Pugh + Scarpa Step Up
by Brian Libby
Walking or driving past the new Step Up on Fifth project in downtown Santa Monica, California, one could mistake the colorful building — with its front facade of yellow, white, and purple metal panels — for a contemporary art center or a fashionable condominium. The mixed-use residential building in the heart of this affluent, picturesque city was actually built to serve people suffering from mental illness and homelessness.
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The 46-unit permanent supportive housing project was designed by Pugh + Scarpa — the firm named by the American Institute of Architects on December 3 as the recipient of its AIA Architecture Firm Award for 2010.
The project's nonprofit client, Step Up on Second, has long been a presence in Santa Monica, with a facility on Second Avenue providing services for mentally ill individuals. The new five-story, 31,600-square-foot (2,940-square-meter) building on Fifth Avenue doubles the agency's housing capacity, and also includes parking and a ground-floor retail space and art gallery.
The array of colorful anodized aluminum screens on the main facade adds a touch of whimsy to Step Up on Fifth while also limiting solar gain.
Aluminum screens also form an exterior skin on the southeast side of the building, punctuated by a series of irregularly spaced horizontal openings, balancing provision of privacy with transmission of daylight into the two small interior courtyards. The building's residential units are located on the other three sides of the building, wrapped around the courtyards.
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