A Fresh Look at Homeless Housing in Los Angeles

L.A. County and areas surrounding it are going through a severe homeless crisis, and the problem has intensified in recent years. In 2017, 55,000 people in L.A. county were classified as homeless, a large jump from the estimated 38,700 in 2010. This is also evident in suburbs and other cities surrounding the metro area, including Burbank and Pasadena, where I attend school. The situation affects low-income communities the most, and these often include areas damaged by drug addiction crises. Skid Row, a famous area downtown lined with tents and other homeless settlements, has become a very visible symbol of homelessness in L.A., the United States, and the world.

In 2017, the homeless population soared to 55,000, a massive increase over the 38,700 people in 2010, a very large number in itself.

This graph displays the concentration of individuals classified in Los Angeles, with brighter red areas indicating higher densities. (2015 data)
  • UN Sustainable Goals
    • Primary: Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: The homeless crisis has reduced this population’s ability to live and work in a healthy environment. With more efficient housing implemented, there will be a great deal more of economic production and productivity. Sustainable materials are also used in the construction
    • Secondary: Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities: People who are living on the streets and other temporary places need a home so they can make a living for themselves. This will help reduce the income gap between areas and the people that live in them.
    • Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: With new housing, people will have the opportunity to work in a stable environment, with a stable place to return to and live their lives.

Mission: The goal of the housing is to provide a safe space for homeless individuals and families in the interim between jobs and problems in life. The vision is a self-sufficient one, where the community coos its own food and provides services for the residents.

The Second Wind Cottages planned for New York are a model example of tiny houses that combine community with individuality. These are made of affordable materials for projects on a budget.
La Casa is a homeless housing project in Washington D.C., and focuses on the architecture to promote a better experience. It is a LEED certified building, a testament to its energy efficiency.
The CAMBA II housing in Brooklyn has 293 units. There are 193 set aside for family use, emphasizing the family value of the housing. The city of New York backed the project with funding.
A view of the site from the northeast.
A view of the site from the southwest.
Final site plan of the complex.

The goal for my project is to design a structure that promotes the elimination of homelessness through architectural practices. These include strengthening the community through design features, like a continuous corridor that promotes unity. Circular tables in the dining hall encourages residents to communicate and socialize, helping them understand one another better. Communal gardens facilitate the growth of plants and vegetables that can be used for cooking in the kitchen.

A view from the southwest.
View from northwest with labels.
X-ray view of exterior (view from north).
3-D Model of the planned structure (circular corridor not included)
Planned bubble diagram of the building.

A view of the structure from the southwest. Flat roofs promote even heating from sunlight and equal heat distribution into rooms during hot L.A. summers. Rectangular windows let natural light into the bedrooms, and large skylights in the mess hall allow natural light to filter into the dining area. Sloped sides of the roof allow a higher ceiling for the dining space, and creates a sense of hope and optimism because of the high ceilings. Solar panels lining the roof increase reliance on green and renewable energy, an important dimension to the eco-friendly housing. My vision of the building was rectangular, in order to fit as much material into the given space.

View of the interior looking down and displaying all the rooms.
View of the interior from the northwest.

The interior of the housing is based of modular design, and the bedrooms, lobby, and kitchen are designed to be built in a modular fashion. The entire building revolves around the dining hall, both physically and symbolically. The space serves as a meeting space and dining space, and the podium and raised space allow residents to make announcements. Each of the ten bedrooms are identical for the most part, and encourage customization by the user. Study rooms located in the southwest corner of the building (left side of the dining hall) encourage work and productivity, a quiet place for people to take care of personal work. A lobby with couches is intended for an open feel that welcomes both visitors and residents into the building. The kitchen, positioned directly next to the lobby, allows for easy entrance and egress into the buildings. A corridor encircles the entire interior of the building, allowing the individual to access any space in the building along one path.

Material usage:

  • I envisioned using a composite material in the walls of the structure, as this would encourage heat flow and dispersion evenly through the building. Using recycled materials in the frame lessens the carbon footprint, reducing the building’s impact on climate change. This material is also cheaper than some of its compatriots, allowing for more material purchase on a tighter budget.
  • Solar panels allow the facility to generate its own energy and act as an independent system, partially separate from the energy grid. A smaller carbon footprint is also part of the goal.
  • Wood has a homely feel like no other, and lining floors of the bedroom with wood is extremely important for the atmosphere. Responsible planting and regeneration of trees will be implemented.
  • Kitchens function the best when tiles, as the resilient surface resists scratches and other types of wear and tear that go along with cooking. Tiling will also be used on the dining hall walls because of its durability.
  • The entire exterior will be covered in a composite material with a hydrophobic covering, in order to promote water runoff when it rains.
Final site plan (with surrounding campus and elements included)
Final floor plan
A realistic color scheme and view of the exterior (view from southwest)

Call to Action: My sincere hope is that you have learned something by viewing my project, and that you know see the homeless crisis in a different light. Building structures that respect the dignity of the community and help educate people are very important, and I truly wish everyone takes something away from this. Through architecture and the real world effects in can create, I hope to make Los Angeles and residences across the world a better place.

Survey for project improvement:

Viewer Map! Please show where you’re from. It’s great to know that people across the world are participating.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my entire architecture class and my teacher, Mr. Ken Schwartz. Thank you to everyone who I’ve called over the course of the class for journals and assignments, and I really appreciate all those who helped me in the tech questions feed on Twist. A special thank you goes out to Maya Kohrman and Ina Aram, the amazing members of my cadre who have helped me so much with feedback on my project. Mr. Schwartz has also devoted a great deal of time to helping me with my structure and what it means to be an architect.


Google doc with more detailed work:

Tent Row Image:×0/

Map of the homeless population:

Share this project
  1. April 25, 2019 by Margaret Kenny

    Great work, Gianni! Your project demonstrates your thoughtful work about how to provide supportive, transitional housing for people without shelter; your attention to details about how a sense of community can be established through architectural choices is impressive. Well done!

  2. April 30, 2019 by Day.Nuckolls

    Great work! The detail in the planning of the buildings adds to your presentation. Your attention to detail with the shelters is very impressive as well. Great Job!

  3. May 18, 2019 by Ami.Adachi

    This project is amazing, Gianni! I’m impressed in how articulate the details are in your digital model and hand drawn diagrams as well. I think this is a really different and new approach, but effective way, to raise awareness about the homeless crisis. It proposes very realistic solutions for this problem as you even did research about the durability and cost of materials that would be used to build this site. I wanted to ask why you drew this model in so many different ways (3D printing, hand drawn diagrams, digital diagrams) and what’s the purpose of doing all these types?

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