Avenel Cooperative Housing
The Avenel Cooperative Housing complex in Silver Lake is a very unusual example of a Federal Housing Administration-funded project in the postwar period, as it was a cooperatively owned, multi-family complex.
The FHA heavily favored residential patterns in which one family owned and lived in one house, which largely explains the explosion in suburban single-family developments in Southern California at mid-century. Avenel was a different story: ten families pooled their resources to purchase land for new housing units, aiming to create a modestly scaled complex that incorporated modern ideas about indoor-outdoor living on an affordable scale. They were all socially and politically progressive (several of them were later blacklisted or questioned by Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee), and they saw architecture as a way to put their ideas about housing into practice.
The group hired architect Gregory Ain, a well-known progressive himself, on the basis of his strong Modern residential designs as well as his strongly held philosophy emphasizing thoughtful designs for people of all economic classes. Ain’s design placed ten three-bedroom units in two rows of five, each row on a stepped terrace and each unit staggered and angled to maximize privacy and views from individual patios. The units were identical, with interiors as open and flexible as Ain could make them given the restrictive regulations of the FHA. His plan for open kitchens was thwarted, as was his plan to include an additional half-bath in each unit (the FHA insisted it be a broom closet instead).
Sliding doors allowed easy reconfiguration of space, and each unit’s main living space featured a glass wall across the full length of the room to bring the feel of the exterior patio inside. The complex’s landscape was designed by Garrett Eckbo, who used ivy and other vines for ground cover and planted a variety of trees to complement the strong horizontal lines of the Modern-style buildings. Avenel Cooperative Housing remained cooperative until 1991, when its owners converted to condominium ownership. It continues to serve as an
outstanding example of the potential for well-designed, affordable urban housing in very small spaces.