When Brooks + Scarpa were called upon to revitalize a pair of ageing affordable housing projects in downtown Los Angeles, the firm kept the interiors mostly intact, save for much-needed upgrades. Instead, it focused its energies on carving out surprising new public spaces from the service areas flanking both buildings. Working with landscape architects SQLA, the team introduced minimal (yet resolutely architectural) social hubs that create opportunities for communal life throughout the apartment buildings, which rent to formerly homeless people.
Dubbed The Weldon and The Rossmore, the two buildings are managed by the non-profit Skid Row Housing Trust. The organization identified improvements required to ensure all 110 apartments were ADA compliant and would not fall into disrepair. In revitalizing the interiors, Brooks+Scarpa left the building structures and layouts untouched, while creating new outdoor spaces by repurposing the narrow alleys and service courtyards adjacent to the buildings.
At The Weldon, an airshaft and small service courtyard were previously occupied by scattered bike parking, overgrown weeds, debris, potted plants, and ad hoc seating, with chairs periodically brought out from private apartments. Hemmed in by neighbouring buildings, the corridors were neglected and uninviting, though moments of outdoor life nonetheless flourished. In transforming the spaces, the designers created a bold and imaginative new program, though one that was also carefully tailored to enhance existing community uses.
The designers re-imagined the tight corridors as tranquil, green and sociable extensions of indoor living space. Painted in light tones to create a more energized ambiance, the refreshed walls are paired with a white gravel perimeter and new walkways. Poured-in-place concrete seats provide varied and durable seating and the corridors now connect directly to a rejuvenated kitchen. But the undeniable highlights are the flowerpots.
Ascending the walls, custom steel holders (painted white to match the wall) support a whimsical array of clay pots. Each of the removable pots belongs to an apartment, giving residents an individual connection to the space. Depending on the weather and flora, the flowers can be brought into the apartments or kept outdoors. The small gesture brings life to overlooked Skid Row alleyways while quietly fostering a communal sense of ownership of the space. It’s an impressive solution, made possible by a rare combination of architectural imagination and contextual sensitivity.
Nearby, The Rossmore’s central courtyard is a comparatively spacious gathering place. A rich wood finish dominates the courtyard, creating a sense of human-scaled cohesion that makes the space – which previously offered little more than bicycle parking and minimal seating – read as much more substantial.
Here, rolling wooden benches – set on steel tracks – offer impressive flexibility, allowing the playful lounge area to be reconfigured into more communal or private settings. Simple concrete pavers frame a preserved tree, while a raised planter is integrated into the wooden frame, introducing additional seating while insulating the quiet courtyard from the street. (There’s also new bike parking).
On Skid Row, Brooks + Scarpa and SQLA have introduced vital doses of outdoor life to the community – and they did it on a budget. With a combined cost of only $140,000, most of the materials were either repurposed or purchased at a local hardware store. Taken together, the three new outdoor spaces only amount to some 850 square feet, but you’d hardly know it. After coming alive, it all feels bigger.
A non-profit community managed by the Skid Row Housing Trust enjoys the benefit of surprising new outdoor spaces.