William Adams Architects has made its name designing small, innovative multifamily infill. So when charged with creating a six-unit condo building for a tight site near its Venice, Calif., office, the firm knew just what to do. “We were dealing with a pretty small area,” says project architect Carl Smith, AIA. “With the unit sizes we had to get, we didn't have much choice [but] to maximize the building envelope.”
He and principal-in-charge Bill Adams, FAIA, dreaded the thought of dropping a boring box on the lot, though, so they instead concocted a plan that divides the project into two buildings—one with four loft-style units, the other with two. A central driveway squeezes between the structures, giving each unit owner access to a private garage. “The idea was to avoid a big cube,” Smith explains.
Adams and Smith selected steel for the industrial-style lofts’ railings, landings, and exposed cross-bracing (top and above, left.) They inserted volumes for bedrooms and baths (above) into the project’s shell (middle).
Credit: Tom Bonner
He and Adams developed a disciplined system to organize the project's design elements. They set up the two-story condos like townhouses, with three facing forward and three facing back. The external structure acts as a steel tube that holds a set of smaller, discrete containers for bedrooms and baths. These plywood and Corten steel containers float within each unit and cantilever out over the glass-walled first floors, adding another layer of texture to the street elevations. By consolidating private spaces, the architects enabled the rest of the interiors to remain open and interconnected. Each piece follows a consistent logic: The windows in the steel tube, for example, are horizontal and placed in a staggered pattern, while the floating boxes have regular punched openings. The cumulative effect of all this rigor is an architecture that's orderly, yet interesting—about as far away from a “big cube” as one can get.
Canal Lofts, Venice, Calif.
William Adams Architects, Venice
Richard Ehrman, Malibu, Calif.
Sanchez Brothers Construction, Culver City, Calif.
1,500 square feet to 1,800 square feet per unit
$250 per square foot
$900,000 to $1.3 million per unit
number of units: