Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

• February 2, 2011

The several awards winning project Step Up on Fifth by Brooks + Scarpa Architects was designed to accommodate 46 studio apartments, ground level retail space and subterranean parking. The building is loaded with energy-saving and environmentally materials/devices with 71% recycling rate achievement.

The front facade is designed with a series of water jet cut aluminum screens that filter early morning light into the front units.  The building is oriented to capture prevailing breezes and to filter sunlight through a large southeast facing, 4-story perforated galvanized screen to the two interior courtyards.

Brooks + Scarpa Architects

+ Project description by Brooks + Scarpa

Step Up on 5th is a bright new spot in downtown Santa Monica. The new building provides a home, support services and rehabilitation for the homeless and mentally disabled population. The new structure provides 46 studio apartments of permanent affordable housing. The project also includes ground level commercial/retail space and subterranean parking. The density of the project is 258 dwelling units/acre, which exceeds the average density of Manhattan, NY (2000 USA Census Bureau Data) by more than 10%.

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD overview 595x447 Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth, image courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects

A striking yet light-hearted exterior makes the new building a welcome landmark in downtown Santa Monica. Custom water jet-anodized aluminum panels on the main façade 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. 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.

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

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD sectionA PPT 595x295 Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth - Section A-A, drawing courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects

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

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD elevation Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth, image courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on 5th distinguishes itself from most conventionally developed projects in that it incorporates energy efficient measures that exceed standard practice, optimize building performance, and ensure reduced energy use during all phases of construction and occupancy. The planning and design of Step Up on 5th emerged from close consideration and employment of passive 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; utilizing low flow fixtures and storm water management; 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 building is loaded with energy-saving and environmentally benign or “sustainable” devices. Materials conservation and recycling were employed during construction by requiring waste to be hauled to a transfer station for recycling. The overall project achieved a 71% recycling rate. Specifying carpet, insulation and concrete with a recycled content, and utilizing all-natural linoleum flooring also emphasized resource conservation. The project uses compact fluorescent lighting throughout the building and double-pane windows that have a low-E coating. Each apartment is equipped with water-saving low flow toilets and a high-efficiency hydronic system for heat. While California has the most stringent energy efficient requirements in the United States, Step Up incorporates numerous sustainable features that exceeded state mandated Title 24 energy measures by 26%. Although not submitted at this time, the project has followed the LEED certification process and would receive 39 points making it equivalent to LEED “Gold”.

*Energy Analysis – 46-unit Mixed-use Residential Building, Santa Monica, CA
36 achievable LEED Points qualifying for equivalent “Gold” Certification

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD courtyard 595x447 Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth, image courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects


  • Location: Santa Monica, CA
  • Building type(s): Multi-unit residential for homeless people with mental disabilities.
  • New construction
  • 31,600 sq. feet
  • Project scope: 5-story building over subterranean parking garage. Ground floor consists of a residential lobby, computer room and parking. Units are organized on the second-fifth floors around two exterior courtyards.
  • Urban setting
  • Completed March 2009
  • Climate Region: 3C Warm-Marine (latitude 34.019, longitude 118.490, elevation  105’)

Urban infill, permanent supportive housing for previously homeless, mentally disabled individuals. Designed to be a ‘house’ for the 46 people who live here, the front of the project has a large front door leading to a lobby under a cantilevered perforated screen canopy.  The screen system provides a measure of privacy from the busy street for the tenants through perforated aluminum panels and open walkways, courtyards and common community rooms that allow social interaction in a protected, exterior space within the project. A mixed-use project, the ground floor contains a computer lab and a lobby for the units floors 2-5.  All of the studio apartments have murphy beds to allow for spatial flexibility.

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD front screen Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth, image courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Environmental Aspects
The front facade is designed with a series of water jet cut aluminum screens that filter early morning light into the front units.  The building is oriented to capture prevailing breezes and to filter sunlight through a large southeast facing, 4-story perforated galvanized screen to the two interior courtyards. Most of the studio apartments have windows on opposite perimeter walls to allow natural cross ventilation. A common boiler heats the domestic hot water and space heating is provided by a common boiler and small hydronic radiators in each unit. Only the ground floor computer lab and the two manager’s units have cooling. Low flow fixtures are used throughout. R21 insulation was used in walls and R30 in roof. Low VOC paints and finishes, recycled carpet and natural linoleum were also used. 71% of combined C & D materials were recycled.  The project includes a trash chute for recycled materials.

Brooks Scarpa StepUp plusMOOD sketch 595x536 Step Up on Fifth | Brooks + Scarpa Architects

Step Up on Fifth - Sketch, drawing courtesy Brooks + Scarpa Architects

A storm water catch basin and filter system (hidden in the front planter) capture and treat all of the rainwater that falls on the site.

