Las Flores Apartments

01 C

Las Flores is a 73 unit affordable family housing project, with a density of 106 du per acre, located near downtown Santa Monica and .5 miles from a light rail station. The transit oriented infill development was incentivized with additional height and FAR necessary to meet the density goals, creating a contextual challenge integrating into the adjacent lowrise neighborhood.

The project is designed around a central courtyard featuring a rain garden with bioswale planting over a cistern allowing for nature play, while capturing and treating stormwater for irrigation. A landscaped entry plaza creates a publicly accessible pocket park with visual connection into the courtyard, and the building is terraced, creating 5 decks which provide numerous open space opportunities.

The LEED Platinum certified all electric building exceeds 2019 CA Title 24 baseline by 88%. Units have individual high efficiency electric water heaters and condensors at the roof have been parapet mounted, freeing up 8,000sf of roof area for a 138.84 kW photovoltaic system. A compartmentalization analysis was provided by an energy consultant for Insulation, Thermal and Moisture Protection and Building Envelope Sealing, while lightwells and operable windows allow cross ventilation. Energy savings were accomplished while providing 100% EV ready parking spaces.

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Clear compositional strategy and very strong performance. | The architect quite skillfully breaks down the mass of the building, and the community areas are well located. 

//framework for design excellence measures
Measure 1: Design for Integration
Las Flores incorporates various sustainability strategies. Active strategies include energy reduction through 8,000 sf of photovoltaics, and an all electric building incorporating high efficiency systems and fixtures. A courtyard planted bioswale, over a cistern, treats stormwater, and stores it for irrigation, while acting as a rain garden encouraging nature play for the children. Passive strategies are based on Santa Monica’s mild coastal climate. 5 outdoor decks are programmed for different uses and the landscaping includes fruit trees and pollinators. 2 resident community gardens provide herbs and vegetables that can be incorporated into cooking classes in the community room. Operable windows, light wells, open walkways, and exterior stairs provide cross ventilation and daylight and there is only 1 elevator serving 73 units , encouraging tenants to take the stairs. The site has a bike score of 96, and parking has been reduced to .75 cars per unit (all spaces are EV ready) to allow for 2 bike rooms (130 bikes, 1 per bedroom). Affordable housing, as a neighbor, is often viewed with suspicion by existing stakeholders. The publicly accesible plaza, and abutting community room, encourage neighborhood interraction, promoting a sense of community, not exclusivity.
Measure 2: Design for Equitable Communities
Lower income families face long commutes and cramped housing, often leading to “latch key” kids without proper supervision. Las Flores provides opportunities at multiple levels. Parents who work in the nearby service sector will be able to spend more time with their families and potentially not need to drive. Children playing in the tot lot can be under the supervision of parents using the adjoining laundry room. However, Las Flores has not been designed to be an isolated environment. The publicly accessible entry plaza, providing visibility into the courtyard, acts as a “stoop”, allowing neighbors and residents to recognize familiar faces, promoting a sense of community.
Measure 3: Design for Ecosystems
The existing site consisted of 2 – 1 story commercial buildings surrounded by a surface parking lot. There were no trees or vegetation on site. Las Flores provides over 4,100 sf of landscaped area. The landscape pallette includes fruit trees and pollinators to attract birds, and 2 community gardens providing herbs and vegetables that can be used for cooking classes in the community room. The landscaping is spread throughout the project, with a planted bioswale at the courtyard and 5 landscaped terraced decks assuring that nature occurs at all levels.
Measure 4: Design for Water
The centerpiece of the courtyard is a planted bioswale over a cistern that treats stormwater and stores it for irrigation. The bioswale is designed to act as a rain garden, with stormwater percolating into the garden. With its boulders, and FSC certified wood platforms, the rain garden encourages both nature play and peaceful contemplation. Three Pineapple Guava trees will eventually reach 18′ – 20′ in height, providing shade while bearing edible fruit. All of the project landscaping is drought tolerant, with 80% of the plants being California Native/ Adapted species.
Measure 5: Design for Economy
As a publicly funded project (19 – 3b units, 19 – 2bd units and 35 – 1 bd units rented at 30% – 80% area median income), Las Flores is subject to state prevailing wage rates and 15% of the units were required to follow the more stringent federal disabled access requirements. The community room has been designed as a 1,400sf flexible open space, able to accommodate multiple uses, including group functions, cooking classes, computer classes, and to serve as a lounge. The 5 terraced decks have specific programs, but can be changed as tenant use becomes more clearly defined.
Measure 6: Design for Energy
Las Flores is an all electric building that maximizes energy savings while respecting the urban context. A 4 story building spanning 4 lots created a scale issue, but the Energy Consultant required 8,000sf of roof area for photovoltaics. Additionally, it was determined that 1 courtyard was insufficient for the open space needs for 73 families. The units have individual electric hot water heaters and all condensors are parapet mounted, freeing up the required roof area, while allowing space for 5 terraced outdoor decks that reduce the building mass. The energy savings were accomplished while still providing 100% EV ready residential parking spaces.
Measure 7: Design for Well-Being
Las Flores emphasizes passive sustainability. Despite the high density, over 50% of the walkways are exterior, and lightwells bring daylight and natural ventilation into the interior. Windows have been placed to allow for cross ventilation where allowed by code. Although there is a 1,400sf community room, a large central courtyard featuring a rain garden designed for nature play, surrounded by FSC certified wood platforms and tot lot, complements the 5 outdoor decks encouraging outdoor use. By providing 1 elevator for 73 units, tenants are motivated to use the stairs. All building materials and finishes have 0 VOC content.
Measure 8: Design for Resources
During construction, 76% of construction waste was diverted from the landfill. The client requested no white stucco due to long term maintenance concerns. The exterior cladding utilized a basic ribbed metal panel system, finished in a standard metallic color, contrasting with the colored fine sand acrylic stucco, chosen as it is less susceptible to cracking. Unit interiors and corridors have hard flooring, and the community room concrete floor has been sealed and left exposed (no carpet in project). The outdoor decks have a raised pedestal system for acoustical control and the pavers are FSC certified wood.
Measure 9: Design for Change
Los Angeles is desperately in need of affordable family housing and this is especially true in the upscale, Westside neighborhoods such as Santa Monica. In particular, there is an acute shortage of 2 and 3 bedroom units designed for families, and Las Flores is expected to last at least through its 55 year deed restriction, and though much will have changed by the end of that period, there will always be a need for affordable housing. Santa Monica has numerous restaurants, hotels, and upscale houses, requiring a large service industry. The project attempts to provide an opportunity for low income families, employed in the general area, to live close to work in a safe, healthy environment, and be able to spend more time together, and on site social services are available for counseling and support. The unit mix addresses all levels of affordability. 8 units are at 30% of median income, 15 units are at 40%, 23 units are at 50%, 24 units are at 60%, and 3 units are at 80%. A large central courtyard and 5 terraced decks provide numerous open space opportunities and there is a park less than 2 blocks away (walkscore 76). Las Flores is also designed for the future. The all electric building, with 8,000 sf of rooftop photovoltaics, is estimated to provide an 88% energy saving from baseline, open walkways and light wells reduce the interior lighting and ventilation requirements, and operable windows designed for cross ventilation, where allowed by code, take advantage of Santa Monica’s mild coastal climate, even with climate inconsistencies. Car parking is limited to .75 per unit and all spaces are EV ready. As the site has a bike score of 96, there are 2 large bike rooms providing 1 space per bedroom (130 spaces, including 10 spaces for disabled residents) and 22 short term bike spaces outside to encourage visitors to bike to the building. The site is less than .5 miles from Light Rail (transit score 67) providing non vehicular access to the greater Los Angeles region. Fruit trees and 2 resident community garden spaces encourage tenants to grow herbs and vegetables and sample fruit grown on site.
Measure 10: Design for Discovery
The project has been recently completed and there has not been an opportunity to do a post occupancy evaluation. The non profit developer manages over 2,000 affordable housing units on the westside of Los Angeles and they are constantly surveying and analyzing the needs of their tenants. The architect and client have collaborated on previous projects, and the common spaces have been designed to allow for maximum flexibility so that they can be programmed for different uses if a tenant need arises. The architects are currently creating a design manual, with input from client, incorporating lessons learned that can be applied to future projects, focusing on energy reduction, finishes, low energy appliances, high efficiency fixtures and unit layouts. This will allow the client to to continue to meet their goals with regard to sustainability while providing high quality affordable housing.
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