As Crest Apartments in Van Nuys, California, neared completion, this glowing-white, crisp-lined building— with its gently arcing cluster of volumes—began to attract inquiries from market-rate renters. But, as those aspiring tenants soon learned, this was actually permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless men and women. Crest’s owner-developer, the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), has always considered innovative, high-quality design fundamental to its philosophy and goal of creating places of pride for both its residents and their neighbors. “Yet, interestingly enough, this had one of the tightest budgets of the four residential projects we’ve done for the Trust,” says architect Michael Maltzan. “Clearly, we had to be inventive with modest means, but I also think people were responding to an underlying familiarity—to a familiar approach reinterpreted.”
In transformative ways, Crest took design cues from “dingbats”—the TIGHT SITE Crest’s deep, narrow parcel extends from a busy commercial strip to a single-family residential neighborhood. Along the street, a stair tower rises alongside the volume housing the glass-enclosed lobby at grade. The rooftops incorporate outdoor terraces, as well as PV and solar-thermal panels. much-derided low-rise apartment buildings common in Van Nuys and the surrounding San Fernando Valley. Across this sprawling suburban area northwest of downtown Los Angeles, dingbats follow a classic formula: boxy, cheap-looking, and raised on columns to accommodate parking. Like those low-cost structures, Crest is modest in height (five stories), covered in stucco, and built (at least partially) on pilotis to free up the ground plane, but the similarities end there. Crest’s skin is smooth, luminous, and precisely detailed; its massing is complex and subtle; and instead of hovering above barren concrete paving, the 45,000-square-foot building allows landscaping to thrive beneath and around it.