Slab, corridorSlab, double-loaded, skip stop
Sunset Multi-use
Lagreco, Charles (Architectural Collective) | West Hollywood (Los Angeles), USA | 1986
Image of Sunset ...
South facade, along Sunset Boulevard.

ProjectSunset Multi-use
ArchitectLagreco, Charles (Architectural Collective)
CityWest Hollywood (Los Angeles)
Address8981 Sunset Boulevard
Building TypeSlab, double-loaded, skip stop
Number of Dwellings26 live-work
Date Built1986
Dwelling Types1 BR flats and maisonettes
No. Floors6
Section Typeskip-stop double-loaded slab
Exterior Finish
exposed structural concrete,concrete block, ceramic tile, metal windows, fiber-reinforced composite panels
Construction TypeRC frame, light gage steel framing
Ancillary Servicesoffice, parking

The Sunset Multi-use project is located towards the western end of the famous Sunset Strip where the intense commercial activity of West Hollywood transitions to the residential setting of Beverly Hills. The site slopes steeply uphill from the south-facing frontage along Sunset to the meandering residential development in the Hollywood hills to the north. While the concept is one of a unified, terraced organization that steps up the hill, the site is actually two separate projects that respond to different site and zoning requirements. The first is a mixed-used residential and office block along Sunset that is 6-stories high containing underground parking, 4 floors of small live-work units, and a zone of maisonettes on the top two floors. On the upper terrace two, 2-story houses share a pool and garden and have access from Shoreham Drive. The two parts of the site are connected by a landscaped retaining wall that uses open stairs, extensive metal trellis work, and water to mediate between the two separate projects.

The client was an international entertainment firm that needed a location in Los Angeles as a base of operations for film crews as well as accommodation for guests and other business partners. Originally, the program was to provide a maximum number of live-work units in the 500 – 2000 square foot range. In the final program 17 live-work units and 9 apartments in both maisonette and loft types were provided in the Sunset building while the upper terrace was to be used for a group of houses sharing a pool and garden. Residential-like offices of varying sizes would occupy the lower 4 floors opening to a patio area on top of basement parking and the top two floors would be used exclusively for apartments. Residences on the upper site would be used for the owner’s offices and accommodations for film crews with a shared pool and garden area looking through the Sunset building to the view of Los Angeles and through the trelliswork to the patio below.

In 1984 West Hollywood had a special election and the unincorporated L.A. County area became a new city with the result that and the project was now under different zoning and building codes. Only 2 houses with a shared pool and garden was permitted by the City of Los Angeles on the upper site. The Sunset site was given height restrictions by the new City of West Hollywood which allowed for additional height with the inclusion of dedicated residential units and resulted in the zone of maisonettes at the top of the building.

The arcade at the entry level along the street, the two-story exposed structural frame in the lower 4 floors and the deep cutaway of the circulation zone help to reinforce the layered quality of the Sunset facade. The level of the arcade is raised a few feet from the sidewalk but provides a partially raised porch and direct arcade entry option for the entry-level office units. The two-story structural frames are exposed in the lower 4 floors expressing the office/residential division of the program as well as the multi-level units inserted in the frames. The units are recessed to create the arcade, helping to define an entrance threshold, providing a space for the wheelchair lift and the garage entrance, and providing some solar protection for the south facade. The two floors above the concrete structural frame and the infill multi-level units in the frame are built using light gage steel construction.

The Sunset slab is organized on a skip-stop principle with corridors occurring every other level. The 120’ frontage is divided into 7, long narrow modules that form the spatial and structural organization for both office and residential use as well as the structure of the staggered tray subterranean parking. In both plan and section, Sunset can be seen as a hybrid version of a unité d’habitation building system that combines office and apartment uses. The essential unité features include the division of the plan into repetitive long narrow units, the use of a skip-stop horizontal circulation system with thru units, double-height spaces and balconies at the ends, and interior stairs. One of the 7 modules is used as a circulation zone and provides day lighting for the entry and lobby areas. Another narrower service zone attached to the east end of the building provides the second fire exit. The circulation zone creates a north/south axis through the site connecting upper and lower terraces that is equipped with a set of special architectural features including a 4-story high entrance gateway on Sunset, a sky lit reception area, the elevators, a water feature that falls from the upper terrace to a courtyard and exterior stair that connects to the Sunset building lobby and the street, and a trellis across the lower garden to the upper garden and swimming pool.

The live-work units in the bottom 4 floors model the maisonettes in their spatial organization. These office units are entered at the corridor levels and have internal stairs to mezzanine levels and two-story high volumes overlooking the Strip or the interior patio. Combining modules forms larger offices. A system of metal trellises partially covers the patio and defines a landscaped scene for the offices and apartments on the upper floors. The desired connection from the Sunset patio to the upper residential site was made by entering the back property from the east end of the patio and transitioning along the landscaped retaining wall up a stairway across a bridge over the pool to the western residential patio.

Two apartment types are used in the top floors, a large one bedroom flat and a maisonette. Both are entered from the top corridor. Each of the 3 flats is two bays wide and has a continuous terrace along the south side. The 6 maisonettes are organized with taller living areas at the entrance level including a two-story dining room and a fireplace. The top floor of these dwellings has a large sky lit mezzanine area overlooking the dining and living rooms and a large bedroom suite and balcony facing south. The mezzanine opens to a walled terrace area above the living spaces that connects to a continuous exit balcony along the north side of the building.

Two LA buildings from the 1920’s had a formative influence on the use of a maisonette apartment type, the skip-stop section principle, and the combined office/residential program used in Sunset Multi-use. The first, The Granada Building, designed in 1925 by Franklin Harper, was a 4-story block with stacked maisonette dwellings serviced by an open gallery on the 2nd floor. Granada is a wood frame building with mezzanines and two-story high spaces that was designed as artist’s ateliers with some commercial spaces along the street. Granada was a favorite building among the architectural community and provided studio spaces for several small firms including the Architectural Collective for a period of time during the design phase on the Sunset Multi-Use project. Morgan, Walls and Clements designed the second, the Chapman Park Studios, built in 1928. Chapman is a more pure, unité type with long narrow dwellings, two-story high living spaces with skylights, that is built on top of a commercial market that encloses a rear patio. The Chapman Studios were also designed as artists’ live/work ateliers creating a precedent that was to become a rather remarkable precursor of the unité type and the recent popularity of live/work loft dwelling types.

The existing buildings along this section of Sunset Boulevard are an example of speculative, eclectic building in the extreme. The meandering character of Sunset along the base of the foothills combined with the incremental nature of the development process result in the lack of a really defined architectural style for what must be one of the most high profile areas in Los Angeles. Towers are too tall, storefront commercial is too small, and the area is missing a residential domain. Given this situation, Sunset Multi-use seems like the prototype of the kind of building along the Strip that West Hollywood had in mind. The 6-story height, the gesture to a public realm provided by the arcade and the lower floors, the combination of offices and the elevated zone of terraced apartments on the top floors to take advantage of the view, the interesting spatial development of the interiors, and the interior gardens and the easy parking are all features that seem to exploit the unique qualities of Sunset. The buildings have been in use now for almost 30 years and, aside from minor wear and tear they remain as sound now as the day they opened. While the mixed-use program seems like the perfect model for building on this commercial strip and an extrusion type building of some sort would seem to be almost inevitable, there seem to be few takers for similar projects and the building remains more of a freestanding object than the infill building that was intended. (1/10/2013)

Abramson, Trevor D., “Architecture on the Strip”, L.A. architect, Feb. 1987, pp. 8-9.

Progressive architecture, Jan. 1986, 100-103.

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