In Los Angeles' Koreatown, this building hides some unexpected green spaces

Los Angeles – Someday soon, maybe Los Angeles won’t be a fragmented, uneven suburb trapped in the infrastructure of a promising urban metropolis. New initiatives for high-density housing, car-free living options and the development of connective public transport are visibly changing the way this city operates, where its new businesses open, where young renters seek (relatively) affordable places, and where cafés and restaurants see a future filled with regular patrons.

Koreatown, the densest neighbourhood in Los Angeles, appeals to a large population of young renters who are drawn by its great variety of food and nightlife, its access to a lengthening subway line and its proximity to a burgeoning downtown. Like other rapidly developing urban zones in LA, Koreatown tends to attract newcomers of a certain philosophy: people uninterested in white picket fences and lawns to mow, who would rather walk, bike, rideshare or use public transport than own a car – at least in theory. We’re not quite there yet. 

Mariposa1038, a 32-unit housing complex by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects located on a residential street in Koreatown, embodies and promotes that philosophy. What immediately separates it from neighbouring homes and apartment buildings is, surprisingly, not a fence but the lack of one. At 6,300 sq-m, Mariposa1038 assumes an unusual concave shape, embracing its neighbourhood and functioning foremost as an outline for the ‘untitled’ outdoor space between building and pavement.

The untitled space has large planters and some built-in seating options that could serve the social utility of what Americans call a ‘stoop’ – a place for neighbours to spontaneously stop and make small talk, with a connection to passers-by on the street. ‘People don’t move to the city to hide,’ said O’Herlihy, ‘A person who rents a unit in this building does so knowing there will be engagement.’ He argued that ‘expanding the bandwidth’ of public pavements makes for better cities.

Mariposa1038’s residents also connect via a shared interior courtyard and a rooftop with a view of the surrounding city. ‘This is a very democratic building,’ said O’Herlihy. ‘There’s no front and back. All four sides are dealt with equally.’

When you create these kinds of environments, people want to hang out with each other

At its centre, the building’s focal point is an oval outdoor courtyard bathed in natural light from an open roof, which also helps cool the space. All units are organized elliptically around the courtyard, so that people can see one another moving in and out of their private homes. An integrated seating area in the courtyard doubles as a rainwater collection system. Most people see it simply as a nice place to relax or gather for a barbeque – a place where they feel cocooned within a cohesive sculptural ‘interior’ open to the sky.

‘The design provides ample opportunities for neighbours to meet,’ said O’Herlihy. ‘What’s nice is that when you create these kinds of environments, people want to hang out with each other.’

This piece was originally featured on Mark 70.

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