Alvarado Street is not one of the main arteries of Los Angeles. Travel its length, however, from Pico-Union to the south, past MacArthur Park and north to Echo Park, and the diversity and character of many of the city’s neighborhoods is on display. Less famous than the areas of Los Angeles that draw tourists, these communities offer an engagingly authentic vibrance and variety. It’s also easy to see many people experiencing homelessness, camped on the margins of these neighborhoods.
Hope on Alvarado is the first of a series of supportive housing buildings by a private developer aiming to both house and assist people who’ve been homeless, creating both a home and a supportive community at a neighborhood scale. Supportive housing in Los Angeles is not a new idea, but the goal of this development was to see if there might be a way to build this faster and better than traditional construction – and this led the design team to consider modular construction as a solution.
The concept of this type of housing is to provide people with private space (in this case, a small apartment), as well as common and service spaces. The design team quickly realized that modular, off-site construction is only feasible for repetitive portions of the building – in this case, the residential units. Other, more community-focused program elements such as counseling offices, laundry room, lobby and other community and support spaces are unique and are best built on-site.
This initial division of the building into “site-built” and “factorybuilt” portions became the basis for a prototypical supportive
housing building. Incorporated into a site-built concrete podium, the indoor common areas form a pedestrian friendly, active ground floor that can adapt to its specific context. The modular units start on top of this podium, stacking floor by floor to create the complete building.
The modular units were originally conceived to be re-used steel shipping containers, which would be re-manufactured into
residential units. During the design process, the change was made to purpose-built steel modular containers which can be produced more quickly. The speed of fabrication was key to the idea of the prototype – how could an urban podium building be built more quickly?
One of the main advantages of modular construction is the ability to build portions of a building simultaneously. While the modular units were under fabrication (about a fourmonth process), the sitework and podium structure could be completed. Hope on Alvarado’s residential modules were manufactured, shipped and carefully stored near the Port of Los Angeles while the sitework proceeded.
Once the podium was finished, stored modules were brought to a staging area near the site, then craned onto the podium – at a rate of one complete floor per week. Over four weeks, the building went from a one-story concrete podium to a five-story, topped out structure.
Anyone who has been through the process of constructing a complex building will guess that the process was not perfect. Craning the modules into place was, in hindsight, the easiest part of the process. Most of the project delays were a result of the experimental nature of the building and, in fact, didn’t save time over a traditional build. The design team, manufacturer, owner and contractor worked very closely together throughout the process, but there were still unanticipated challenges that only became realized through the construction process.
These delays and challenges have not reduced the team’s enthusiasm for modular construction. The lessons learned during the design and construction of Hope on Alvarado have convinced the entire team that modular is more feasible than ever. The next three Hope developments are all planned to be steel built modular and will showcase the evolved techniques and technologies developed during the Hope on Alvarado construction.
Now finished, Hope on Alvarado is welcoming its first residents to new apartments as well as a new community, adding another landmark to the urban cross section on view along Alvarado Street.
Developer: 166 Alvarado, LLC
Architect: KTGY Architecture + Planning
Landscape Architect: Phil May Landscape Architect
Civil: Agapito Fernandez Civil Engineers
General Contractor: HBG Construction Corporation
Structural (Factory Built): R&S Tavares Associates
Structural (Site Built): PBA
Electrical (Factory Built): C & G Engineering
Electrical (Site Built): Candela
Mechanical | Plumbing (Factory Built): BTA Engineers
Mechanical | Plumbing (Site Built): TAD
Manufacturer: Azria Home
Photographer: John Bare
Density: 190 du/ac
Unit Plan Sizes: 400 – 480 sq. ft.
Number of Units: 84 du
Site Area: 0.44 ac
Number of Stories: 5
Parking: 10 spaces
Construction Type: IIB