Los Angeles


Star Apartments, in downtown Los Angeles, is striking not just for its angular, almost levitating sculptural form, but also for the ways it differs from Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA)'s prior work for the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT). “Rather than create a prototype and make it over and over, our collaboration with the Trust as our client is very much in the laboratory phase, still exploring what's possible,” says principal Michael Maltzan. Each successive commission—Star is the third—“has expanded the ambitions,” he says, “allowing us to reconsider how a building can be lived in, can support its residents, fit into the evolving city, and even be made.”

Enlisting top-notch architecture to help overcome homelessness is fundamental to SRHT, which started in 1989, turning derelict SRO hotels in Skid Row into safe, affordable, attractive, hotel-style quarters for the chronically homeless. By the mid-'90s, SRHT began creating permanent, instead of transitional, supportive housing, and eventually entire new buildings, with efficiency apartments and on-site social services. And “a miraculous thing happened,” says the organization's literature: “long-term homeless people . . . often considered 'beyond help,' got better, a lot better.”

Yet housing this population often elicits neighborhood wariness—even along downtown Los Angeles's raw, but gentrifying fringes. SRHT responds with architecture that's “not just acceptable but outstanding—beautiful, high-performing design that serves formerly homeless residents, while genuinely enhancing the city,” says Theresa Hwang, SRHT's director of community design and planning. “One of our goals is to break down stigma and NIMBY-ism.”

SRHT, which owns and operates 1,600 units in 24 buildings, first engaged MMA to design Rainbow Apartments (2006), a model for permanent supportive housing. Then came the New Carver Apartments (2009), which took SRHT beyond Skid Row and gave a difficult site along the I-10 freeway a landmark. Completed in 2014, Star Apartments broke new ground, except not literally—as its base is an existing structure.

To integrate housing within a larger community, SRHT sought opportunities for a mixed-use project. A low-rise concrete building at Maple Avenue and 6th Street offered just that: a typical Skid Row hodgepodge of mom-and-pop street-level retail beneath roof-deck parking. Razing this five-year-old structure would have violated SRHT's commitment to sustainability—and also forfeited its chance to include retail, since its funding stipulations permit only pre-existing mixed-use.

The decision to piggyback on an existing structure led MMA to an approach not explored in Los Angeles in decades: multifamily modular prefab. When traditional configurations, including double-loaded corridors and central courtyards, failed to fit enough units, plus generous outdoor areas, within a six-story limit, Maltzan recalls, “we needed to devise a model for another kind of urban space.”

MMA's solution was to repurpose the parking deck as a podium, a 15,220- square-foot terrace with gardens and a jogging track, alongside a communal kitchen, lounge, and rooms for art and exercise. Above that level, a new concrete tray could accommodate 102 units, stacked non-hierarchically and interwoven with patios and outdoor catwalks—a configuration reminiscent of a hill town's scale, density, and meandering routes. “Craning in the units seemed like a natural fit,” says Maltzan. “Prefab emerged as the most direct and efficient approach, addressing issues from technical and financial to social and urban.”

SRHT hired Guerdon Enterprises in Idaho to prefabricate the wood-frame modules—each a 300-square-foot studio with full kitchen, bath, and interior finishes factory-installed—while the existing building in downtown Los Angeles was retrofitted with extra concrete columns to help support the new sections. Two concrete interior stairways were also added, laterally bracing the second-floor deck. From the exterior, these muscular diagonals express the structural brawn of holding the modules high above the podium.

The units were fabricated in seven weeks and assembled in only six. On-site, they plugged into the web of steel catwalks, which double as armatures for electric, water, and gas lines.

Though the apartments are virtually identical, their massing creates a microcosm of localized conditions or “neighborhoods” with views out to the city. Input from residents, many with mental or physical disabilities, played a role in strengthening visual connections to street life and creating communal spaces more extroverted than the sheltered courts in MMA's earlier projects.

