Route 66, the legendary highway that linked Chicago to Los Angeles before it was superseded by interstate freeways, was once known as “America’s Main Street”. The last stretch, before the highway meets the Pacific, is a bleak reminder of how the automobile has drained life from main streets all over the country and fostered low-density sprawl. The dreary succession of cheap storefronts and workshops is ripe for redevelopment, though a parade of over-scaled commercial buildings would only increase the feeling of sterility.
Shining out from this urban wasteland is Granville 1500, a low-rise, high density mixed-use complex that the architect likens to an urban village. It aims to regenerate this section of Santa Monica Boulevard and initiate the process of transforming it into a pedestrian-friendly zone - as West Hollywood has done so successfully, a few kilometers to the east. Ironically, it occupies the site of a former car dealership. It is the latest in a collection of urbane projects that won LOHA (Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects) three major awards from THE PLAN last year, and it is located next to one of those, Westgate 1515. Both extend the full width of a city block, both comprise four floors of apartments rising from a podium of street-level retail and subterranean parking, and both have been bought by UCLA for student housing. And yet, though they are of equal size and are both clad in a similar ribbed metal - a LOHA trademark, as white enameled metal panels were for Richard Meier -, they each have a distinctive character.
Westgate 1515 steps up to the building line with a porous white façade of splayed window openings that contrast with reticent black-toned side elevations. In contrast, Granville 1500 comprises three boldly sculptured blocks set back from a podium that is itself cut away sharply at the corners, folded and recessed at the center to widen the sidewalk and mediate between the private and public realms. The cladding is a mid-gray that appears lighter or darker as the sun moves around, raking the surface and animating the ribbed panels. The central block has a complex interplay of flat and curved planes that play off the orthogonal blocks to either side. Bridges link them at the three upper levels and the shapes define a trio of parterres, landscaped with drought-resistant plantings.
The largest of these has a pool and all three have movable seating to foster social gatherings of every size. View corridors to north and south provide a visual link to the surrounding community, channel breezes, and pull in natural light.
Granville 1500 is deceptively simple, and classy in an understated way. It is architecture as art and, though it was constructed on a tight budget, it is far superior to the self-styled “luxury” apartment towers scattered around West L.A. Over a century of exponential growth, most Angelenos aspired to own a single-family house with a front and back garden, a wasteful typology that still predominates. In the condominiums that Lorcan O’Herlihy designed in West Hollywood, and now in larger, more widely distributed projects, he and his firm are proposing a new model: denser, yet expansive in feeling, full of character and energy. This project offers its tenants multiple perspectives from bridges and terraces, and a harmonious balance of privacy and sociability. There is a constant sense of discovery as you walk around the blocks and linger in the spaces between; a tension between mass and void, and a steady rhythm in the fenestration. The distinctive forms and spaces break up the mass of the approximately 29,000 sq. m building and create a strong sense of place in a featureless location.
Within the three blocks, 153 units (a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments) open off short corridors. The plans are well-varied and every room has expansive glazing, with sliders opening onto recessed balconies. For students this offers a more rewarding environment than conventional dormitories, and they benefit from being in a real-life community, a short bus or bicycle ride from the campus and the beach, rather than an academic ghetto on the edge of the campus. Two shops and two restaurants occupy the ground floor and there is a choice of buses, light rail and (coming soon) a metro line, linking this location to greater L.A.
And it is good news for the neighbors, who can now look forward to more enlightened development, human-scaled architecture and improved amenities that should further enhance the pleasure of living so close to the ocean and the vibrant, though costly community of Santa Monica. One can imagine this former traffic artery being narrowed and landscaped in the near future, with outdoor restaurants and cafés, bicycle paths, and a central lane for electric buses, self-driving cars, and autonomous nighttime deliveries. That is part of Lorcan O’Herlihy’s vision as he rethinks his home city, block by block, and he may live to see it.
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Completion Date: 2021
Client: CIM Group
Gross Floor Area: 29,000 m2
Architect: LOHA Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects
Principal in Charge: Lorcan O’Herlihy
Project Manager: Judson Buttner
Main Contractor: Suffolk
Structural and Civil: John Labib & Associates
Landscape: LA Group
Waterproofing: James West
Interior Design: Ariel Fox Design
Lighting: Bega Gantenbrink-Leuchten
Photography by Paul Vu
Portrait image by Colin Lenton
All images courtesy of LOHA Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects