white facade curved building exterior

A San Fernando Valley Housing Project Sets a New Standard

Los Angeles firm Brooks + Scarpa creates a “guardian of the block” on a corner lot in the San Fernando Valley.

The intersection of Magnolia and Colfax is a microcosm of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. With neighbors that include a public high school, a fast-food restaurant, various small businesses, and multifamily residential buildings, Magnolia Nineteen, a mixed-use building designed by Brooks + Scarpa, respects context while also differentiating itself from the extant built environment. 

The site, which formerly housed a gas station, shaped the firm’s approach. “Corner buildings are the guardian of the block,” says Lawrence Scarpa, lead designer and principal-in-charge. “If you have a bad corner building, you lose the whole block. If you have a good one, it enhances it.” The Flatiron Building, for example, has a very different impact from a blocky tower. 

Magnolia Nineteen is a mixed-use, multifamily housing project designed by Brooks + Scarpa in Los Angeles. Located on a corner site that formerly housed a gas station, the project contains three stories of apartments and 1,600 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

Managing principal Angela Brooks echoes the importance of the site. “You would hope it could be an example for the rest of the street to build a little bit more densely along those boulevards,” she adds. Magnolia Nineteen represents a potential paradigm shift for the Valley Village neighborhood, and by extension the broader area, to embrace creative approaches to mixed-use development. Zoning restrictions that regulate the interface of where commercial uses abut R-1 single-family blocks dictated the footprint too.

“The idea was that the building could flow but also feel open,” Scarpa explains of the three-story structure containing 19 market-rate housing units placed over 1,600 square feet of commercial retail space. The building, developed by Hillock Land Company, boldly gestures toward the street while creating a series of shared and private outdoor spaces for tenants in the forms of walkways, courtyards, roof decks, and recessed balconies. The stepped-back profile and asymmetrical volumes seem to effortlessly rise out of the largely transparent, visually lightweight ground floor. 

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Indoor air quality was considered when specifying healthier interior materials such as formaldehyde-free MDF cabinets, no-VOC paints, natural linoleum, and LED lighting.
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Of the 19 units, 12 feature single-level, open-plan apartments, six are double-height lofts, and one unit is a three-story loft. Large areas of glazing and operable windows maximize daylighting and optimize building performance.

Perforated and corrugated aluminum panels that compose the facade undulate with restraint. This composition lends a sculptural quality to the building and also functions as a screen. As Scarpa observes, “it’s a bit ephemeral [how] the light passes through.” Breezes also circulate effectively, which is important given that summers in the San Fernando Valley can reach punishingly hot temperatures. The skin provides needed shade, privacy, and aesthetic interest as shadows shift throughout the day.

Exterior walkways and ramps connect the entrances to the units on the second and third levels and encourage interaction and engagement. The strategically oriented massing supports environmentally sensitive passive building systems, too. Inside, low-emission materials include no-VOC paints, formaldehyde-free MDF cabinetry, and natural linoleum.

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The building features a unique facade consisting of layers of perforated aluminum that provide residents with sun shading, cross ventilation, and privacy while still allowing for optimized views from the units as well as the outdoor walkways, rooftop, and recessed balconies.

 

Twelve of the units are single-level, open-plan lofts that range from 800 to 1,000 square feet, along with six double-height dwellings located on the third floor, and a single three-story unit. To preserve the pedestrian-scaled focus, parking is tucked away behind the street-facing ground floor, with separate designated areas for residential and commercial use. (The commercial-tenant parking lot turned out to be a pandemic lifeline for the current occupant, a kickboxing gym that hosted classes outdoors.)

“We always try to make the ground floor more inviting, more urban-friendly,” Scarpa says, so the lobby entrance maintains a close visual relationship with the sidewalk. Landscaping by PLAN(t) Studio, Brooks + Scarpa’s landscape design arm, and Tina Chee Landscape Studio adds to the softened, welcoming street appeal.

Danny Kradjian, principal and founder of Hillock Land Company, reflects on Brooks + Scarpa’s unique ability to deliver project objectives: “Our goal was to partner with an architect that had an imaginative vision to meet the unique site challenges, while prioritizing appropriate scale, form, and sustainability.” 

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