Conceived by smart growth proponents as a viable solution to Los Angeles' tight housing market, the City of Los Angeles adopted the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance in 2005. The ordinance aimed to encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable infill housing to target first-time home buyers in an increasingly unaffordable market; simultaneously increasing density while maintaining the residential scale of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Located just south of LA’s Beachwood Canyon, our Canyon Drive project examines the small lot subdivision typology by taking advantage of its efficiencies of footprint and density while creating unique homes filled with light and air. Starting from the maximum allowable envelope, the single mass is divided by tilting the exterior walls away from the lot lines at different angles to define the five individual homes and create opportunities for solar exposure and natural ventilation. From their initial A-frame-like shapes, the volumes are expanded at their centers to maximize usable square footage while maintaining the angular end facades. This injects a sense of the individuality of single-family homes, missing from many small lot subdivision developments. The curving, almost nautical forms are achieved through angled wall studs and panelized systems: a simple framing strategy. The wood framing is expressed internally so the overall geometry is legible from inside the home. The cedar-clad first floor for the two-car garages provides a material contrast for the light upper units, which are composed with aluminum panels and storefront glazing. These material choices filter natural light into the living areas but maintain privacy, essential when building close to other properties. Replacing the traditional backyard, the design of each house incorporates a roof deck to create access to more outdoor space. Canyon Drive's five separate houses utilize consistent plan layouts and geometric strategies, but are defined as differing volumes, which give each a unique character. The ruled surfaces of the exterior facade walls expand at the center to maximize usable living space within each home. Common living spaces are prioritized and positioned on the third floor, which introduces an abundance of natural light, views of the Hollywood sign, and gives direct access to the private rooftop decks. This project is an important example of how the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance in Los Angeles can be implemented and used to increase density, but not at the cost of living space or quality of life. By subdividing one single-family lot into small lots for five single family homes, this project highlights the benefits of increasing density in the neighborhood while maintaining a contextual relationship to neighboring single family homes. Canyon Drive is a vital project for the households that will be living in the units, the neighborhood, and the larger city of Los Angeles. The Small Lot Ordinance that made this project possible is an important development in how Los Angeles can increase density and work against the rising cost of living for residents, but in essence, it in only a piece of legislation. It is the design that activates this ordinance from a piece of text to a home for people to live in. Adding density to an area is always a challenge because it redefines the character of the neighborhood and often brings large faceless apartment complexes without much consideration to the context. Canyon Drive is vision of how to increase density, while retaining the values and identity of the neighborhood. When increasing density, particularly in Los Angeles, a main concern is the addition of cars to the street and loss of parking. This project provides two standard size parking spaces for each home, consistent with the requirements for single family homes, and visually conceals the parking from the street. One space is designated as a flexible guest space to minimize overflow parking into the neighborhood. Currently, people are also reassessing their need for cars due to their effect on the environment and the high costs of fuel prices. Canyon Drive is situated within walking distance of two Metro stations. If the residents decide not to own a car, this garage space could be used for any number of additional purposes. By repositioning the face of the houses away from street and towards north, the rooms are able to be opened up to an abundance of light with floor to ceiling windows on the second and third floors of all five units. This positioning of the windows along with clearstory windows positioned on the south facing side creates a cross ventilation that not only provides fresh air and cools down the floors, but also reduces the amount of energy used.
Founded in 1994 by Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA, LOHA is an award-winning architecture and urban design firm with offices in Los Angeles and Detroit. Collectively and collaboratively, we have built a robust portfolio of work that is rooted in embracing architecture's role as a catalyst for change. With a conscious understanding that architecture operates within a layered context of political, environmental, and social structures, LOHA seeks to elevate the human condition via the built environment. Our work ranges from art galleries, bus shelters, and large-scale neighborhood plans, to large mixed-use developments, supportive housing, and university residential complexes. LOHA has built over 100 projects across three continents, been published in over 20 countries, and has been recognized with over 100 awards, including the AIA CC Distinguished Practice Award, the 2021 AIALA Gold Medal, and AIALA Firm of the Year Award and was awarded voted the #1 Design Firm in the US by Architect Magazine.