By Finn MacLeod
One of the most dense neighborhoods in the United States, MacArthur Park in Los Angeles houses more than 38,000 people per square mile. Home to a largely low-income population, the neighbourhood has seen little new building development in recent decades, with most civic funding invested in community safety and policing initiatives. Once considered a write-off for the city, MacArthur Park has met and overcome immeasurable challenges in a quadrant one of America’s roughest inner cities.
Enter “The Six,” MacArthur Park’s newest building designed by Brooks + Scarpa, a Los Angeles-based architecture, landscape, and urban design firm. Initiated by the Skid Row Housing Trust, one of Los Angeles’ leading providers of permanent supportive housing, The Six embodies a new approach to the design of public housing currently cropping up in cities around the world. The Six is one of many new buildings following a progressive methodology set out by Skid Row, which invites architects working in the public realm to try their hand at low-cost, high impact residential design. Brooks + Scarpa’s The Six follows the completion of two distinctly contemporary Skid Row Housing Trust buildings designed by Michael Maltzan Architects-each following the same optimistic, open approach.
Eschewing the standard design typology for public projects, The Six stands out on the MacArthur Park landscape. A bright, open-concept white cube, the building looks nothing like it should-for good reason. Named for the ubiquitous military phrase “I’ve got your six,” which colloquially means “I’ve got your back,” The Six was purpose-built and designed to house and meet the needs of disabled veterans, some of whom are previously homeless. In other words, residents of The Six have faced a different set of challenges from most, and their housing necessitated a unique, holistic approach to low-cost residential design.
From the ground up, The Six is a bespoke project designed to meet the needs of its constituents. Accommodating a variety of residential living scenarios, the building incorporates a spectrum of private, semi-private, communal, and public spaces for tenants. Seeking to remove spaces that encourage feelings of isolation often felt by veterans, The Six includes an array of lounges where the building’s residents can meet and partake in programming and rehabilitation services led by community organizations and the housing trust. A semi-enclosed community room faces an open-air central court, with community gardens sited adjacent to open corridors leading to apartment units. Providing respite from the noise of the street, The Six even incorporates a landscaped roof terrace with a panoramic view of Los Angeles. It’s a building with a heartbeat, with circulation like none other.
Home to 52 residential units-7 one bedroom and 45 studio apartments-The Six is built for compact living. The units in the 40,250 square foot building are modest but enjoy ample sunlight and natural ventilation, and most importantly, do not replicate the dreary, unpleasant spaces typified by public housing of decades past. The Six is decidedly contemporary and deeply sustainable, and has received LEED Platinum certification.
More than housing, the building also serves as a nerve center for recovery and rehabilitation for clients of the Skid Row Housing Trust. At street level, the building incorporates office and community space, where its 24-hour-a-day management team oversees operations and provides wellbeing services for residents. Imbued with veteran care, the building incorporates subtle elements to help residents feel at home.
Firmly rooted in wellness and the rejection of solitude, the role of The Six extends beyond its physical walls. Removing barriers for disabled veterans, the building serves as a welcome place befitting of those who have faced many of life’s greatest challenges. Its intuitive design is inherently optimistic yet deeply functional, and serves as a reminder that affordable housing can exemplify design excellence, even under the most challenging circumstances.