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Lehrer Architects unveil their latest project Willowbrook, designed for formerly houseless residents in the eponymous community of Willowbrook in Los Angeles County. Willowbrook is a permanent supportive housing campus of 7 micro-units with a shared community room and counseling room that will house formerly unhoused veterans with disabilities. Located adjacent to a popular church, with proximity to public transit, these first unit designs are prototypes created using the input of residents of similar housing developments, with the intention that the micro-unit, resultant community space, and urban presence can be replicable on similar lots throughout the County.
This is the latest innovative development from a firm that has been committed to creating ennobling shelters for Los Angeles’ most vulnerable residents for over two decades, Willowbrook shares the same level of design sensibility, hyper-creativity with small space and signature use of color that so many of their award-winning projects have been recognized for.

The Design. Every 2 units of housing share an entry patio, alongside an arrival court, the community meeting room, and offices which are all together orchestrated to become a coherent urban campus, even on a small scale. One of the firm’s overarching tenets when designing these types of communities is “the music of housing” and the importance of orienting every element in such a way that it creates an immediate sense of complete community for its residents  (as demonstrated in their award-winning Tiny Home Villages throughout Los Angeles). The decision to have every 2 units share a patio explicitly expresses the layers of community within the development and one’s individual space within it as well as providing seamless indoor/outdoor living which is such a signature of Lehrer Architects’ work across the board. The fresh green “path meander” creates a transition from the public sidewalk through the entire property to each private unit and is carefully orchestrated to provide a gracious and enriched sense of arrival. Such transitions are essential, and evident throughout the firm’s projects, whether 5 or 500ft long, to create a sense of grace on arrival. Each bend and turn in the path provides a real or implied mindful pause from the street to the front door, enhancing the separation from the public realm to the private, something that is meaningful and critical for all residents but even more so for those that have previously been unhoused.

The 300 sq ft units are mirrored and placed back-to-back to maximize efficiencies of construction, whilst creating the communal space. The efficient, linear bar of residential units sits low next to the taller, more public rooms, creating an offset gable that comes into view as you stroll by the complex. Each unit is equipped with a kitchenette, private bathroom, and universal design features ready on move-in day.

Architects always look for the longest view within a unit, across a site, or to the landscape beyond, and achieving it is generally a matter of design, not cost. Whilst petite, the units are designed to have the longest interior view possible as well as the longest counter space possible, and overall generosity of natural light and exterior view. Consolidating the entry closet, pantry, refrigerator, oven, and sink next to a large counter, provides an appropriate sense of luxury and expansiveness for the unit and its inhabitant.

This community of homes both supports and enhances its immediate neighborhood by creating a scene of visual excitement as well as centering the physical expression of community for its residents. Lehrer Architects LA has made addressing affordable housing and the homelessness crisis a priority in their work, showing that dignity, sustainability, healthy living, and beauty should not be reserved for those at the top of the social ladder. Driven by the core tenet that “beauty is a rudiment of human dignity”, for Lehrer Architects, creating a home for someone is about providing essential safety, love, agency, autonomy, and respect. This project is a model of how a complete community should include multiple forms of housing existing in harmony together and caring for every resident, especially the most vulnerable.

Honor Award, Southern California Development Forum Design Awards, 2022

11909 Willowbrook Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90059

Owner / Developer:

Lehrer Architects LA

Nous Engineers

Curtom Dunsmuir
High Power Electric

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