Owner & Occupancy
Owned by Step Up on Second,  a nonprofit corporation.
Developed by A Community of Friends,  a nonprofit corporation.
Permanent supportive housing: 46 studio apartments for individuals with bathroom, Murphy bed and kitchenettes.  Included in project is two shared community rooms with full kitchens and gathering space, two common laundry rooms and two offices for staff.

Lessons Learned
During the design phases, the team had a goal of meeting LEED silver and this process was started, however, when the contractor became involved, completing this task became cost-prohibitive. The specifications were written with the original goal in mind and the City of Santa Monica has very stringent green requirements which were met by the project, even though it was never submitted for the LEED rating. Education of the construction team would be beneficial for future projects to keep costs in-line.

Due to small unit size and efficient unit envelope, the electrical design load was reduced.  Building envelope consists of: R 21 batt insulation in the walls and R 30 in the roof, along with double-glazed windows with a lowE coating.  Shading is provided for the building and both courtyard spaces through the perforated screens. Cooling is only provided in the ground floor computer lab, the two offices and the two manager’s units. All other units are designed with windows on opposite walls to induce natural cross-ventilation. All units and community rooms are heated through a common boiler and radiator system (small fan blows air over the hot water pipes between the wall studs). Domestic hot water is also heated through a common boiler. All light fixtures are compact fluorescent in the units and exterior walkways and exterior lights are on timers. Fluorescent tubes were also used in the ground floor lobby and computer lab. Individual units have small kitchenettes with an energy star refrigerator and only the two community rooms have gas-fired ranges (to promote social interaction among tenants).

Data Sources & Reliability
Simulation software
Energy Pro by Energysoft for Title 24 report.

The analytical results have not been checked yet due to recent completion.

Green Strategies

Solar Cooling Loads
Use light-colored exterior walls and courtyards.
Cantilevered walkways designed to face south and also shade the building.
Shade southwest windows with window box, southeast with perforated screen and northeast with water jet screen.

Non-Solar Cooling Loads
Provide void space in building volume, towards prevailing breeze,  to enhance airflow into courtyard and through project.
Reduce internal heat gains by improving lighting and appliance efficiency

Lighting Controls
Use timers for all exterior lights.

Use only energy star refrigerators

Materials & Resources
Five major materials were selected with a recycled content: carpet with 25% post consumer content, gypsum board with 5% post consumer and 3% pre consumer, concrete with 10% minimum fly ash content and building insulation with minimum 20% recycled glass cullet and formaldehyde-free.
All paints selected were low VOC. Interior floor finish in common areas is exposed concrete slab (sealed) or natural linoleum.  Where painting was required, a high-quality prime and paint system was specified.

Finishes were minimized throughout:  Concrete slabs were left exposed where possible and the exterior stucco finish has an integral pigment in lieu of a paint finish.  The exterior metal screen at front facade is aluminum with an anodized color and the side yard screen is ‘galvalume’ a galvanized finish- neither screen will require painting or finishing in the future.

Diversion of Construction & Demolition Waste
The City of Santa Monica required the contractor to recycle at least 65% of the C&D materials during the construction phase of the project.  The actual overall combined recycling percentage was 71%.  The contractor used a waste hauler company to pick up co-mingled waste and provide a report detailing the amount of waste that went to the landfill vs. the amount of waste that got diverted by material (wood, cardboard, metal, carpet, residual, greenwaste, concrete, other and mixed inert).

Green Products Used
Coal Fly Ash
Armstrong Natural Linoleum Flooring
Recycled-Content, Formaldehyde-Free Insulation Batts by Johns Manville
Recycled-Content Gypsum Board
Ecoshield low VOC Interior Paints by Dunn-Edwards
Recycled-Content Residential Carpet by Mohawk
Storm water catchbasin and filter system by Stormwater360, Contech, Inc.
Composite floor truss joists by Weyerhaeuser.
Cabinets inside the units were constructed of MDF and then clear-sealed.
Low flow toilets and faucets with aerators.
Hydronic wall heaters connected to common boiler.

Green Strategies
Protection of Global Ecosystem
Avoid rigid or blown foam insulation made with an HCFC blowing agent
Minimize ozone-depletion potential of refrigerants in cooling systems

Design for Materials Use Reduction
Use materials with integral finish

Job Site Recycling
Seek a waste hauler who can separate recyclables out of commingled waste
Facilitate recycling by avoiding materials with toxic components

Recycling by Occupants
Design a physical in-house recycling system

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Manufacture
Use concrete with fly ash replacing a portion of the cement

Resource-Efficient and Materials
Use engineered wood products for rough carpentry
Use insulation with recycled content

Transportation of Materials
Prefer materials that are sourced and manufactured within the local area

Indoor Environment
One of the team’s primary objectives was to enhance the quality of living for each resident by surpassing standards found in conventional affordable-housing projects. Although the studio units have limited floor area, all units have Murphy beds hidden in the wall cabinet, natural light, cross-ventilation and the building was designed to take advantage of the prevailing breezes to keep air circulating through the project.

