2023 AIA Housing Awards: Canyon Drive by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects

Canyon Drive

Architect:  Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects [LOHA]

Owner: Leeor Maciborski

Location: Los Angeles 

Category:  Multifamily Housing

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type: Residential – multi-family, 5 or more units

When it was adopted by Los Angeles in 2005, the city’s Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance was envisioned by smart growth proponents as a viable solution to the city’s extraordinarily tight housing market. Situated just south of LA’s Beachwood Canyon community, Canyon Drive is an exemplar of the new typology spurred by such ordinances whose homes are shaped by light and air. 

Adding density by constructing faceless apartment complexes with little consideration for their context can sometimes alter a neighborhood’s character. This project boosts density while retaining the community’s values and identity. 

Beginning with the maximum allowable envelope, Canyon Drive’s single mass is divided by a series of tilting exterior walls that define the five individual homes and offer opportunities for solar exposure and natural ventilation. Expanding from their initial A-frame shapes, the center of each homes’ volume maximizes square footage while maintaining the angular end facades. This tactic helps reinforce a sense of individuality missing in other small-lot subdivision developments. 

Each of the homes’ ruled exterior facades, which appear somewhat nautical, were achieved through an innovative but simple framing strategy that relies on angle wall studs and strategic wood shear walls. Inside, the expressive wood framing ensures the overall geometry remains legible throughout the home. On the first floor, which contains two-car garages, cedar cladding contrasts with the aluminum panels and storefront glazing above. The team’s material choices help filter natural light into the living spaces while maintaining privacy, an essential strategy when building so close to other properties. 

“This project fits well into an established neighborhood but is fresh at the same time.” – Jury comment   

Increasing density in a car-centric city like Los Angeles raises concerns about adding even more cars to the street and a loss of parking. Each of Canyon Drive’s homes includes two standard parking spaces, consistent with single-family home requirements, though one is designated as a flexible guest space to minimize overflow parking in the neighborhood. For residents who are reconsidering their dependency on cars, the project is located within walking distance of two Metro stations.

“Fitting five homes and still maintaining a sense of privacy on a single-family lot is great for Los Angeles.” – Jury comment

The project represents the first step in a long process for the city as it considers densifying former single-family plots in other neighborhoods. As life during COVID-19 revealed, there remains a need for both personal space and community, and projects like Canyon Drive offer both. 

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 7401 sq. ft.

Project team

Principal-in-Charge: Lorcan O’Herlihy 

Project Director: Brian Adolph, Nick Hopson

Project Lead: Dana Lydon, Santiago Tolosa 

Project Team: Chris Gassaway, Ghazal Khezri, Christopher Lim

Photography: Here and Now Agency


Catherine Baker, FAIA, Chair, Nowhere Collaborative, Chicago

John DeForest, AIA, DeForest Architects, Seattle

Brian Lane, FAIA, Koning Eizenberg, Santa Monica, Calif.

Amit Price Patel, AIA, DIALOG, Vancouver, British Columbia

Michael D. Robinson, AIA, Robi4 Architecture & Planning, San Diego

AIA Framework for Design Excellence

The AIA Framework for Design Excellence represents the defining principles of good design in the 21st century. Comprised of 10 principles and accompanied by searching questions, the Framework seeks to inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment.

Framework for Design Excellence / Canyon Drive

Design for Integration

Was there a design charrette?  Yes

Design for Ecosystems

Site area that supported vegetation (landscape or green roof) pre-development:  23%

Site area that supports vegetation post-development: 18%

Site area covered by native plants supporting native or migratory species and pollinators: 6%

Strategies used to promote Design for Ecosystems: Dark skies, Soil conservation, Habitat conservation, flora/fauna

Design for Water

Is potable water used for irrigation?  Yes

Is potable water used for cooling? Yes

Is grey/blackwater reused on-site? No

Is rainwater collected on-site? Yes

Stormwater managed on-site:  85%

Design for Energy

2030 Commitment baseline EUI:  39 kBtu/sf/yr

Predicted net EUI including on-site renewables: 39  kBtu/sf/yr

Reduction from the benchmark: Unknown

Is the project all-electric?  No

Design for Well-being

Level of air filters installed:  Less than MERV 9

Was a “chemicals of concern” list used to inform material selection?  Yes

Do greater than 90% of occupied spaces have a direct view to the outdoors? Yes

Design for Resources

Were embodied carbon emissions estimated for this project? No

Design for Change

Estimated service life: 40 years

Floor area, if any, representing adapting existing buildings: 0%

Ability to survive without utility power: Not habitable without power

Which of the following risk assessment and resilience services were provided? None of the above

Design for Discovery

Has a post-occupancy evaluation been conducted? No, but a POE will be conducted

Building performance transparency steps taken:

  • Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the office
  • Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the profession


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