Step Up on Fifth
Brooks + Scarpa

June 01, 2009 /

Santa Monica, California, USA

Photo: John Edward Linden

A striking yet light-hearted exterior makes the new building a welcome landmark in downtown Santa Monica.

The new Step Up on 5th building provides a home, support services and rehabilitation for the homeless and mentally disabled population.

Photo: John Edward Linden

Photo: John Edward Linden

Custom water jet anodized aluminum panels on the main facade creates a dramatic screen that sparkles in the sun and glows at night, while also acting as sun protection and privacy screens. The material reappears as a strategic arrangement of screens on east and south-facing walls, lending a subtle rhythm to the exterior circulation walkways and stairs.

Photo: John Edward Linden

Photo: John Edward Linden

South-facing walls filter direct sunlight with asymmetrical horizontal openings that lend unexpected visual depth while creating a sense of security for the emotionally sensitive occupants. Enhancing the structure's geometric texture, the irregular array of openings variably extrudes from the building's surface.

Photo: John Edward Linden

Photo: John Edward Linden

The small-scale elements on the facade enhance the existing streetscape and promote a lively pedestrian environment. By visually breaking up the facade into smaller articulated elements, the building appears to move with the passing cars and people.

At the second level above the retail space two private courtyards provide residents with a secure and welcoming surrounding while connecting directly to 5th street and downtown Santa Monica via a secured stairway integrated into the building storefront at street level.

Photo: John Edward Linden

Photo: John Edward Linden

Photo: arcspace

Community rooms are located on every other floor of the project overlooking the private courtyards protected from the street. These community rooms along with the private courtyards serve as the principal social spaces for the tenants of the building.

The planning and design of Step Up on 5th emerged from close consideration and employment of passive solar design strategies. These strategies include: locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling loads; shaping and orienting the building for exposure to prevailing winds; shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation; designing windows to maximize day lighting; shading south facing windows and minimizing west-facing glazing; designing windows to maximize natural ventilation; shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution. These passive strategies alone make this building 50% more efficient than a conventionally designed structure.

The new structure provides 46 studio apartments of permanent affordable housing. The project also includes ground level commercial/retail space and subterranean parking.

Drawing courtesy Pugh + ScarpaSection
Drawing courtesy Pugh + ScarpaSection

Facts about Step Up on Fifth

Total area:

31,600 ft2

Project Team:

Lawrence Scarpa
Angela Brooks
Brad Buter
Silke Clemmens
Ching Luk
Matt Maijack
Luis Gomez
Omar Barcerena
Dan Safarik
Gwynne Pugh


John Martin Associates

Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing:



Ruiz Brothers


Step Up

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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