Environmental air quality was addressed by following AQMD (Southcoast Air Quality Mangement District) and Greenseal requirements for finishes and by minimizing finishes: concrete slabs were left exposed where possible and an integral color was provided in the exterior stucco finish, thereby eliminating the need for painting of the exterior of the building.

Low and no- VOC paints, sealants and coatings were used.

Concrete slabs were left exposed at the ground floor (with integral color for the lobby) and natural linoleum was used in the common spaces above the ground floor.

Green Strategies
Thermal Comfort

Use glazing with a low Solar Heat Gain Coefficient
Design for optimum cross ventilation through window placement.

Visual Comfort and Light Sources
Use electronic ballasts with fluorescent lighting.

Reduction of Indoor Pollutants
Use only very low or no-VOC paints
Use formaldehyde free batt insulation.

Visual Comfort and Interior Design
Select only white to midrange finishes to maximize reflectance of light.

It is possible to visit this project and tours can be arranged on request. Step Up on Fifth is located at 1548 Fifth Street in Santa Monica, California. From the Santa Monica Freeway, exit to downtown Santa Monica at the 5th street exit. Step Up on Fifth is located on the west side of the street after the first intersection at 5th Street and Colorado Avenue. Street parking is available in front of the building.

+ Project credits / data

Project: Step Up on Fifth
Location: 1548 5th Street, Downtown Santa Monica, California
Total Square Footage: 31,600 sq. ft.
Total Cost: $11.4 million
Completed: 2009

Client/Owner: Step Up | Tod Lipka, President and CEO

Architects: Brooks + Scarpa |
Project Team: Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA – Design Architect, Angela Brooks, AIA, Principal-in-Charge, Brad Buter, Silke Clemens, Ching Luk, Matt Majack, Luis Gomez, Omar Barcena, Dan Safarik, Gwynne Pugh

Engineering: John Martin Associates, Jackie Vinkler – Structural IBE, Alan Locke – Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing
Environmental Consultant: Helios International – John Ingersoll
Metal Fabrication:  Ramsey Daham
Contractor: Ruiz Brothers
Landscape: Landscape Scenarios
Photography: John Edward Linden


AIA California Council Design Merit Award, 2010
AIA National Institute Honor Award for Architecture, 2010
AIA National Housing Award, 2010
Residential Architect Merit Award, 2010
AIA/LA Design Awards: Merit: Multifamily, 2009
Westside Urban Forum Prize
Infill: Unbuilt. 2007
Infill: Built, 2009

+ General Specifications

Structural system: Type V wood frame over Type I reinforced concrete.


Masonry: Angeles Block Company
Metal: Custom Waterjet cut by Ramsey Dahman, perforated by McNichols.
Concrete: Type ll Portland Cement with 25% flyash, LM Scolfeild Lithochrome stain
Wood: Composite floor truss joists by Weyerhaeuser, Micro-lam and parallam composite beams by Truss Joist Corporation
Exterior: Recycled Portland Cement Exterior Cement Plaster with integral finish
Windows: Milgard, Fleetwood, US Aluminum Corporation
Glazing: Solarban 80 by PPG
Skylights: Bristolite, Solatube International, Inc.
Doors: TM Cobb, Timely, Steelcraft Manufacturing Co., McKeon Door Company, Nationwide Industries, Anemostat Door Products, Total Door Systems.
Hardware: Schlage, Trimco, LCN, Ives, Rixon, Monarch, Pemko, Johnson, Elmes
Roofing: 4-ply Modified bitumen membrane by CertainTeed Corporation Flashing, Celotex, GAF corporation, Grefco, APOC

Interior finishes

Cabinets: Custom Recycled Formaldehyde free MDF (clear seal),
Paints: Ecoshield low VOC Interior Paints by Dunn-Edwards
Paneling: Recycled Formaldehyde free MDF (clear seal), Recycled-Content Gypsum Board with         31% recycled content (26% post consumer waste), Dens-Glass Gold by USG
Tile: Daltile
Flooring: Armstrong Natural Linoleum Flooring
Carpet: Recycled-Content Residential Carpet by Mohawk


Elevators: ThyssenKrupp
Parking Lifts: Otto Wohr GMBH distributed by American Elevator


Interior: Prudential, Shaper, Prescolite, Lightway,
Downlights: Halo, Capri
Exterior: Shaper, Bega Prudential, Stonco, Belfer, Del Rey Lighting
Controls: Lutron


Fixtures: American Standard, Kohler, Bobrick, Grohe, Chicago Faucets, Toto, Delta
Appliances: GE, ISE
Insulation: Recycled-Content, Formaldehyde-Free Insulation Batts by Johns Manville
Other: Storm water catchbasin and filter system by Stormwater360, Contech, Inc., Hydronic wall heaters by Runtalconnected to common boiler. Cabinet hardware by Sugatsune, Basco and E.B. Bradley

+ All images and drawings courtesy Brooks + Scarpa | Photo by John Edward Linden

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Category: Architecture, Residential, Selected

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