Step Up on Fifth, located in the heart of downtown Santa Monica, is a five-story affordable housing complex built to offer support services and rehabilitation for the local homeless and mentally disabled population. Completed in 2009 by Los Angeles-based architecture firm Brooks + Scarpa, the building, a former parking structure, integrates 46 studio apartments with ground-level commercial space.[1] This ink and color pencil sketch emphasizes the firm’s solution for transforming an abandoned structure with color, texture and geometric form.

The design of Step Up on Fifth utilizes sustainable and recycled materials, including pressed aluminum cans as cladding. During construction, nearly 75 percent of all materials were recycled, while recycled insulation, carpeting and all-natural lineoleum flooring suggest an overall commitment to resource conservation. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the facility are the multi-colored perforated screens that cover the east and south sides of the structure. The custom jet-anodized aluminum panels, in shades of yellow, sage, olive and purple,[2] give residents ample privacy from the busy neighborhood surroundings and give the geometric shape of the building a subtly irregular texture. [3] Open courtyards on the second floor are similarly protected from full street exposure by screens made of galvalume, a steel material coated in a zinc-aluminum alloy. These screens offer important energy saving opportunities by maximizing prevailing winds, daylight and natural ventilation. [4]

The project is the winner of the 2010 National AIA Institute Housing Innovation Award and the 2010 National AIA Institute Award in Architecture for its emphasis cost-efficient and sustainable materials in its design and exemplifies Brooks + Scarpa’s commitment to engaging with the social, ethical, cultural and ecological issues of our time. As the team writes, “We believe that architecture cannot escape active engagement in the issues and conditions of our contemporary society.” [5]

This object is now on view as a part of the exhibition Making Design: Recent AcquisitionsAndrew Gardner is a Curatorial Assistant at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

[1] Mimi Zeiger, “The Face of Change,” Azure, September 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Projects: Step Up,” Brooks + Scarpa. Available:

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Philosophy and Design Approach,” Brooks + Scarpa Firm Profile. Available:

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