AT FIRST, THE INAUGURAL RESIDENTS of Fiesta House, an affordable housing community for low-income seniors, had some reservations about the bold color scheme and contemporary design of their new digs. That skepticism quickly turned into pride when their home became an admired landmark in an urban zone populated mostly by nondescript '50s- and '60s-era structures. “Everyone in the neighborhood knows the building, and residents like that,” says architect John V. Mutlow.

Achieving high density was an important goal in making the most of a rundown infill site. But the obvious choice of a monolithic structure was rejected in favor of a cluster design that provides more natural light while preserving privacy in individual units. A linear connector building—from which the colorful residential buildings branch off like tributaries—is downplayed with a neutral gray façade. Courtyards formed by the spaces between residences foster neighborly interaction.

The vibrant color palette—inspired by the Hispanic heritage of most residents—serves not only as an antidote to the bland, but as a wayfinding device. “The colors were used to reinforce an architectural idea,” explains Mutlow. Yellow, for example, identifies a social cluster comprising a community lounge, a laundry room, and the manager's unit.

All told, Fiesta House offers 50 one-bedroom apartments and a two-bedroom manager's unit. Four of the ground-floor apartments are wheelchair accessible. Every apartment has its own private outdoor space—either a patio or balcony—and the first floor includes common areas, meeting rooms, and a laundry. Another communal space on the third floor offers views across the rooftops of nearby buildings to the mountains in the distance.

Category: Apartments—rental; Entrant/Architect/ Interior designer: John V. Mutlow Architects, Los Angeles; Builder: Alpha Construction, Van Nuys, Calif.; Developer: Waset, Los Angeles; Landscape architect: Barrio Planners, Los Angeles

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