Before the pandemic, incorporation of amenity spaces and providing a variety of unit types were common considerations in urban multi-family buildings. Among the many economic impacts of today's pandemic, the residential sector will experience long term shifts in how its spaces are used and examined.
As cities continue to densify, the future of multifamily housing depends even more on finding the right balance between indoor and outdoor spaces. This balance is critical to the health of urban residents and the success of the places they call home. Planning for density and open space must be considered to pave the way for a more porous city that includes spaces for increased access to natural light, landscape, and human-centered places.
Private + Gather Zones
By their very nature, traditional two-bedroom apartment layouts offer little flexibility for various living situations. They typically consist of two private sleeping spaces and one gathering space to house either two single people, a couple with a child, or a couple with one workspace.
Programming common areas serving multifamily projects must go beyond meeting traditional uses. They must set the bar higher by offering opportunities to create culture, spark new interactions, and facilitate a building-wide sense of community that extends into the surrounding neighborhood. The next concepts explore ways to strengthen a building’s community at different scales with the context of an existing 12-story building in downtown Los Angeles.
Indoor To Outdoor Connection
Using the principles of human-centered design, we must consider new and impactful solutions to today’s pandemic-related challenges, in which we live and work simultaneously, often in the same realm. This concept explores four ideas to create a reimagined living and working space within the context of a typical 600 sf unit.
The pandemic has severely affected the restaurant industry across Los Angeles, with downtown Los Angeles hit particularly hard. The LA Alfresco Dining Initiative that is in effect for the duration of the Safer at Home order allows restaurants to open and serve customers at partial capacity by temporarily relaxing the rules that regulate outdoor dining while still maintaining safe physical distancing. The initiative enables restaurants to maximize the 60% indoor dining capacity required by the state allowing dining on sidewalk, in on-street parking spaces, and in private parking lots; it also enables street closures for additional potential seating.
In downtown Los Angeles, ground floor commercial spaces are typical to new residential and office buildings. Leaseholders of these spaces can present so much income volatility that they’re sometimes not even reflected in a developer's proforma. It is now crucial to fill the long-vacant commercial spaces below, especially when residential or office uses above are performing well. Through creative thinking and blended uses, our goal is to reinvigorate ground-floor spaces by creating revenue, making sure the lights stay on, and helping tenants engage the adjacent street frontage. Doing so reactivates connections to the public realm and allows the surrounding community to thrive.
Just outside of downtown Los Angeles and across LA County, we see thousands of existing industrial buildings that are too small and outdated to be useful to today’s industries. Their wide-scale demolition risks annihilating their rich potential. Typically, these industrial buildings are close to urban cores that have undergone revitalization, meaning that their purchase price is relatively high. These buildings are also typically located in neighborhoods that see little after-hours activity and may lack sidewalks and associated parking. These factors make their purchase not financially attractive to most investors, so they lie dormant.
Originating in the 1960s, the big box retail model has become a signature of the American retail environment. The United States holds roughly 8.5 billion sf of retail space or 25 sf per person. As of this writing, retail analysts say that Wal-Mart operates roughly 4,600 stores, Target over 1,800 stores and Best Buy almost 1,000. The rise of Amazon has even forced many of these big box retailers to close specific locations or shutter operations entirely. In 2017, when Toys “R” Us went bankrupt, the ensuing store closures left over 800 locations vacant.
In the coming post-pandemic economy, vacancies of commercial spaces are expected to remain high. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has a shortage of affordable housing that generates a true sense of community. We believe that strip malls offer rich potential for conversion to residential use, a process that could help to alleviate some of the affordable housing crisis by creating new units.
The city of Los Angeles has roughly 675 strip malls that consume about 24 million sf of ground area, including associated parking. Their design characteristics descend from drive-in markets with multiple independent vendors, a typology that began appearing in the region in the 1920s. Mini-malls are a smaller variety of strip malls often found on corner lots among the city's extensive commercial corridors. They were born in Los Angeles after the 1973 oil crisis, when the bankruptcy of many gas stations freed up their corner lots for development, allowing mini-malls to spread across the city. In 1988, a restrictive ordinance placed guidelines on the development of mini-malls and gave the city discretion over their approval.