Centinela Mixed-Use (CMU), Mar Vista CA,

Client:  Centinela Properties LLC

Builder:  Schutz Group Inc.,

Architect:  Bill Tsui

Engineer: ParkerResnick

MEP: Donlite & Assoc.

Civil: PEG Engineering  

Building Construction:  Type V - 1 hr. 

Completion:  2008

Sold:  July 2008

Centinela MU

model images


completed images

This project began with an investigation into the mini-shopping center building type and its role within a quickly urbanizing neighborhood in the west Los Angeles neighborhood of Mar Vista.  In recent years, LA has experienced a contraction of the relentless sprawl to the margins.  A combination of population growth, traffic congestion, and inflated real estate value has reversed the thinking and focus of development in general. Traditionally car-centric communities are gradually transitioning to pedestrian friendly and concentrated growth.  Because LA has been planned and subsequently developed around the vast network of highways and roads, the mini strip mall is a complicit component of the pedestrian-less suburban fabric.  Its engagement and connection with its immediate and remote surroundings is almost exclusively via car, with its street perimeter mediated by poll-mounted signage and a large area of parking. Usually, the building is relegated to the rear and/or interior lot lines.  The optimum building or program siting and adjacencies are sacrificed for the convenience of attracting and parking passing motorists.

The 4533 Centinela Mixed-Use project is a critical redefinition of the typical commercial corner development.  Both the typical program and organization are reevaluated and inverted for the mutual benefit of the development and the immediate surroundings.  This strategy suggests a return to such fundamental urban design tenets like a perimeter block, where the urban edge is reinforced while the lot interior is left open to cultivate light and ventilation. Mixing uses was a program choice for income stream diversification as well as a bid for more efficient land use.  However, this project does not sacrifice the underlying motivation of profitable development for these loftier goals.  On the contrary, it is the position of the this project that it is more profitable when the building embodies attributes such as naturally lit and ventilated space, which is equally as valuable as rentable tenant spaces or building area.     

The subject property was severely compromised from the start.  Per usual developer tactics, discretionary entitlements were considered but proved to be too costly and time consuming to push beyond the envelope of the inherent zoning rights of the lot.  A previously failed proposal for a 7-unit condominium by another owner only managed to forfeit one third of the lot area to street widening before the 90's market collapsed. Additional development standards specific to commercial corner lots meant it was subject to a five feet setback from the street of any improvement for a landscape buffer. Commercial lots adjacent to alleyways are required to have a minimum ten feet deep loading zone.  The property across the alley was a single family dwelling, which triggered a transitional height limit that stepped up towards the main traffic artery.  The property was shrinking as we designed.   

The mix of uses was influenced by the decision to opt for owner occupancy, a desire for diversification of tenants, and the ratio of parking to building area.  As it turns out, the three primary uses were located relative to their degree of public access with the retail/restaurant component on the lower floor and the more private residential on the other extreme at the top floor.  Each use embodied varied setback requirements that translated into differentiation legible on the façade.  This was manipulated for both functional and aesthetic ends.  The office on the second floor was setback from the interior lot line to allow non-fire protected windows (operability) that foster cross ventilation and natural light.  The residence on the third floor above was allowed to push out against the setback on the south side, providing sun shading for the office wall below. Though signage is currently heavily regulated and discouraged, the coincidental alignment of the office and residential walls against the front yard setback provided an opportunity to reinforce the street edge with a metal-sided wall.  It also serves as a demarcation of its presence as an anchor for the commercial strip beyond and a not so subtle reminder of its origins as a part of the old strip mall.  This version of the mini-commercial strip becomes a microcosm of city life and contributor to neighborhood vitality versus an insulated commercial destination of convenience. 


1F:  Parking Garage - 2869 s.f., Parking: 10 spaces

Take-out Restaurant - 405 s.f.,

2F:  Office - 3128 s.f.,

3F:  Single Family Dwelling - 1664 s.f.

Total Bldg. Area:  8066 s.f.