact with nature. An undulating podium provides public space and acts as the base for nine sinuous towers that feature floating garden patios with connective landings and bridges.


6030 Wilshire


PAR offers a new model for high-rise courtyard housing, integrated with mass transit, on LACMA’s proposed tower site on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile. The tower typology, an important element in the contemporary metropolis, has become anonymous, defined mainly by its height. Typical residential skyscrapers, while successfully providing density, rarely produce unique living environments with access to green space, qualities that are emblematic of Los Angeles living. PAR’s proposal acts against this endemic monotony, creating a 930-foot-tall stack of individual houses, each with a direct connection to nature through extended terraces, some containing common spaces and leisure zones.




wHY’s Ideas Workshop examines the intersection of physical, social, and regulatory space to alleviate pressure on Los Angeles’ housing accessibility, diversity, and affordability. Raising the question: How do we manage our shrinking resources, increasing population, and ‘accepted’ cost of living?

Using public space along Wilshire Boulevard’s Metro Purple Line, this new landscape inhabits the grey zone between regulation and disorder, and challenges our expectations of ownership, how projects are funded and how they are built. Drawing inspiration from the shared economy and our changing transportation expectations (including automated vehicles), the infrastructure can accommodate a new mini-city that sustains itself through community and shared resources. wHY demonstrates the proposed infrastructure in a playful way, reflecting on the seemingly endless roadways and hodgepodge architectural expressions that define our perceptions of Los Angeles.



                                        UCLA Adjacent Student and Faculty Housing, LOHA (Courtesy Iwan Baan)


Los Angeles has always been a laboratory for residential design, but in recent years the direction of that investigation has shifted substantially. Single-family homes in the hills and in suburban-style neighborhoods still exist, but they are being supplemented by multi-family apartments in denser urban corridors. The most innovative of these rethink public and private space, create new zones for interaction in a city desperately craving it, and adapt a community-based typologies to a Los Angeles climate and culture that has long valued the private realm over the public.


Brother & Sister, Mount Washington, 2014

Anonymous Projects

To overcome a very limited buildable area (about 600 square feet per house) the designer conceived of adding bay windows which project out from the building envelope and into the setbacks. This is actually allowed by building code and adds an additional 100 sq.ft (around 10%) of usable square footage to each house. There are 5 bays per house and they can be used for seating in the dining room, additional couch space in the living room and even a place for guests to sleep in at the bedroom.

The two separate houses are unified together by covering them both with a fire treated cedar siding on the exterior. The white ‘picket fence’ also ties together the separate properties as it runs along the street frontage of both houses.


Blackbirds, Echo Park, 2015

Bestor Architecture

Blackbirds is a development of eighteen houses embedded in the hills of Echo Park; a progressive solution for high-quality dense housing in a city with little available land. The homes range from 1,200 to 1,900 square feet and are built around a living street; a central courtyard that comprises both landscape and parking areas, and serves as a stage for larger community functions. The placement of the houses in the hills mimics the older wooden houses of the area and deploys a strategy of “stealth density,” combining several houses into a single house-shaped volume. For instance, two free-standing houses are connected by flashing and the roofline creates the illusion of one house mass. Three houses, whose separation is masked, creates the illusion of two houses. This conceals the density of units by maintaining the neighborhood shape and landscape across the site. The community is a blend of private, semi-private, and public space, and promotes a sense of neighborhood by encouraging interaction and exchange.


Second House, Culver City, In Progress


This 1,500 square foot house on an extremely tight site is an intricate aggregation of interior and exterior volumes. Closely surrounded by other residences, the house turns inward around a central courtyard. Each room is expressed through massing, paired with a corresponding exterior space (two entry alcoves and a courtyard) carved from the buildable footprint. This alternation from inside to out and back is emphasized by an alternating arrangement of material surfaces, creating a series of dramatically different spaces that are integrated into a single environment. While the program is made explicit through different volumes, both interior and exterior are knitted together into a single, visually continuous living space.


Culver City Towers, Culver City, In Progress

Kevin Daly Architects

While accommodating a balance of retail with residential above, the project seeks to avoid the street level experience of a prominent retail podium with an undulating ribbon of glass at the street level to create retail courtyards facing Washington Boulevard. At the western limit of the site, the continuous glass strand creates a new two-story façade for a bowstring truss warehouse, allowing street views into the space for its reimagined use as a public market. In order to avoid overwhelming the historic Helms street front, housing is configured into north/south oriented strands that step in height from the low residential neighborhood at the perimeter of the site to narrow, five story towers facing the Helms Building. The space between these narrow towers assures light will reach Helms throughout the day and provides two façade glazing for the residential units. 


Vault House, Oxnard, 2013

Johnston Marklee

Situated on a densely developed beach site in Southern California, the Vault House transforms the shotgun, single view typology commonly found on narrow oceanfront residential lots. Instead of orienting only the main living spaces towards the single prime ocean view, the parallel orientation of the unidirectional vaulted rooms acts as a filter for light, view, and ventilation that extends the unique coastal atmosphere from the western beachfront façade through to the street at the eastern edge of the site.


