The Children’s Institute is a nonprofit that helps families and children exposed to violence in central Los Angeles. As it expanded its programs in early education, wellness, and counseling, it outgrew its former premises, and commissioned Koning Eizenberg Architecture to create a new campus. The 50,000-square-foot site near the Hollywood Freeway was unpromising: two linked warehouses and a third across an alley, confined by busy streets and commercial buildings. Most of the $10 million budget went into seismic reinforcement, insulation, energy-efficient HVAC systems, and a detached elevator to serve the third building. The architects employed remaining funds to transform this sterile environment and, consequently, help the institute upgrade its service to the community.
“We analyzed their programs to decide how the parts would best fit together,” explains Julie Eizenberg, president of the Santa Monica–based architecture firm. “They do a lot of outreach, so we diagrammed the complex as a community center with wellness and educational programs embedded within, and shared workspaces at the core. It was essential to provide generous circulation areas for people to get together and to encourage spontaneous activities.”
In this underserved, immigrant neighborhood there is very little open public space, so a first priority was to green the parking lot with shade trees and an edible garden that would augment the nutrition program. A steel-framed canopy projecting out over the entrance supports bamboo matting and will soon become a vine arbor. Preschool classrooms on the ground floor of the third structure open onto an enclosed garden through tilt-up glass doors, and the interior has a drop ceiling and bright tones to give it a feeling of intimacy.
The two main buildings presented a greater challenge. No openings could be made in the post-tensioned roof slab or the walls facing the street, alley, and neighboring property. That left the west wall, where existing windows could be extended vertically to create glass doors. A roll-up garage door was replaced with aluminum-framed windows. Those limited openings provide natural lighting for the large areas in front and, through polycarbonate partitions and sliding doors, to the back.
To supplement the natural light, the architects added fittings in the ceiling after x-raying to ensure the fittings were not drilled into tension rods. Puffy insulation material attached to the ceiling helps reduce noise, along with sound-absorbent materials at voice level and carpeting on the concrete floors in the meeting rooms.
“Graphics are a cost-effective way to add a livable quality to bare spaces,” says Eizenberg. Thus, the firm commissioned bold murals for the Curiosity Box, a tech center behind the reception desk that is wrapped by screen walls. Colored dots swim across the front while the sides carry an aerial map of the neighborhood and designs for origami. The staff uses these murals as conversation starters with kids who are coming in for the first time.