2023 AIA Small Project Awards: Liberation Coffee House by ORA

From its prominent urban corner in Hollywood, Liberation Coffee House is the public face of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s new Anita May Rosenstein Campus. Much more than a coffee house, it is a profitable social enterprise that diverts 100% of its revenue into the center’s life-saving programs. It is also run by graduates of the center’s culinary arts program, which helps prepare LGBTQ+ youth and seniors for employment opportunities. 

Founded in 1969, the center serves more than 50,000 clients with health and social services, housing support, and advocacy work across 10 locations in the city. The Anita May Rosenstein Campus was completed in 2019 and includes a youth center and academy, career center, senior center, and a dorm for the unhoused. The new coffee house serves as an important bridge between the center and its vital programming. 

The coffee house’s bright and airy interior is appealing to patrons of all ages, welcoming them with an array of comfortable seating options that support work and socialization. Inspired by the bold colors and sense of movement that dominate the late Keith Haring’s artworks and the composition of the pride flag, the coffee house is a welcoming space for all and a reflection of how far the LGBTQ+ community has advanced in its fight for equality.

The space is cheerful and light. – Jury comment

Its primary design element is a series of overlapping sheer fabric panels that bathe the space with a gradient of color reminiscent of a California sunset. The panels, composed of affordable fabrics sourced from minority-owned businesses, also reduce solar heat gain and soften views to the outside. They are simple to install, so the staff can maintain and update the panels easily. 

Since opening, the project has become a sanctuary for the community, offering those seeking help a safe space to explore the center’s services while experiencing some of its programs in action. Despite the limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the coffee house has trained a dozen students in the culinary program and hosted numerous revenue-generating events, ranging from musical performances to private dinners. 

The design has helped attract a diverse patron base, with repeat customers from nearby apartments, Hollywood studios, and businesses who appreciate that their purchases directly support center programming. As a whole, the coffee house’s design strategies have shaped a project that belies its limited budget and stands as a model for similar centers across the country.

Liberation Coffee House

Architecture firm: ORA

Owner: The Los Angeles LGBT Center

Location: Los Angeles

Category: Two

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s):  Food service – general

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2020

Gross conditioned floor area: 1633 sq. ft.

Project team

Architect & Interior Designer: ORA  

General Contractor: Swinerton Builders  

Mechanical Engineer: Westco  

Electrical Engineer: RJ Performance  

Plumbing Engineer: Paul Bennett Partnership, Inc.  

Furniture Procurement: Pacific Office Interiors

Photography: Eric Staudenmaier

AIA and it’s Small Project Design (SPD) Knowledge Community present the annual Small Project Award Program to raise public awareness of the value and design excellence that architects provide regardless of the limits of size and budget.

Submissions are welcome in four categories:

  • Category one: Small project construction, object, work of environmental art or architectural design element up to $250,000 in construction cost
  • Category two: Small project construction up to $2.5 million in construction cost
  • Category three: Small project construction, object, work of environmental art or architectural design under 5,000 square feet 
  • Category four: Unbuilt project award: any unbuilt design that meets any of the category requirements above. This award is for projects that will not be built in the future (speculative work, conceptual work, competition work, student work, etc.)

In 2023, only recipients from Categories 2 and 3 won awards.

The jury evaluates entries based on how successfully projects meet their individual requirements. Entries are judged individually—not in competition with each other. 

All projects must demonstrate design achievement, including how the project fits into its environment and how the project connects to the Framework for Design Excellence. 


  • Open to all architects, designers and projects that meet our category criteria below. Additionally, the U.S.-licensed architect must be a major contributor on the project.
  • Built projects must have been completed after January 1, 2017.​
  • There is no requirement for professional photography.
  • Any size firm may submit a project.
  • Maximum of four entries per firm—(a single project may be entered in two different categories with applicable fees for each entry).

2023 Jury:

Chandra Robinson, AIA, Chair, LEVER Architecture, Portland, Ore.

Madhubala Ayyamperumal, Assoc. AIA, Gensler, Oakland, Calif.

Chris Baribeau, AIA, Modus Studio, Fayetteville, Ark.

David Corban, AIA, David Corban Architects, Naples, Fla.

Katherine Hogan, AIA, Katherine Hogan Architects, Raleigh, N.C.

Past SPA Recipients 

2022 recipients >

2021 recipients >

2020 recipients >

2019 recipients >

2018 recipients >

2017 recipients >

2016 recipients >