Los Angeles School Projects Honored for Addressing Community Needs Through Intriguing Design

Berliner Architects Recognized for Inspirational After-School Container Creativity and a New Community-Oriented Campus

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Berliner Architects recently won two design awards for new community-based projects: the Heart of Los Angeles Arts (HOLA) and Recreation Center (left) and Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy. Photos: Tom Bonner. Click here for high-resolution images.

LOS ANGELES: Berliner Architects is often lauded for design creativity in school architecture. Most recently, two new Los Angeles school projects were recognized with 2021 WUF Design Awards, bestowed by land-use organization Westside Urban Forum (WUF): a shipping container-based after-school facility for community agency Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) and Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy.

“These two school-related projects for underserved neighborhoods are possibly the most gratifying the firm has completed in our 25-year history,” says Berliner Architects’ Principal Richard Berliner, AIA, LEED AP. “Schools are now second homes for many students, and being recognized for the thought and care our firm put into our designs adds to the pleasure of working with great clients.”

HOLA Arts and Recreation Center After-School Facility
Berliner Architects prioritized recycled shipping containers to deliver new vitality to an underused corner of Lafayette Park, one of the oldest urban parks in Los Angeles. Working with non-profit organization Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), the architects created a multi-faceted indoor/outdoor after-school complex. The center’s hangar-style Pavilion houses the recently launched HOLA Intergenerational Orchestra and HOLA Music Studios program. It will eventually host the Los Angeles Philharmonic-affiliated Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.

“We love the fungible quality between indoor and outdoor space, and how the containers create interspace,” said the 2021 WUF jury about the Merit Award-winning project in the Schools category. “Using containers creates a certain intrigue to the experience of the buildings while serving the program perfectly.”

With community in mind, the HOLA Arts and Recreation Center acts as a clubhouse for the non-profit’s existing network of facilities—which provides 2,100 underserved youth from around the world a variety of after-school programs, including academics, arts, athletics, and wellness. For the 31,600-square-foot project, Berliner Architects created 25,000 square feet of indoor space by stacking 46 prefabricated shipping containers among new construction, nestled into a natural hillside. Cascading terraces, planted rooftops, and open stairs connect the interior with the park amid a new palette of drought-tolerant plants and trees that blends with existing foliage. The program includes a large-ensemble Performance Pavilion, two smaller ensemble rooms, 18 classrooms, four club rooms, and five offices.

“Berliner Architects and our entire interior design team have created a dynamic and vibrant space for the community we serve, and it’s everything that we dreamt of,” said organization CEO Tony Brown. “HOLA’s new Arts and Recreation Center is integral to our mission of providing youth with an exceptional space in which they are supported to achieve their fullest potential.”

Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy
Located in the underserved Crenshaw neighborhood in Los Angeles, the three-story Stella middle school received a WUF Citation in the Schools category. Berliner Architects designed the new school on an acre of formerly vacant land leased from the adjacent church. Programmatic elements for the 500-student facility include 21 classrooms, administration areas, a gym (which is accessible from the outdoors for hosting community events when the school is closed), a synthetic-turf playing field, and a 134-space parking lot shared with the landowner church.

“Given the challenging budgets for school facilities, the Stella Academy was really well executed,” said the 2021 WUF jury. “What’s interesting is the way Berliner Architects uses the property as a collaborative place for the community and the school—that is a direction that we need to go in to facilitate the highest use of the properties.”

One of Stella’s most innovative aspects is single-occupancy, gender-neutral restrooms. Berliner Architects designed the private stalls to open to the hallway, preventing the need for a separated space. This socially conscious approach accommodates all students, and mitigates bullying that can occur in traditionally designed school bathrooms. Stella is the newest of multiple collaborations between Berliner Architects and Bright Star Schools, a Los Angeles organization that empowers communities by creating tuition-free public education options.

Hrag Hamalian, Executive Director of Bright Star Schools, commented, “A school is a building with tomorrow inside. Bright Star Schools’ Stella Middle Charter Academy campus is a place where our students dream big dreams and realize them. The space was meticulously designed to house our excellent academics, inclusive support, and rich life experiences while serving as a constant reminder to our students that everything they can imagine is within their reach.”

About Berliner Architects
Established in 1996 in Los Angeles by Richard Berliner, AIA, LEED AP, Berliner Architects believes that every space counts—thoughtfully designed spaces positively impact their occupants’ qualities of life, improving the way people live, work, learn, and play. The firm prides itself on thoughtful, cost-effective, and sustainable design solutions created in collaboration with its clients. Recognized for its work across various typologies—including higher education, K-12, entertainment, spiritual, and master planning—Berliner Architects has won more than 20 awards for its impactful, efficient, and user-friendly designs.