Los Angeles’ Skid Row dates back to the late 19th century, when seasonal laborers looking to build their fortunes exited the last stop on the Transcontinental Railroad only to discover jobs paying barely enough to cover room and board at a nearby boardinghouse. While its population has grown over the century from day laborers, to disenfranchised war vets, to now single moms with nowhere else to go, the area defined as Skid Row has been progressively shrinking in size. Today, Skid Row is a community confined to the southeastern corner of downtown, bounded by Alameda and Main Street to the east and west and 3rd and 7th Streets to the north and south – 50 square blocks packed into four square miles with over 10,000 residents with median incomes just over $11,000.
The Midnight Mission, one of Skid Row's oldest organizations founded in 1914, serves over a million people per year and provides a number of social services to the general homeless population and the DTLA community at large. Those who choose to enroll in their Transitional Housing program are housed and given work on the premises. After many years in their existing facility, they were long overdue for a reboot.
LOHA was commissioned to update their facilities and help integrate a support system to complement their housing needs. Through HHH funding acquired by the City of Los Angeles, we offer a breadth of services that includes updates to their public courtyard restrooms and shower facilities, main lobby, women’s dormitory, a new educational center, expanding health services, as well as maintenance throughout and upgrades to their building systems.
The design approach was focused on not only upgrading their facility, but addressing the emotional and psychological betterment of its users, as well as making their existing resources less institutional and more humanistic. Ultimately, the goal was to reorganize the space in such a way that breaks down the existing institutional models, shifts perspectives, and seeks to restore a sense of dignity to the lives of their users.
Part of the center’s mission has been to grow the Internal Education Program for its participants, and provide them with skills to help them find jobs and housing so they don’t slip back into homelessness. Our design imbues openness, color and light into underutilized areas deep in the building’s plan. By consolidating three smaller classrooms and an underutilized storage room, we were able to create a new 2,750 sf Education Center. The layout consists of a large room within the building, and smaller rooms within that fit inside each other like a Russian Doll. The plan layout is flexible and can be used as either one large gathering room, or as four or more smaller rooms for classes and other more intimate working environments.
By taking both broad and short strokes, we elevated the design not only through efficiency, but by creating a greater presence of positivity within these environments. Starting with adjustments to the existing colors, textures, and material palette, the design makes a highly institutional building more inviting and more palatable for those living there. The material palette responds to the use and demands of the facility by creating an acoustically calm and comfortable space but also one that will hold up to the facility’s heavy use.
In addition, the shifting demographic of Skid Row, required a need to upgrade the facilities available to women, who now account for over 35 percent of people living on Skid Row streets. We were able to expand these necessary services by converting a roughly 10,000 square feet dayroom into a dedicated Women and Family Dormitory. One focus of the design was to break down the traditional stark entry experience of the door and the corridor by extending the entry experience, providing both openness and privacy simultaneously. Color, light and perceptual transparency clearly mark these transitional thresholds for people as they move from public passthrough space to private space for living or focused study. In the age of COVID-19, the design additionally offers adequate filtration, light, air, and open spaces for people to gather, so that they feel safer than they did in isolation on the streets. This project is one of many much-needed facilities throughout Los Angeles that can offer a sense of hope to the hopeless and provide an uplifting environment for those on the road to recovery.