Primera Terra, a Post-Recession Redesign Success

The design plan for Primera Terra was forced to change with the times, and now that change has gotten a major stamp of approval.

Playa Vista, Calif.—The design plan for KB Home’s Primera Terra, a 52-residence luxury condominium property that made its debut several months ago in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa Vista, was forced to change with the times and now that change, spearheaded by KTGY Group Inc., Architecture + Planning, has gotten a major stamp of approval. Primera Terra just won the National Association of Home Builders’ 2012 Best in American Living Award Platinum in the category of Neighborhood Design. It is an achievement that underscores the fact that condominium projects sidelined by the economic crisis can be successfully re-envisioned to accommodate not only homeowners’ upscale sensibilities, but also their new post-Great Recession pocketbooks–and the industry’s increasing commitment to environmental responsibility.

They were big and they were pricey. During the condo craze, which peaked in 2007 before going into a nosedive, new for-sale multifamily residences with massive living spaces and even grander price tags were practically de rigueur. Primera Terra, located in the burgeoning Play Vista master-planned community, had been originally conceived as a five-story building encompassing units in the 2,000-square-foot range. It was a plan that no longer fit today’s homebuyer. KB Home wisely tapped KTGY to step in and spearhead the architectural repositioning of the condo development.

“There are a number of challenges in designing a building for a new market, during difficult economic times,” Alan Scales, KTGY studio director and the project’s designer, tells MHN. “Home size was obviously a big consideration to sales price, so a big part of our efforts were going into downsizing a project that was designed somewhere around 2006. We were really looking, from an economic standpoint, at how to most efficiently downsize but retain livability to the home.” KTGY was able to do just that at the one-acre site. The firm cut the building down from five stories to three, and proceeded to sketch out a series of floor plans that, although smaller, provided the feel of an open, spacious home.

However, it was a feat that was not easily achieved, particularly since, to a certain extent, KTGY had to work around a feature that it had inherited from the previous design; a subterranean concrete parking facility that was already in place.

And that’s where things got really technical and KTGY had to get more creative than usual. “It boiled down to having to core the concrete slab to receive the plumbing and all the new structural and mechanical systems,” Scales explains. “The solution we looked at was raising an 18-inch floor system, which allowed us to route the plumbing and so forth into existing cores in the slab. So we were really trying to adaptively reuse that existing structure with a completely new design on top. It took quite a level of coordination between the structural team, ourselves and of course KB Home, to really develop the final solution that worked from inside and out.”

Incorporating the existing parking structure into the new design had its advantages, aesthetic advantages. The alterations allowed for 10-foot high ceilings in the homes, as well as the opening up of the exterior walls to feature large expanses of glass.

The adaptive reuse of the parking structure was just one component of developing what would be a thoroughly green property designed for environmentally-friendly, and thereby cost-effective, living. “There are so many hidden attributes in the project that people wouldn’t recognize or see, that build into that equation in terms of the cost savings.” The property features an efficient building envelope and the walls, well, the walls were built in a shop and then assembled onsite, which allowed for a great reduction in waste.

Then, there are the green elements at Primera Terra that are visible to the untrained eye. The property features a living green wall, community vegetable garden with rainwater cisterns and electric-car charging stations. The residential units have tankless water heaters, water-efficient bathroom and kitchen fixtures and an energy monitoring system that provides residents the option of tracking their household’s energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs online or, of course, via smart phone. Primera Terra homes are, at their lowest, 40 percent more energy-efficient than homes meeting the minimum standards dictated by California’s Title 24 new home regulation.

KTGY played a large role in taking Primera Terra to a high green level, and it did not have to get too fancy to do it. The property does not feature any photovoltaic systems or other renewable energy systems, yet it was still able to attain the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest green certification: LEED Platinum.

But it’s not all about labels. “Certainly, there’s some marketability upfront, it has the LEED name on there, but the reality is, that’s not going to get you sales,” Scales notes. “The reality is if you can show them how their cost of living goes down, they’re going to listen. If you build an efficient building, in the end, it’s the homeowner that’s benefiting with the lower utility bills and that’s really where we’re headed with this industry.

Primera Terra. It’s a BALA Platinum-awarded property, a LEED Platinum-certified property and, oh yes, its homes have economy-appropriate price tags and allow residents to save a small fortune in energy costs. And with KTGY’s careful but crafty architectural design of the condominium community, KB Home was able to complete the project without breaking the bank. It can be done. New visions for outdated projects can help bring life back to today’s condominium market.