Architectural Breakthrough in Southern California

Something miraculous has occurred in North Westwood Village: a commercial developer has commissioned one of LA’s best architects to design an exemplary apartment building across the street from Richard Neutra’s landmark Strathmore Apartments. It’s the culmination of a three-year struggle to achieve an outcome that will benefit residents and the developer, while raising the bar for future developments throughout Westwood, a diversified community that borders the UCLA campus.

Flash back to August 2009, when residents were invited to attend a “final hearing” of the Westwood Community Design Review Board  (DRB) for a project that had been hidden from them. Dallas-based PPC Land Ventures was seeking approval for an oversized, poorly designed student rooming house that threatened to overwhelm the street and the Neutra apartments. The community and leading architects rallied in opposition to this crass intrusion, citing the North Village Specific Plan that proscribes rooming houses and was adopted in 1988 to curb an earlier wave of reckless overbuilding. Its goals are clear:

–“To promote orderly, attractive and harmonious development in the multi-residential areas of the Westwood Community which takes into consideration the unique architectural character and the environmental setting of the area.”

–“To prevent the development of structures or uses which are not of acceptable exterior design or appearance”

The DRB was persuaded and rejected the PPC scheme by a vote of 5 to 1 after repeated hearings. The City Planning Department brushed aside the DRB rejection and renewed its approval. In response, local residents established FORNSA (Friends of Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments) to preserve the integrity of a modern classic and the character of North Westwood Village. FORNSA challenged the Planning Department and PPC in court and won a decisively favorable verdict.

FORNSA and PPC then negotiated a settlement allowing the developer to move forward with a new design that would respond to the narrow, exposed site in a responsible way, as mandated by the North Village Specific Plan. Leading LA architects were invited to submit their ideas, and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects were selected. This firm has been acclaimed for single-family houses and condo blocks that are boldly original but sensitive to context. For the 11024 Strathmore site, LOHA have designed an appropriately scaled, generously landscaped complex of rental apartments, conveniently located for faculty and staff of UCLA and its Medical Center, and people working in Westwood Village. Students will be welcome, but PPC has accepted a legally binding covenant not to lease apartments by the room or the bed, barring banners on the façade, and restricting noisy gatherings. The building and the covenant should serve as models for future developments in the North Village.

Buoyed by this success, FORNSA has changed its name and broadened its mission. As Friends of Richard Neutra, a Non-Profit California Public Benefit Corporation (FORN), its goals are to:

–foster awareness of Richard Neutra’s contributions to Westwood and beyond

–promote architectural excellence and good urban design

–preserve structures of significant architectural, cultural or historical value.