Bel Air Photography

According to architecture firm DE Architects AIA, a top design goal for its Magnolia Villas project in Santa Monica, California, was to respect the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The affordable senior housing community, developed by nonprofit EAH Housing, is located within a four-story, mixed-use zone, but it directly abuts a low-rise residential zone with single-story, Craftsman-style bungalows and two-story apartments in the rear.

The chosen design approach was to break down the scale of the building and create a series of terraced cubes along the street. The compact 450-square-foot units have an interior center wall that divides the living room and the bedroom into two equal modules. This allowed the units to be flipped from floor to floor creating a series of cubes, clad with lap siding to reference the nearby bungalows, separated by recessed balconies.

Bel Air Photography

Along 10th Street, three units were removed, creating terraced decks at the third and fourth floors. One cube was removed at the ground floor and replaced with a glass-enclosed community room flanking the building entrance, providing pedestrian orientation and visually connecting the sidewalk to the central courtyard.

The jurors admired the project’s “scale shifts” and “layering,” with one noting, “It breaks up the whole mass. Just by shifting those middle portions, that made a huge difference.”

The final product is a building that provides 40 units—39 one-bedrooms and one two-bedroom for a manager—of much-needed affordable housing for seniors in a neighborhood that would normally be financially unattainable for the tenant population.