The ongoing mission led by Lehrer Architects and the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering to transform unwanted, unwieldy, and “seemingly useless” plots of land into dignified, design-forward communities for Angelenos transitioning out of homelessness shows no signs of slowing down. In just seven months, the team, joined by Ford Construction, has completed a total of four experimental enclaves featuring diminutive modular dwellings with the latest being near Saticoy Street and Whitsett Avenue in North Hollywood. The September debut of this newest community, dubbed the Whitsett Tiny Homes Village, came just weeks before L.A.’s inaugural tiny house-based transitional housing complex, the half-acre Chandler Tiny Homes Village, was honored with a 2021 AIA Los Angeles Design Award.
Following the opening of the Chandler Tiny Homes Village in February came the Alexandria Tiny Homes Village in May and then Echo Park’s Alvarado Tiny Homes Village in June, which is the only of the four boldly colored communities not located in North Hollywood. Between the four completed villages, Lehrer Architects and the City of Angeles have brought into existence 500 beds for those needing them the most.
While all four communities are located on overlooked or once-derelict sites, designing the Whitsett Tiny Homes Village, which is shoehorned into a slim sliver of land abutting the Hollywood Freeway only 20-feet-wide in parts, proved to be particularly complex—the “most challenging site yet by far,” per the architects. However, the team, despite working with a difficult site and an “accelerated design and construction schedule,” managed to comfortably fit a total of 77 Pallet Shelter housing units (150 beds in total) along with communal spaces and structures dedicated to resident support/services (restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities ) into the 66,325-square-foot site while building out the necessary infrastructure (electricity, water, ADA accessibility, drainage, sewers, and storm drains). In addition to two beds, each 64-square-foot housing unit includes air conditioning and heat, shelving, and storage space.
Despite the challenges presented by the site itself, the sense of privacy, security, and autonomy offered by the individual self-contained dwellings was not lost, nor was the comprehensive support offered by the village to its residents as they continue on the pathway to more permanent means of housing. Like with the Chandler and Alexandria Tiny House Villages in North Hollywood, faith-based housing nonprofit Hope of the Valley operates the newest community and provides meals along with on-site case management, housing navigation, mental health, and job training and placement services. (Urban Alchemy operates the Alvarado Tiny Homes Village in Echo Park.)
Lehrer Architects elaborated in a press release that the “most immediate challenge was first simply to fit the required units onto such a narrow, onerous, and oddly-shaped site and then to create a complete, energizing, imagination-capturing community. The architects embraced the daunting challenge of the incredibly long, narrow viewsheds and distance as a way to create a coherent urban place and used a ‘painter’s eye’ to strategically deploy color in a visual language that further cements the sense of a village.”
It’s worth noting that the site was previously the location of an existing homeless encampment between the freeway and a swath of parking lots and industrial sites. The rapid construction schedule was observed in part to minimize the displacement of the existing unhoused community living there, which it is meant to serve.
“After completing three successful Tiny Home Villages, each in a very different urban setting, working on this site felt particularly satisfying,” noted Nerin Kadribegovic, partner at Lehrer Architects, in a statement. “The oddity of its shape, and location forced us to use every tool in our design palette to make this forgotten piece of land bring dignity and joy to its future residents.”
Joining the modular dwellings and support structures, the Whitsett Tiny Homes Village features two large, central outdoor spaces where community members can gather for meals and to socialize. In addition to deploying an eye-popping colorful scheme of blue, yellow, greens, and a splash of pink that provides “a scene of visual delight for the adjacent freeway,” the design team also erected an 8-foot-tall sound barrier fence along the freeway to mitigate noise and provide privacy to residents. Existing trees at the site were incorporated into the design.
As noted by Marina Quiñónez, homeless facilities program manager and architect with the Bureau of Engineering, eight additional tiny home villages are in the planning or construction phases across the city, which will together provide supportive housing to an additional 1,061 unhoused Angelenos. In addition to the four completed tiny home-based bridge housing communities created in partnership by Lehrer Architects and the Bureau of Engineering, others have opened across the city since the February debut of the Chandler Tiny Homes Village including a small handful that are also operated by Hope of the Valley, such as the Arroyo Seco Tiny Homes Village in Highland Park and the Reseda Tiny Homes Village.
“A profound joy of these projects is the necessity for—and intensity of—their visual presence,” added Michael B. Lehrer, founder of Lehrer Architects.” Every tool in our visual palette was employed starting with perspective, procession, and color. If beauty breeds honor and respect, there are no more deserving groups than our sisters and brothers on the streets.”