Seemingly named for it’s serrated honey-baked ham form, the New Carver Apartments were actually named in honor of the old Carver apartments – one of the many SROs that were demolished downtown after 1994 when the 7-year moratorium on conversions/demolitions of SROs was lifted.

97 tiny units – no longer termed the Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) but rather permanent supportive housing – radiate from an open courtyard and unravel like a lemon peel into public open spaces at the 3rd and 6th levels and bursting with grand views of downtown and sounds from the helio-songbirds and the Santa Monica Freeway.  As the sun set, the courtyard turned into a Turrell-like skyspace, light bantering and flickering with elegant fluorescence off the galvanized fins.  Not only does the texture of the fins strike interest formally, but they functionally serve as a privacy guard, having the effect of a Magritte Le blanc-seing… capturing just a slice of your neighbor walking and without fully exposing your own self.

The Downtown News reported at the time of the New Carver’s grand opening in 2009, that the total development costs were roughly $34M. Mike Alvidrez of the Skid Row Housing Trust recollected that the hard costs landed around $18.5M.  For a 57,000 SF building, that comes to roughly $325/SF – however with the high soft costs we can figure it comes closer to $600/SF.  Molly Rysman of SRHT explained, “supportive housing has a ridiculous level of soft costs because our investors are often concerned about the risk associated with relying on government programs for financing and require incredible extras like subsidy reserves, operating reserves, etc. These soft costs make it very difficult to compare supportive housing to market rate housing. Thus for comparison purposes we tend to focus on hard costs.”

Michael Maltzan spoke about design and cost challenges of the building’s proximity to the freeway, the superior sound cutting window system, the economy of surface area in a single-loaded corridor layout, and the iconography of architecture serving the under-served in the heart of downtown’s entertainment district.

As more permanent supportive housing projects are developed, it will be interesting to see how viable Maltzan’s use of integrating social spaces works out for this typology.  He first tested the single-loaded corridor wrapping a courtyard at the Rainbow Apartments in Skid Row (also by the SRHT) and completed 4 years ago.  The New Carver follows this form and, in theory, encourages socialization and interaction amongst residents.

I think the only pitfall of the Skid Row Housing Trust developments is that there is no flexibility for family building.  None of their projects are geared toward single parents with a child or extended families, and resident guests have to pay a fee to stay over night.  I’m no psychologist, but there’s a lot of love on the streets and sometimes family is the strongest foundation for rebuilding.

-siobhán burke

Photos from the On the Map: Habitation – The New Carver Apartments, by Michael Maltzan, held on August 11, 2010.  The Carver is Supportive Housing done for the Skid Row Housing Trust.

All photos by James Black and Carmen Cham