Element Lofts

Marina del Ray, Calif.
Eric Figge Element Lofts Marina del Ray, Calif.

When he first sat down to design the mid-rise Element Lofts in Marina del Rey, Calif., architect Jonathan Watts envisioned a parking garage. “Our client wanted a true loft experience for the project, as well as an efficient building system to create it,” says the principal of the Los Angeles office of Cuningham Group. That edict dictated some sort of concrete structure instead of a stick-built frame. “The most efficient concrete buildings are parking garages that use precast concrete moment frames.”

Historically rare in the residential realm, off-site building systems such as precast concrete, structural insulated panels (SIPs), insulated concrete forms (ICFs), and modular housing are gaining traction—and market share—as the confluence of cost efficiency and resource efficiency becomes the norm of the new economy.

“The conversation with our client began with achieving a high-performance building at a reasonable price,” says Minneapolis architect Sarah Nettleton, who designed the Spear House using SIPs as the primary wall and roof system. “Those [principles] have been historically disconnected, but it’s what we all want.”

But without sacrificing great design, the usual complaint about factory-built housing that is slowly but surely being put to rest. “We didn’t consider using SIPs or ICFs until our construction manager suggested it,” says architect James Andalis, a proposal made after he’d designed Park Hill Duplex in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “It was a construction and building performance-driven solution. Those systems didn’t make us change the design intent at all.”

Element Lofts

Location Marina del Rey, Calif.

Size 69,970 square feet (50 housing units on four levels over two parking levels); units range from 900 to 1,600 square feet

Builder John Laing Homes, Irvine, Calif. (no longer in business)

Architect Cuningham Group, Los Angeles

Engineer The Englekirk Cos., Los Angeles

System Precast concrete moment frame (supplier: Hanson Spancrete Pacific, Irwindale, Calif. )


• Creates a thermal mass for passive solar heating and cooling and large openings for daylight, controlled heat gain, and passive cross-ventilation to significantly reduce mechanical energy demand

• Faster construction (eight to 10 weeks savings)

• Up to 60-foot open spans for flexible floor planning per lifestyle needs and multiple buyer profiles

• Seismic code compliance

• Low maintenance and long-term durability

• Sound abatement

• Reduces construction and demolition waste

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.