500 Broadway, Santa Monica, In Progress

Koning Eizenberg

Located on the corner of 5th Street and Broadway in Santa Monica, this mixed-use project is made up of four groupings of apartments stacked atop ground-level retail. The rhythmic facade varies in configuration to provide all units with views to the ocean. The firm wove open spaces through the development, connecting it to the streetscape rather than sealing it off. “We’re leveraging public space in a densifying city, bringing in more sky, more light, more street access and more public life,” said firm principal Nathan Bishop.


Belmar Apartments, Santa Monica, 2014

Koning Eizenberg

Initiated as part of an ambitious affordability goal set by the City of Santa Monica, the 320-unit mixed income neighborhood—located on part of the site of the former Rand headquarters— includes equal amounts of affordable and market rate units. The project is anchored by a public walk street and a large public art piece, while additional courtyards are open on both sides to continue views and connect to the street. The firm’s bars of affordable housing (market rate housing was designed by Moore Ruble Yudell) hover over the open space in a variety of formations.


UCLA Adjacent Student and Faculty Housing, Westwood, 2015

Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects [LOHA]

Sited opposite Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments in Westwood, this housing project respects the scale and design of its famous neighbor while also giving its community much-needed housing and open space. By splitting the building into two volumes, the firm better matched the project to its hilly topography and provided cross-ventilation. The volumes reach their lowest height just opposite the Neutra landmark.  The building incorporates landscaped roof terraces and courtyard spaces at various levels, providing open space and creating a textured, terraced form that connects intimately with its community.


8600 Wilshire, Beverly Hills, In Progress

MAD and Gruen Associates

Incorporating the natural elements of the adjacent foothills into the center of Beverly Hills, 8600 Wilshire is an 18-unit residential village of condominiums perched atop commercial space. Clustered white glass villas (with pitched rooves) and trees ascend upward, creating a distinct street frontage. The residences themselves offer variety, including three townhouses, five villas, two studios and eight condominiums. The village is wrapped in a water-efficient “living wall” of native, drought-tolerant succulents and vines. Undulating around perforated windows on the façade, this vertical garden extends interior space to the exterior balconies and provides a natural green-screen for residents.


Star Apartments, Downtown Los Angeles, 2015

Michael Maltzan Architecture

The project, for Skid Row Housing Trust, transformed an existing one-story commercial building in downtown Los Angeles into a mixed-used complex with 102 apartments for the formerly homeless. The development, located along the border of Skid Row, is organized around three spatial zones stacked one upon the other: a public health zone at street level; a second level for community and wellness programs; and four terraced floors of residences above.  Faced with a limited budget and tight schedule, the design team used prefabricated modules lifted into place over the existing podium to provide higher construction quality, meet tighter construction tolerances, accelerate construction time, and accomplish the LEED Platinum project’s ambitious sustainability goals.


Gatins-Chan Residence, Beverly Hills, 2013


This addition, inspired by the iconic butterfly roof, transforms the formal language of Southern California’s midcentury ranch to construct a dynamic spatial environment of angular, folded surfaces. Four planes, sloped in opposite directions, are seamed together defining living spaces below and responding to height restrictions and site relationships. A figural cut on the face of the upper story reveals two volumes that compress in plan to draw exterior space into the center of the addition and reduce the scale of project from the adjacent street and yard. Apertures are located to draw occupants and views along folded walls and toward the landscape beyond. Along its upper level exterior walkway, a diaphanous guardrail fabricated of two folded sheets of aluminum produces visual moiré effects. Its double layers conceal its internal structure and eliminate the need for a perimeter frame. Its lightweight assembly explores the tectonic and material advantages of folds.


The Plaza at Santa Monica, Santa Monica, In Progress


Located on city-owned property at 4th and Arizona, the Plaza at Santa Monica showcases the firm’s ability make the most of its site. The mixed-use project is composed of zig-zagging, block-length bars that step up from the street, maximizing square footage and views. On top of, under, and around these bars the project offers over 50,000 square feet of public open space and local amenities like widened sidewalks, street landscaping and furniture, a bicycle center, and even a publicly-accessible roof deck.


Doheny Residences, West Hollywood, In Progress

R&A Design

R & A’s innovative design for this 50-unit residential project in West Hollywood preserves elements of individuality and privacy, often lost multifamily housing. The alternating units—differentiated through a highly angled facade—generate unique outdoor spaces as well as privacy between homes. Large roof terraces also maximize views of the hills and LA basin. Townhouse units, surrounding an interior courtyard, are staggered, creating a new contour along the urban edge. The resulting rhythmic voids provide additional privacy as well as gardens along the street and within the courtyard.


Elysian Fields, Elysian Heights, In Progress

Warren Techentin Architects

This live-work development in Elysian Heights, on the edge of Downtown Los Angeles, focuses on variety and innovation. Unit types range from 410 square foot micro-units to 1,200 square foot three bedroom lofts. Each incorporates some type of double height space to increase the feeling of size. The project also focuses on exterior spaces, such as balconies, patios, an interior courtyard, and vegetable and flower gardens. A perforated screen on the building’s east and west sides creates solar shading but also integrates flower boxes, while the building incorporates water cachement and filtration.