The BUILDER - Wm. S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design Excellence is produced by BUILDER magazine and sponsored by Marvin Windows and Doors.
The BUILDER - Wm. S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design Excellence is produced by BUILDER magazine and sponsored by Marvin Windows and Doors.

CHOOSING CANNERY LOFTS as the 2005 Project of the Year was simply a no-brainer for the judges. Located on an acre and a half in Newport Beach, Calif., this little infill pocket has it all: great bone structure, abundant outdoor living spaces, a waterfront address, plenty of parking, and some of the edgiest design around. Even better, the lofts are live/work units.

And by “live/work,” we don't mean residences with extra bedrooms that can be jury-rigged as offices. These 22 loft dwellings—each with 750 square feet of ground-floor commercial space—fall smack dab in the middle of an area best characterized as “industrial lite,” where concrete block, corrugated metal, and plaster form the predominant vernacular. With their urban-chic styling and quirky neighbors (including a boat repair shop, a sailmaker, a bakery, and a travel agency), the lofts proved downright irresistible to a creative slice of buyers. Among them: a landscape architect, an eyewear designer, a photographer, and a hair stylist.

This eclecticism was all by design, according to architect David Hecht, whose San Francisco–based firm, Tannerhecht Architecture, was selected to engineer the vision. “Our client [developer Kevin Weeda] was looking to do a building type that was unusual in Orange County,” Hecht says. “He had done lots of single-family residences in the 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot range, but this time he wanted to do something different.”

bd051001130h1.jpgSee larger image
bd051001130h1.jpgSee larger image

Different, but contextual. With their fluted metal siding, heavy-duty guardrails, and exposed rooftop mechanical equipment, the lofts feel right at home in the neighborhood. Their stature is on par with other nearby buildings, as is their utilitarian palette. Anatomically, the seismically correct units are composed of wood and steel moment frames with cement plaster finish. “We opted for a smooth trowel finish, which resembles concrete but looks nicer,” Hecht says. Steel beams are intentionally exposed for industrial-strength flavor.

Handsome as the lofts may be, their payoff for the surrounding community has been more than aesthetic. The block feels more alive with its newly minted pedestrian design. Ground-level commercial spaces engage the street with retractable garage doors, and 10-foot setbacks on the project's four waterfront units make way for a harborside promenade (a Coastal Commission requirement). A pocket park punctuates the end of the 18 units that face each other along 30th Street.

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bd051001130h2.jpgSee larger image

The project's greatest coup may well be its gutsy parking solution, catalyzed by a zoning requirement mandating five spaces per unit. Forget the ugly parking lot—each unit includes a two-car owner's garage, plus a double-height breezeway with three tandem customer spaces. As a bonus, the breezeways offer through-lot views of the water. Their design was inspired by the two-story boat repair sheds common to the area, Hecht says.

For small business owners, the fee-simple lofts have proved a rare and delightful find in a spot where residential-commercial segregation is the norm.

In keeping with their function, the units put on a sociable face, but not at the expense of privacy. Residential quarters up top are massed back from public view, while still offering oodles of ways to savor the breeze with retractable window walls, operable clerestories, and balconies shaded by wood slats and deep overhangs. Skylights bring natural light into the deep and narrow living spaces (30 feet wide by 92 feet deep), and doors and windows can be opened at either end to promote cross-ventilation.

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bd051001130h3.jpgSee larger image

No doubt the sunlight and fresh air are good for business—and pleasure.

Categories: Project of the Year; Live/Work (grand); Entrant/Architect: Tannerhecht Architecture, San Francisco; Builder/Developer: Cannery Lofts (CWI Development), Newport Beach, Calif.; Landscape architect: MJS Design Group, Newport Beach

THE DRAIN GAME Four harbor-front units convey a maritime flavor, but the majority of the homes that make up Cannery Lofts (that is, the remaining 18) form a perpendicular corridor along 30th Street. Given the amount of parking required on the site, a traditional crowned street profile with raised curbs would have turned the corridor into a sea of truncated curb cuts. Tannerhecht Architecture's design solution? A “flush curb” with a trench drain running down the center of the street. Concrete with textured banding makes the paved stretch more pleasing to the eye.

Drainage issues also influenced the design of the parking breezeways attached to each loft unit. Underground gravel beds inlaid with drain lines allow water to stay put and “percolate” before it goes under the street, says architect David Hecht. Grease interceptors installed in street catch-basins also prevent toxic run-off into the bay.