Lofts at Cherokee
Hollywood Screenplay: A new building’s dynamic metal veil yields morphing compositions, while enhancing thermal efficiency.
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When Greg Reitz was Santa Monica, California’s Green Building Advisor, from 2003 to 2007, the city completed more LEED-certified structures per capita than any other municipality in the world. (He delights in that statistic, though demurring full credit.) While most were public projects, the persistent challenge was “convincing for-profit developers of the cost-effectiveness of going green,” he recalls. “Many owners were doing so well it didn’t seem worth their while to change their ways.”
Reitz remained determined to spread the gospel of green when he left city government to become a developer himself. The company he formed with Steve Edwards, ReThink Development, is a self-described “advisor, investor, and developer of LEED-certified green building and renewable energy projects.” The firm’s first venture as a developer, the Lofts at Cherokee Studios, tests Reitz’s convictions—in high-fly ash concrete and other eco-friendly materials.
On track for LEED-Platinum certification, the $6.25-million building, by Brooks + Scarpa (formerly Pugh + Scarpa) Architects, offers 12 resident-owned live/work lofts, indoor parking, and 2,800 square feet of retail space on an urban infill site in Los Angeles, bordering West Hollywood. The 32,000- square-foot structure’s most striking feature is its screen of perforated anodized-aluminum panels with operable bi-fold shutters that occupants can freely open or close. “The heavy pedestrian and car traffic passing the site inspired us,” says Lawrence Scarpa. “Walking versus driving: the building’s ‘moving image’ becomes very different.” From inside, expanses of glass reveal distant mountain and coastal views, but sun exposure and privacy needs, he explains, “said ‘cover me up!’”
Behind the aluminum veil, the project taps into a rock ‘n’ roll theme acknowledging, you might say capitalizing on, the site’s star-studded history. Here, at Cherokee Studios, such luminaries as Elvis, Sinatra, and Michael Jackson cut albums. Though ReThink chose to demolish the obsolete recording facility (which Reitz deemed “a dump”), the new building dons the old name, displays Cherokee gold and platinum LPs in its lobby, and features lofts with home recording studios.
More deeply ingrained than the theme is the approach to sustainability. Ninety percent of demolition waste was recycled, and on-site construction equipment ran on bio-fuel from used cooking oil. “If you start out pursuing high performance and bring together enlightened architects and engineers,” Reitz maintains, “you can craft cost-effective green strategies—from site preparation through construction and occupancy.”
The process was collaborative, back and forth, with Cobalt Engineering modeling energy loads as architectural ideas evolved. The metal screen, initially proposed for the east facade, was wrapped around and fine-tuned to optimize the shell’s efficiency. Simple massing with a central court exploited prevalent (cross-ventilating) breezes and sun angles. Such passive strategies enabled Cherokee to exceed the nation’s most stringent energy code, California’s Title 24, by 40 percent.
Beyond familiar sustainable features—from efficient plumbing, lighting, and appliances to recycled and renewable materials, low-e glazing, and low- (or no-) VOC products—Cherokee’s real innovation involves heating/cooling and stormwater. Unusual in the U.S., the HVAC system relies on variant refrigerant flow (VRF). Flexible, ductless, and suited to mixed use, VRF can heat and cool different zones simultaneously, efficiently transferring heat rejected from one area for use in another.
Literally groundbreaking, Cherokee’s stormwater solution may impact public policy. To capture all on-site rainfall, the project integrates a green roof/leisure terrace while percolating water into the municipal aquifer through a swath of city sidewalk that the developer converted into green space—a first for L.A. Beneath the plantings, huge, vertical sieves channel the flow. Reitz was determined to prevent wasteful and polluting runoff, but reluctant to sacrifice the building’s footprint or sub-courtyard parking. So, ReThink spent months securing permission to transform the public right of way, setting precedent for future development. Other exceptional green features include an elevator drawing as little power as a hairdryer and kitchen backsplashes from salvaged skateboards.
Though the project is still seeking tenants, Reitz is confident that “good integrated green design raises return on initial costs.” From top-grossing records to top LEED certification, Cherokee is on its way to turning rock ‘n’ roll platinum green.