Courtyard Housing Revival
by Morris Newman
If an architect had designed the human hand, William Mitchell told his students at UCLA in the early 1980s, all the fingers would be equally long. Mitchell, now dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, drew laughs for that joke because its truth was instantly recognizable: there is something standardizing in the architectural instinct.
But why? Is it simply a lack of imagination, or sheer fatigue, that makes architects stack housing units atop one another like Lego blocks? Or does the quest for order satisfy itself prematurely in the simplest, most static arrangements?
This is not an idle question. Density is coming quickly to Los Angeles, the city's image of archetypal sprawl notwithstanding. This density is often masked by multiple households living in one house or, worse, in a single apartment.
The design problem, which is also a public-policy problem, is how to bring density to existing pleasant neighborhoods without turning them into places like North Hollywood, filled with rows of identical, cheap, speculative boxes with minimal landscaping, useless open space, and cavernous, gated garages. Multifamily housing needs some new models.
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"Seven Fountains" in West Hollywood, California is a multifamily courtyard housing project by Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists.
Photo: Jean-Maurice Moulene
Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides are reviving the courtyard form without being formulaic.
Image: Moule & Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists
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