When Los Angeles–area planners first envisioned Warner Center, they wanted to prioritize features that can be challenging to find in Southern California: walkability, density, and easy access to mass transit. In a perfect world, this 1970s master-planned neighborhood would help relieve car traffic between the San Fernando Valley and downtown LA by providing the Valley with its own urban hub while controlling sprawl and implementing smart growth strategies.
Things didn’t quite pan out that way. According to historic preservation organization the Los Angeles Conservancy, the suburban Warner Center is currently more of a business district than a neighborhood: More people commute to and from the area for work every day than make their homes there.
Warner Center was constructed on 1.5 square miles of ranch land originally owned by Harry Warner, one of the four Warner brothers in the eponymous media company. Buildings laid out in the initial plan—many of which still stand today—included shopping complexes, residential buildings, a hospital, a park, a Metro Orange Line station, light industrial areas, and three skyscrapers clad with mirrored glass surfaces.
A newer Warner Center 2035 plan, however, aims to make the area a desirable place to live, as well as work. Drafted over the course of eight years, the proposal represents what the Warner Center Association calls “a thoughtful approach to planned growth” that will provide housing, jobs, and services, with an emphasis on walkability, improved public transportation, and the creation of safe bike lanes. Key elements of the plan include encouraging infill development and redevelopment of existing properties, as well as promoting green building standards. Warner Center is ready to embody the ethos touted by urban planners—that cities operate more effectively when residents live in denser urban surroundings.
Enter: The Q Buildings
Designed by Newman Garrison + Partners, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based firm, The Q Buildings are residential-commercial structures comprising 1,400 residential units across five buildings, all located within a square mile of each other in Warner Center (three are located on the same block). Featuring studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom rental options, each structure was designed according to the mandates of the master plan.
“The vision behind the Warner Center plan was to revitalize and create a sustainable community that enhanced mobility options,” says Kevin Newman, CEO and creative director of Newman Garrison + Partners. The firm has worked on a variety of award-winning market-rate and affordable multifamily structures across the U.S.
“Walkability and access to public transit was a huge priority,” he continues. “Specifically, [the] projects are relatively close to public transit stops, which makes it convenient for our tenants not to have to get in their vehicles. Warner Center is not considered an urban area by any stretch of the imagination, so people in the Valley are still reliant on their cars. However, as more of these mixed-use developments—which include shopping, dining and entertainment—are built in Warner Center, the need to use your vehicle for local driving becomes less of a requirement.”
Each of the five projects was required by the Warner Center plan to have a percentage of space allocated toward non-residential use. By concentrating development that incorporates restaurants and commercial spaces, the area will ideally become a live/work/play neighborhood and community—and it’s off to a strong start. The Q Variel was completed in 2020, and The Q Topanga was completed in 2021. The latest of the developments, The Q De Soto, is expected to be completed in 2025.
Although California is the first state in the nation to have a mandatory green building code, as of 2011, Newman Garrison + Partners paid special attention to sustainable details during the materials-selection and landscape-design processes of the Q buildings, as well as the energy efficiency of each unit.
“The projects were designed to feature energy-efficient components,” Newman says. “There are sustainable design elements all the way through each of the developments. For example, all the units were designed to have smart thermostats, high-efficiency plumbing and light fixtures, windows, [and] appliances. In addition, we worked closely with our landscape architects to include low-water-usage plantings, along with above-grade stormwater planters to collect roof rainwater to be used for irrigation.”
Newman and his colleagues also incorporated eco-friendly building materials into the Q building designs—made possible, he says, by a recent boom in materials industry innovations.
“That’s something that we’ve really focused on for several years now,” he says. “As we get into more design opportunities and [material] alternatives, the materials that we currently use, such as bamboo, recycled plastics, and reclaimed wood—just to name a few—have really come a long way and have become more innovative.”
John Garrison, AIA, president of design development at Newman Garrison + Partners, says that a white “cool roof” at The Q Topanga, the most recently finished of the projects, reflects more sunlight than a conventional roof, absorbing less solar energy and lowering the building’s overall temperature. High-efficiency LED light fixtures throughout the buildings, as well as efficient air conditioning units with high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio ratings, lower the energy and electricity usage, as do occupancy sensors for the lighting in the parking garage and common areas.
“Dual-pane windows and low-flush plumbing fixtures can be found in every unit,” Garrison adds.
While the Southern California residential market demands a certain level of amenities—like valet parking and fitness classes—in market-rate buildings the size of the Q developments, Newman and colleagues saw opportunities to use this to their advantage. In their designs, the firm wanted to equally prioritize the experience of both the building’s users and the public at-large.
“Warner Center as a whole will promote connectivity,” Newman says. “Public transit provides easier access to downtown LA and other areas of the Valley, like Burbank or Pasadena. It becomes a more convenient, accessible neighborhood, which it wasn’t before this specific plan was incorporated.”
Newman says that the goal of all five completed projects is an inviting urban environment—a “string of pearls” attached to one another.
He emphasizes that maximizing density during the process provided both constraints and opportunities.
“We’ve worked with specific plans in other jurisdictions before, but they’re all different,” Newman says. “With [this] specific plan, it was challenging, but it also provided a tremendous amount of design creativity to make a lot of these features come to fruition.”
Residential developers are typically averse to building commercial space, but in this case, the mandates of the plan required it.
“From a developer’s point of view, I think it was a lot more challenging. But from a designer’s point of view, I think it was an opportunity, and we looked at it as a way [to] integrate new ideas and utilize those spaces on the ground floor in such a way where it really developed a synergy within the community,” Newman said.
While The Q Variel and The Q Topanga have been completed, the other three developments—The Q De Soto, The Q at Erwin, and The Q Califa—are still in progress. The latter will replace the former one-story office building that occupied the lot with two mixed-use towers, greatly increasing its density and opening it up to the public via retail spaces.
The uniqueness of these particular projects, Newman says, was the most rewarding part of taking them on.
“It’s been one of the most enjoyable projects we’ve worked on, because you never get a chance to do five projects in one neighborhood with one client,” he says. “In fact, in my career, it’s never happened.”