Interiors Awards 2015: Student

Photography by Thaddeus Lee

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Designer: Thaddeus Lee
School: California State University, Long Beach
Proposed Location: Los Angeles

“This design is conceptually strong, yet very credible. The form making shows maturity and confidence. We find it encouraging to see an adaptive reuse project by a student, and that bodes well for our profession.” -Jury

With an objective to promote a healthier lifestyle and help Los Angeles residents appreciate the simpler things in life, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) interior design graduate Thaddeus Lee created a communal housing design for his senior thesis. Inspired by the High Line in New York, with its reimagined infrastructure and greenery as a backdrop for public gathering, Aparkment was designed by Lee with 29 micro-unit apartments lining an interior “park” within an existing building. 

“I really enjoyed visiting the High Line because I appreciated how the track was reused, and I loved the feeling of being surrounded by nature in the city,” Lee says. “I was drawn to the idea that I could live in a park, and I was reminded that you don’t need a lot to be happy. The feeling of joy I felt from both the plants and interaction with people helped inspire me for this project.”

Lee chose Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) as his proposed client. The Los Angeles–based non-profit organization develops and manages affordable housing and has a 21-member board that includes housing and finance experts, tenants and low-income representatives, and other experts. “CCSM cares about the overall quality of design and the building itself,” Lee says. 

Keeping CCSM’s mission in mind, Lee chose a vacant five-story, 56,640-square-foot building in the heart of the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles as the site of his proposed project. The location is convenient to public transportation and is walking distance to restaurants and nightlife. Lee oriented residential units along two sides of the building. He designed two micro unit options—one that is 400 square feet to accommodate one person and another that is 600 square feet for up to two people. Both options, which cater to a young professional demographic, feature large windows to provide natural sunlight and help make the units feel more spacious. To further maximize space, beds and dining tables can be folded away when not in use. “Now is a time when people don’t mind living in a smaller space if they are paying low rent and living in a neighborhood that is more convenient for them,” Lee says. 

The units line the “park”—a central atrium, topped with louvered skylights, that contains a series of interior areas for use by all residents. These communal areas have features such as plants that need little water, individual hammocks, and a bleacher stair for viewing films or other gatherings. CCSM requires communal areas within its housing, and Lee wants to encourage residents to interact without being confined to their individual apartments as they escape the hustle and bustle of the city. “When people invest time and energy into the neighborhood that they live in, they care more about their personal community,” he says. The complex also incorporates management offices, bike parking and storage, a rooftop with green space, a deck, and multiple lounge areas. 

After graduating from CSULB with a bachelor of fine arts degree in interior design in spring 2014, Lee accepted a position at RTKL Associates in Los Angeles. “I learned that there’s a lot that you can do with interior design, and I enjoy the aspect of designing for people and addressing the problems that come up within design,” says Lee. “I love creating things that can make a difference.”