The new 52-unit permanent supportive-housing project for formerly homeless individuals, many of them veterans, designed by Los Angeles firm Brooks + Scarpa, takes its name—The Six—from military slang for a person who “has your back.” The project is Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT)’s first outside Downtown Los Angeles, and it continues the organization’s very successful run developing functional, neighborhood-scale, and formally transformative housing.
From up the street, The Six immediately impresses; the nearly scale-less stark-white block and its oversized opening to the street reveal, as one gets closer, the human scale contained within. A main skeletal stair anchors the inside of a vast courtyard and draws the eye into the innards of the building. This attention to sequence, for Brooks + Scarpa principal Angela Brooks, is something her office imparts to each project, no matter the type or size. “Where’s the threshold between the neighborhood and your house?” Brooks asked. “If it’s just a single line, that’s too thin. We want it to be deep with a sense of public, semipublic, and then finally private [spaces] along the way.”
In a careful exercise of balancing transparency and security, Brooks + Scarpa’s design lives up to sentiment “I’ve got your back” by achieving a comfortable clarity in volumes that open up and lift residents above the street and neighborhood, simultaneously providing a sense of security and privacy.
When arriving at The Six, one cuts across the front yard—past planted, open areas set back from the street—landing under an expansive overhang that encloses a security entrance and a community- and computer-room cluster. Next, one transitions into a smaller space: a lobby that shares the floor with administrative offices, a conference room, a public computer lab, and parking. The second level, accessible by an elevator from the entry or via a concealed front stair, reveals the large public courtyard perched above the street.
From the courtyard level, the apartments and their circulation balconies stack up in a “U” formation four levels above, defining the supertall, breezy space within. Also on this level, a TV room with couches, laundry facilities, and a small kitchen fills out the public common areas. The building’s fundamental volumetric and formal gestures simultaneously work with its site orientation to maximize daylighting, exposure to prevailing winds, and natural ventilation.
The areas that can be seen from the outside are the most public of the common spaces offered to residents in the project, and their placement at the front—in the window seat—allows for a shared, privileged relationship to the street and suggests a powerful shift in dependence for the folks living at The Six.
Brooks said, “We made sure to construct a sequence of spaces that help you come into the site itself.… Once you get onto the second level, you see the street again in another way.” She added that by pulling the elevator and reception desk deep into the building, the designers allow “people to have some space and time through which to walk into something, to contemplate something, to think about something, to say hello to neighbors.”
It’s this simple and thoughtful implementation of careful and confident architecture that gives The Six its strong humanity of place. It’s a rare experience in Los Angeles, where the development process and its built manifestations typically find design opportunities in disposable surface treatments or hollow stylistic flourishes. With SRHT’s dedication to quality projects and real architecture, the organization will likely achieve more breakout projects in the near future thanks to the recent passage of initiatives, at the county and city level, that allocate resources toward preventing and ending homelessness.
If The Six can be a precedent moving forward, it’s likely SRHT will continue to provide L.A. more like-minded projects that are much more than a roof overhead.