When it comes to building projects to help some of the troubled and homeless get off the streets, architectural design has historically been one of the least important considerations. In Downtown Los Angeles, however, that thinking has begun to change, thanks to a scattering of low-income developments that include high design standards. The pattern needs to continue.

Los Angeles Downtown News last week reported on a trend in which prominent architects are partnering with affordable housing developers, creating projects that are a significant step up from the bland boxes of the past. Figures such as Wade Killefer (who has designed more than a dozen Downtown adaptive reuse projects) and Michael Maltzan (a veteran of high-profile developments from Westwood to Milan, Italy) are among those also dedicating their expertise to homeless housing complexes in Skid Row.

An attractive building can have a significant impact in Skid Row. On the one hand, when built (and maintained) it raises standards for the area, communicating to denizens and observers that the district is not forgotten, and that high standards are not reserved for people who live in affluent neighborhoods. Additionally, it can deliver a positive message to those residing in the properties, the attention to detail reminding residents that others care and want them to turn their lives around. Not to be ignored is the fact that good esthetics raise the spirits.

Developers such as Skid Row Housing Trust, which has multiple high-design affordable housing projects underway in Downtown, and Thomas Safran & Associates, which created a lauded low-income apartment complex in City West in 2005, have proved that one can blend good intentions with good design. Others should learn from what has already been done.

page 4, 2/18/2008

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