David Obitz – Innovative Design: Raising the Bar

Affordable Housing Finance

November 8, 2016

Architects achieve high-end design on limited budgets.

By Christine Serlin

The bar for the quality of architectural design in affordable housing is being raised. In most instances, new affordable housing developments are indistinguishable from higher-end market-rate communities, no longer looking like the boxes of the past.

“What we’re seeing now is a continued improvement of the quality of the design for affordable housing,” says Fernando Villa, a principal at Magnusson Architecture and Planning. “It should look as beautiful as any market-rate project. You really want to push the envelope in design with a limited budget.”

Michael Wiencek, president of Wiencek + Associates Architects + Planners, agrees. “No matter what the budget, we should be able to win an award. If you don’t hit the envelope and create innovative ways [to achieve] higher end, you end up with the affordable housing of the past.”

Architects also work to ensure that developments connect with the surrounding community as well as residents’ needs.

“Being creative is a necessity because it’s not just about building housing or apartments, but about creating a home and a community that work for residents in harmony with the broader neighborhood,” says David Obitz, design principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning.

Looking ahead, David Baker of David Baker Architects says modular construction will receive stronger consideration. “It’s maturing and cutting a year off a construction schedule and saving some money. Site building is primitive,” he says, adding that modular building has its challenges, but it still is proving to be more efficient.


Project: Solaira at Pavilion Park
Location: Irvine, Calif.
Architect: KTGY Architecture + Planning
Developers: Related California, Five Point Communities, and Riverside Charitable Corp.

Master Plan

Solaira at Pavilion Park, the first affordable housing component in the Great Parks Neighborhoods master plan and the first new affordable senior housing in Irvine, Calif., in two decades, blends seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood.

“This affordable senior community weaves itself into the broader master-planned community and provides grandparents the opportunity to live near their family and their grandchildren,” says David Obitz, design principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning, the architect behind the development.

Inspired by connectivity with people and nature, the 221-unit project has access to Orange County’s largest park and trails and is rich with amenities and market-rate details within affordable parameters. Instead of creating one large structure, the apartments are split between three main residential buildings. The design elements are inspired by the eclectic American Heritage architectural ethos that is prevalent throughout the master plan and include board-and-batten siding, stone-base elements, earthy colors, and gabled ends. The ends of the three-story buildings have been lowered to two stories for a softened expression.

The site plan was organized to create common-area space between the buildings. The community’s amenity area was designed to have its own architectural identity to set it apart from the apartments.

Design on the interior was done with seniors in mind.

“Universal design principles allow residents to age in place gracefully and comfortably,” says Obitz. “None of the art that hangs in the public corridors of the apartment buildings is repeated, and each floor has its own color scheme, to help seniors find their way.”