lorcan o'herlihy architects, culver city, calif.

Issues with neighbors often arise during the design of a new multifamily building. When the neighbor is R.M. Schindler's Kings Road House, those concerns take on an even larger significance. Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA, understood as much when he signed on as the architect of this 19-unit condo building in West Hollywood, Calif., residential architect's 2009 Project of the Year. “The site was going to be potentially controversial, but very interesting,” he says. He was right on both counts. The MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which operates the Kings Road House next door, strongly opposed the project. Yet the finished building, known as Habitat 825, shows respect for the experimental spirit—as well as the physical space—of its iconic neighbor. Schindler was drawn to the idea of easing the strict divisions between a building's public and private zones. O'Herlihy, too, likes to question these conventions. He broke Habitat 825's street-facing façade into two pieces, angling one so passersby can catch a glimpse of the project's internal courtyard. Between the entry and the sidewalk, he and landscape architect Katherine Spitz, AIA, ASLA, placed a series of concrete benches, turning this traditionally private area into semi-public land.

Inside the entry gate, the exploration of communal spaces continues. Backed by his enlightened developer client, Richard Loring, Assoc. AIA, O'Herlihy and his team managed to place all the building's circulation in the courtyard. Residents reach their units via extra-wide walkways, which are sized to accommodate outdoor furniture and informal social gatherings. “We wanted to encourage people to deal with the public/private realm,” O'Herlihy explains. “They have to engage each other. It changes the equation a little bit.”

O'Herlihy and Loring, who doubled as the general contractor, could have filled in the courtyard with more units. If they had, though, residents' access to natural light, fresh air, and casual social interaction would have suffered. The individual condos benefit from the same high-minded approach; each balcony and terrace offers a generous amount of square footage that doesn't count toward the “official” unit size.

To keep Habitat 825 from casting shadows on the Kings Road House, the architects limited the height of its north portion to 30 feet, rather than the permitted 45 feet. Additionally, they cut a substantial void into that side of the building and angled the remaining walls away from the lot line, creating a bit of breathing room between the two properties. While these strategies defer to Schindler's building, Habitat 825 also maintains its own distinct identity. The judges enjoyed its bold exterior color scheme of lime green, white, and black. “It's a fun façade,” said one. “I like the playfulness.”

The architect of ra’s 2009 Project of the Year, Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA, photographed at his winning project, Habitat 825 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Danny Turner The architect of ra’s 2009 Project of the Year, Lorcan O’Herlihy, FAIA, photographed at his winning project, Habitat 825 in West Hollywood, Calif.

The quality that impressed them most, though, was O'Herlihy's willingness to address crucial matters of density, privacy, and public space in multifamily housing. “These are great residences from a community point of view,” observed one. “This project solves some really tough problems.”

principal in charge: Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA, Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects
project manager: Pierre De Angelis, Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects
developer: Richard Loring, Assoc. AIA, Habitat Group Los Angeles, Los Angeles
general contractor: Richard Loring, Assoc. AIA, Archetype, Los Angeles
landscape architect: Katherine Spitz, AIA, ASLA, Katherine Spitz Associates, Marina del Rey, Calif.
project size: 1,250 square feet to 1,850 square feet per unit
site size: 0.46 acre
construction cost: $240 per square foot
sales price: $800,000 to $1 million per unit
units in project: 19
photography: Lawrence Anderson/Esto, except where noted.

product specs
bathroom fittings and fixtures, bathroom cabinets, flooring (ceramic tile/stone/concrete): Modern Arc; cooktop, dishwasher, oven/range: Miele; countertops, kitchen cabinets, kitchen fittings and fixtures: Boffi USA ; doors: Cook's Windows & Doors; exterior siding: Cement Board Fabricators; flooring (carpet, wood): Discover Flooring; garage doors: ATS Citywide Doors & Construction; garbage disposer: In-Sink-Erator; hardware: Schlage Lock Co.; refrigerator: Sub-Zero; walkway: Crossfield Products Corp.; windows: Milgard Windows