Santa Ana Arts Collective

The adaptive reuse of an underperforming 1965 commercial building to affordable housing with an artist preference features 13-foot, exposed-concrete, waffle-slab ceilings as well as polished concrete floors. Restored ribbon windows wrap the building on all four sides providing ample natural light for resident artists. The surface parking lot is transformed into a lush courtyard with an orange grove bosque and children’s play area, surrounded by ten new-construction townhomes that activate Sycamore Street with front porches while existing underground parking serves the building with access directly to the lobby. Original circular planters include heritage palm trees in the front plaza which were preserved and integrated into the new design.


Ground-floor spaces include a gallery, art studios, dance studio, and two music rooms supported by a gallerist for artists and the neighborhood as well as other supportive services. Infrastructure improvements include a traffic-calming bulb-out at Sycamore and Seventeenth Street, new street trees, and a new bike boulevard on nearby Bush Street that connects the Arts Collective to downtown Santa Ana. On-site bicycle storage also includes a full bike kitchen. This adaptive reuse was able to lower embodied carbon by 78% and eliminate 25 million pounds from the waste stream.


The architects took a middling-’60s office building, kept it, repurposed it, and augmented it with these townhouses: it’s very smart. | The decision to reuse rather than demolish is admirable. | The well-designed townhomes create a nice courtyard.

//framework for design excellence measures
Measure 1: Design for Integration
The Santa Ana Arts Collective has been awarded two AIA Honors and received the Homes within Reach Development of the Year by Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing. A model for adaptive reuse, it is published in the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, Civitas LA, American Planning Association, Dwell and Fast Company and scheduled to be published by AIA California and Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies. The project served as a development model at the AIA Los Angeles COTE 1.5 Deg Celsius Symposium on Climate Change and Urban Land Institute Affordable Workforce Housing Council. 
Measure 2: Design for Equitable Communities
Located on Santa Ana’s arts corridor with shopping and employment centers, the pedestrian-oriented site has an excellent Walk Score of 90. The development includes 6,000 square feet of amenities for building tenants and the public, including art studios, dance studio, an art gallery, and two music studios. As a testament to the benefits of providing dignified, equitable housing, the owners report inquiries from potential renters who are unaware of the building’s affordable status; they simply desire to live in a beautiful place and be part of a flourishing arts community. On-site bicycle storage helps enhance neighborhood connectivity.
Measure 3: Design for Ecosystems
The project increased the amount of landscape planter area by 150% over the existing condition. 27 new trees were planted on site along with 9 new street trees in the public right of way –helping to increase carbon sequestration, reduce the heat island effect, create a cohesive streetscape, add beauty, and support wildlife. The new shade trees reduce demand for mechanical cooling and allow residents comfortable places to gather outside. Plant materials were specifically chosen for their drought tolerance, reduced garden waste, and minimal maintenance. Native plant species, vegetable gardens, and a citrus grove attract birds and pollinator insects.
Measure 4: Design for Water
The irrigation system includes a state-of-the-art smart controller, rain sensors, and flow sensors with high efficiency drip systems and tree bubblers. Only 55% of the Maximum Applied Water Allowance is used. The system is serviced by a separate water meter and designed to automatically shut off in the event of excess flow. Stormwater mitigation measures capture and filter rooftop rainwater in raised planters. Surface runoff on the project perimeter is directed towards the street tree planter areas. These measures mitigate 43% of the site runoff and capture 1,363 cubic feet of water annually. All interior plumbing fixtures are WaterSense rated.
Measure 5: Design for Economy
42 units are dedicated for artists’ families, 15 units for homeless, and 1 manager unit. Affordability ranges are 30-60% of the average median income. Located .1 miles to eight bus lines and .75 miles from the new downtown light rail line which is linked by a new bike boulevard funded by this development. Funded through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, it pairs affordable housing with transportation investments to foster healthy and connected communities.  The building has underground parking to serve housing demand, allowing the surface parking lot to be transformed into additional housing and open space. 
Measure 6: Design for Energy
The project is LEED equivalent, as it followed the LEED sustainability standards through design and construction. The adaptive reuse of the structure from office to housing reduced the embodied carbon by 78% compared to new construction, avoiding 2.32million KgCO2e emissions and diverting 25 million tons from the waste stream. The new construction portion of the development exceeded the energy code requirements by 25%. Additionally, a high efficiency domestic hot water system cut the project’s power requirements nearly in half.
Measure 7: Design for Well-Being
All paints and interior finishes used on the project were selected for their low VOC characteristics.  Polished concrete and resilient flooring were used throughout the project to reinforce the industrial aesthetic, provide flexibility in artist spaces and diminish the dirt and dust collection inherent with carpeting.  Sound absorbing baffles were introduced to public spaces to reduce the amount of ambient noise from hard surfaces.  Existing office windows have been modified to maximize incoming natural daylight while minimizing heat gain. All hazardous materials that existed in the original building that were found during renovation were removed or remediated.
Measure 8: Design for Resources
The general and subcontractors were local hires. Material selection is based on LEED equivalent sustainable materials, 90% acquired within 100 miles of the site. Interior finishes are low VOC to minimize off-gassing and improve interior air quality. Upper floor windows were preserved with a film applied to reduce heat gain resulting in the reduction of mechanical cooling loads. For new construction, operable windows were used with two operable windows per room to encourage cross ventilation, reduce lighting loads and minimize glare. Interior paint colors were consciously light in tone to maximize daylighting, reducing the demand for artificial lighting.
Measure 9: Design for Change
The project addresses change in a sustainable manner through adaptive reuse from office to residential. It addresses gentrification by using underutilized traditional office space for affordable housing that serves as community asset for the arts.

Prior to the pandemic, the project allowed for flexible workspaces. The units have proven resilient for living and working with built-in digital infrastructure, abundant natural light, and communal resources. Ground floor units fronting the street are commercially viable, customers can window shop and enter them directly. These units and public spaces have created an activated ground floor resulting in a safer urban environment. 
Measure 10: Design for Discovery
Public outreach meetings between the owner, city, community members and architects provided input that helped shape the design and programming of the project.  In addition, designers discussed operations with the management team to maximize livability while minimizing negative impacts on surrounding neighbors.  This resulted in communal ground floor spaces bustling with energy, including a public art gallery, studio space, a dance studio, and two music rooms. The former parking lot was converted into an active courtyard containing sculptural play equipment for children.  The architects plan to conduct post-occupancy evaluations and tenant interviews to monitor the project’s success.
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