This post is an audio tour of Los Angeles’ award-winning permanent supportive housing model, the New Carver Apartments. It is the second post in a series called Where HOPE Meets HOME, documenting life beyond downtown L.A.’s Skid Row.
A few weeks ago I spent a morning at the New Carver Apartments with Molly Rysmam, Director of External Affairs at the Skid Row Housing Trust, and Ray, a current resident, musician, and artist. I met with them to take a tour of the award-winning New Carver Apartments, a beacon and model solution for eradicating homelessness in Los Angeles.
Although the building’s physical design has been celebrated throughout international design circles, I wanted to learn more about how its design honors, engages, and inspires the Trust’s staff and residents. From the open-air central courtyard to the second floor community room; from the garden and panoramic terrace to Ray’s apartment, Molly and Ray provide personal insight into the value of socially-driven good design. Let’s go “On the Inside.”
Molly talks about her work communicating and promoting the critical work of the Trust. Her favorite space at the New Carver is the atrium/open-air central courtyard “because of the way it reflects light at different times of the day.” Listen to the quite serenity of the space, despite its location against one of the nation’s busiest freeways.
“One of the reasons it’s one of my favorite spaces is that light moves through this space very differently at different times of the day…I certainly think it’s one of the most creatively designed spaces in any of the buildings that Skid Row Housing Trust manages…”
Molly’s second favorite space is the amazing panoramic terrace on the New Carver’s sixth floor. Molly talks while resident’s catch-up over construction noise in the adjacent work site, the future home of the Hope Street Family Center. From our vantage point, Molly points out the Hollywood sign, City Hall, the new Ritz Carlton, L.A. Live and the Staples Center, and Bunker Hill.
Molly Rysman, Director of External Affairs, Skid Row Housing Trust, talks about one of her favorite spaces: New Carver’s panoramic terrace.
“This was an amazing opportunity to visually communicate to residents of the New Carver that this is their city, that they’re not separate from the city. For a lot of folks who are living on the streets—people will avert their gaze from you when you are sitting on or sleeping on the sidewalk and not treat you like you an equal member of the city and this seemed like a way to communicate something very different, which is that our residents are really important members of this metropolis and that they have the opportunity to really define who they want to be in this city.”
After Molly shares her favorite spaces, Ray offers to share his. I wait for Ray in the New Carver’s lobby.
Ray decides to begin his tour in the second floor community room. The room is equipped with a television, vending machine, washer and dryer, and several tables. It is large enough to host the New Carver’s meditation and yoga programs and is designed with large windows that overlook the Santa Monica Freeway and 17th Street.
“I think this is one of the hearts of the building—the community room is the heart of building—everyone is here—we talk about everything, do everything, celebrate, watch movies, eat popcorn, if the floor is dirty we’ll clean it up…This is one of the hearts…This is the main community room.”
Ray describes the space as a peaceful community retreat despite the constant freeway noise. As we talk, one resident buys something from the vending machine while another resident watches television and eats lunch. Apart from the design, Ray talks about the programs that take place in the room and its color scheme. Listen to the recording to learn more about Ray’s feelings about metaphysics, the color yellow, and why violet is his favorite color.
“It also has something to do with the people too. ‘Cuz everybody in here has a story of their own. They are their own country in of themselves. And we come here, like, to the ‘Spaceship Carver’ and we come here to talk about our past lives and try to put it back together because this is considered a home, but it’s a step towards your real home. I don’t find this place anywhere permanent—I can say it’s permanent for about a year until I move on—I mean I can’t live here forever, but this is a great starting spot. That’s why everyone who lived here and moved out comes back. I guess there’s a chemistry between the people, the building, and the people who work here…It’s a good building.”
Next Ray takes us to the second floor rear patio and tells us how he relaxes over the roar of the cars on the I-10 freeway. I ask Ray about the garden and small, asphalt community space below the freeway.
“I just kick it right here, you’ve got the sun and it gives you peace of mind. You hear the freeway now, but when we we were inside, you didn’t hear it. Not only that but when you are inside the apartment and you close the windows you don’t here it.”
“…I didn’t know these apartments were brand new—I just wanted to get off the street.”
Ray points out his favorite janitor and friend, Chuy, while we wait for the elevator to go to the sixth floor panorama.
“Other than that, this is home temporarily, until I get my next step moving. I want to end up somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico.”
“Everybody loves this floor because you stand right here and you see everything.”
As Ray situates the New Carver within the context of downtown L.A., I ask him to describe the neighborhood. Ray shares his favorite aspects of living at the New Carver. I tell Ray I’m afraid of heights.
“The neighborhood here is very peaceful. It’s quite. It’s nothing but — this is — you would really consider this a residential neighborhood, slash industrial because a lot of businesses so it’s mixed. There will always be traffic in the street, but it’s not noisy. It’s nothing like downtown L.A…When I found out I was moving away from the downtown area I really loved it because I didn’t want to be downtown, then when I got here and I seen it, I said I didn’t want to go anywhere…Everything is right here.”
Ray describes his story, having first moved into the New Carver in 2009, then again in 2011, after a momentary period of living elsewhere. “I guess I had some good people in my corner…and I got a better view,” commented Ray about his return to the New Carver.
Ray shares his thoughts about the value of the building’s circular shape.
“I’m applying the knowledge that I have through literature I’ve read and spirituality I’ve been taught to manifest my well-being by using this building, by using this environment. And it’s working so far.”
Finally Ray offers to give me a tour of his apartment. Ray describes the apartment through its number “7” floorplan. As we wait for the elevator, Ray refers to his concept of the New Carver’s gear-like circular form as a “spaceship/mothership.” He confirms this theory with his neighbor Ken, who exits the elevator as we walk in. We enter Ray’s apartment, which is filled with his visual art (drawings and paintings) as well as several musical instruments (minus Ray’s recently lost drum). Ray talks about his artwork.
New Carver resident, artist, and musician, Ray, describes his painting, “Life Lessons,” during a tour of his apartment.
“This is one of the ones that I like. This piece here is called ‘Life Lessons.’ Each one of these strands represents a piece of the world. This green represents Africa, this yellow represents Asia…All the pictures and images represents that timeline.”
Apart from art, Ray has a large collection of spiritual, inspirational, and art books. Ray tells me about the New Carver’s community library.
“Everything is right here, but see, all I’m missing are a couple of luxuries. I want to get me a computer or laptop because I’m Internet prone — I’m all about research and knowledge, so I need the internet. And probably get a TV — probably not even a TV ‘cuz I don’t really watch TV, I spend most of my time reading, meditating, drawing or drumming.”
Ray ends his tour by telling us about the beautiful sketch he made with artist Juan Rosillo, who lives across the street from the New Carver and instructs the New Carver’s Wednesday morning arts workshop (to be documented in a future blog entry).
To learn more about the New Carver Apartments, visit Orameh Bagheri’s LA Yellow Box website, which includes an extensive online visual tour taken during a L.A. Forum for Architecture and Urban Design-sponsored program in August 2010.
The next blog post in this series will focus on the basic question that drives this series: “Where is home?” Greg, Paul, and Theresa will share their special stories and definitions.
Post by John Arroyo. John is an urban planner, writer, and cultural producer living in Los Angeles.