Star's program, more complex than its predecessors, changed in midconstruction when the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services chose an unprecedented role, making a 15-year commitment to be the sole ground-floor tenant, with a large community clinic and offices for its Housing for Health program. Though not the retail and clientele mix originally envisioned, this storefront clinic serves Star residents and a broader public.

The $40 million project has attained LEED for Homes Platinum and a high tenant-retention rate. As MMA's fourth Trust building, Crest, heads into construction, Star's community gardens burgeon with mint, tomatoes, and fruit trees. The high-ceilinged lobby, with its original concrete floors glowing, marks the gracious, modern entry to a place of pride. “People seem to be over the moon,” observes Hwang. “Every time I go by, I see someone strumming a guitar or making sure the gardens get weeded.”


Skid Row Housing Trust

Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc.
2801 Hyperion Avenue, Studio 107
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 913-3098 phone
(323) 913-5932 fax

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Principal: Michael Maltzan, FAIA
Principal in Charge: Tim Williams
Project team: Wil Carson, Edward Tung, Jessica Tracy, Sahaja Aram, Hiroshi Tokumaru, Michael Striegel, AIA, Theresa Hwang, David Rodriguez, Hoey Yip, Joseph Saccomanno, Mike Wang, Jessica Varner, Lisa Madonna

Architect of record:
Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc.

Interior designer:
Collaborative House

Structural Engineer:
B.W. Smith Structural Engineers
Nova Structures Inc.

MEP Engineer:
Green Engineering Consulting Group, Inc.

Civil Engineer
KPFF Consulting Engineers

Valley Crest Design Group

Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc.

Martin Newson & Associates LLC

Curtis Fletcher


LEED Consultant:
GB Works

AWC West Specifications Consulting

Construction Manager:
Cowley Real Estate Partners
Anejo Development

General contractor:
Westport Construction (General Contractor)
Guerdon Enterprises (Prefabrication Contractor)

Iwan Baan;


95,000 square feet


$19.3 million

Completion date:

October 2014



Structural system
Concrete superstructure with post-tensioned slab at upper levels. Steel framing supporting exterior metal walkways. Wood framing for all pre-fabricated units.

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Sureboard structural shear walls

Exterior cladding
Vulcan Materials Company, Angelus Block Co.

Metal Panels:
Metal fascias custom fabricated and installed by West Coast Sheet Metal, Metal column covers custom fabricated and installed by Crest Sheet Metal

Metal/glass curtain wall:

Moisture barrier:
DuPont Tyvek weather barrier

Curtain wall:

Built-up roofing:
VersiFlex PVC Roofing (60 mil)

Metal frame:
Western Window Systems, series 700

Dual pane laminated glass with Solarban 60


Metal doors:
Hollow Metal Xpress for site metal doors, Steelcraft for unit metal doors

Wood doors:
Haley Architectural Doors for site wood doors, Oregon Doors for unit wood doors

Sliding doors:
Oregon Doors

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
Cornell M100 Firegard Closing System

Onity HT24 electronic lock for unit doors, Yale locksets for site doors

Falcon SC closers

Exit devices:
Yale fire exit devices

Yale door levers

Security devices:
Door King 1834 Entry system

Interior finishes
Suspension grid:

Paints and stains:
Dunn Edwards Paint

Wall coverings:
Goldbond Gyp board with Dunn Edwards Paint

Plastic laminate:
Formica Plastic Laminate

Solid surfacing:
Formica Solid Surface

Special surfacing:
Floor and wall tile:
Daltile bathroom tile

Resilient flooring:
Forbo Marmoleum MCT

Office furniture:

Reception furniture:




Interior ambient lighting:
Architectural Lighting Works, Birchwood



Hollister-Whitney Elevator Corp.

American Standard water closets and lavatories
Fibercare showers
Delta lavatory facuets
Elkay kitchen faucets

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Modular prefabricated units