The more demanding the challenges, the more creative the solutions may be. That was the case for a busy site by a freeway. There were problems—methane mitigation, groundwater and soil contamination, a high water table; and an entitlement requirement to set aside 10 percent of units for low-income occupants to mirror city diversity. But a big positive was that it was near public transportation. Developer GLJ Builders’ goal was an attractive, amenity-rich, and sustainable building that would be dense enough to offer an array of studio to three-bedroom apartments and mixed-use square footage. Once GLJ and DesignARC architects developed their design for the five-story “Stella” rental building, they needed to secure more than 200 permits. “People here can no longer live the suburban fantasy; we’re sprawled to the limits, and there are too many fire risks and landslides,” says Sean Finn, a DesignARC partner. But his firm and the developer accomplished all, and Stella has become a bold paradigm for modern, urban California living. Opened in early 2012, Stella contains 244 units scaled back in square footage to include the largest number as well as common areas and ground-level retail and restaurants. To make the structure more street-friendly, it was designed with a playful Mondrian-like façade of colorful blocks, big windows, and glass balconies, and two outdoor areas—a walkable landscaped stretch at ground level, and pool, sand beach, and deck atop a podium. Judges found the materials and colors exciting, and liked the generous outdoor spaces. A cool roof and storm-water filtration system helped the $65 million building gain LEED certification. Stella has spurred area redevelopment.

Getting It Done

To eliminate methane and groundwater contamination, the architects designed the foundation like a ship. Its bottom slopes up like a hull to allow gas to migrate passively to the exterior of building walls, and because of the high water table the foundation was designed to resist hydrostatic pressure.