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Monday, June 01, 2009

Step Up on Fifth

Step Up on Fifth in Santa Monica, California by Pugh + Scarpa Architects

Photographs are by John Edward Linden.

Less than a block from their popular and groundbreaking Colorado Court Apartments in downtown Santa Monica, Pugh + Scarpa Architects have created another complex that raises the bar for design for the other 98%. Step Up on Fifth features 46 apartments for homeless and mentally disabled residents for Step Up on Second, a local organization dedicated to long-term support of people in recovery. Like Colorado Court's 44 affordable units, this project incorporates sustainable features while also elevating the social and communal aspects of the complex.

To continue the comparison with Colorado Court, Step Up on Fifth is an infill site, where the latter found itself on a generous corner lot. This condition means the street frontage is minimal, yet the architects create a memorable facade above the entry with operable aluminum panels in various colors. The water jet pattern gives the elevation some depth via a dappling of shadows cast on the windows. Corrugated metal wraps the aluminum shutters in L-shapes both in line with the facade below and perpendicular to it above; the latter turns the corner to run the length of the site.

In plan the four floors of residential units are an E-shape, with two small courtyards bringing light to the middle section that is not blessed with street or alley frontage. The long corrugated metal wall with horizontal slot openings defines the south edge of the courtyards, admitting filtered light but also creating a sense of security at the same time. Circulation, including a stair, is open to the courtyards, not surprising for southern California but nevertheless commendable for a complex where communal interaction is important.

Like Colorado Court, what Pugh + Scarpa have managed to accomplish at Step Up on Fifth -- beyond striving for and attaining a level of sustainability that goes beyond the baseline requirements in California -- is a strong sense of place on a site with programmatic and other restrictions. The architects have used the site to their advantage, using natural ventilation and sunlight to make the outdoor spaces, albeit compact, perhaps the most successful part of the design. It goes to show that a small site and a small budget do not preclude big ideas.

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