Connecting Community Through Authenticity
ORANGE COUNTY, CA—The development process can be long and complex with many components going into the ultimate success of a project. A clear, meaningful design concept is one of the most important factors contributing to that success. With new developments coming to market, the project must be complimentary to the existing community and represent an authentic extension of the locale. The design needs to speak to the immediate neighborhood, the city’s planning objective and serve the needs of the greater community as a whole.
A few recent projects I’ve worked on come to mind where we as architects designed very unique and contextual spaces for very different locations and purposes.
Avalon West Hollywood is a mixed-use infill community project. The site will consist of two apartment buildings and one income- and age-restricted building, all designed in a sustainable, contemporary modern style to complement the spirit and excitement of the surrounding movie industry neighborhood. Avalon West Hollywood is designed to support a multi-generational urban lifestyle experience. Working closely with Avalon Bay Communities, the developer on the project, we engaged the community of West Hollywood by designing a welcoming environment that brings residents and neighbors together and invites pedestrians deep into a permeable development to enjoy public landscaped plazas, outdoor patio dining and neighborhood-serving retail spaces. The architectural character of Avalon West Hollywood celebrates the energy and liveliness of the eclectic mix of people that make up the city whose motto is “The Creative City”.
We are currently working on a project with the Catalina Island Conservancy to design the new Catalina Island Trailhead Visitor’s Center. The Conservancy plays an important role in the conservation and protection of plant and animal habitats on the island. Located in the town of Avalon, the building serves as a visitor’s center, an event venue, a launch pad for eco-tours, and an introduction to the natural environment of the island outside of town. Designed to be experienced like a trail, three levels step up a sloping site to gradually unveil the Conservancy’s mission of stewardship through educational displays, sustainable materials, solar power, natural lighting, and water recycling, including the goal of LEED Gold certification. Ending in a top floor observation deck with views to Avalon Harbor, the building serves as an “inpost”, the opposite of an outpost, as it brings nature into town and invites the island’s many visitors to engage in the natural beauty of the island.
Another great example of designing for community is the Pacific City Apartments, a development which is in the planning phase for Southern California’s Huntington Beach community. Also known as Surf City, the city is heavily influenced by surf culture, the beach and the quintessential SoCal experience. One of the designers on the project is a surfer, whose perspective has been invaluable in tailoring amenities to the lifestyle of the place. The design embraces outdoor living and includes a pedestrian avenue that connects a series of unique courtyard spaces throughout the entire property. Subterranean parking makes the entire community walkable and street-accessible for this highly active population. One of my favorite design elements at this property is the cascading roof façade of the central community building that mimics the movement of a wave about to crash on the beach, truly marrying the new development to the nexus of the surfing world.
These are just a few examples of architects creating community by gaining a deep understanding of the community in which the project will live, and designing creative and engaging spaces to fit the needs of the future tenants and their neighbors. This process takes skill, reflection and creativity, and MVE + Partners is dedicated to incorporating this method into each project to create truly authentic spaces.
Jeff Larsen is a principal of MVE+ Partners where he has been practicing design and architecture for more than 30 years. The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.