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Youth Center On Highland Client / Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center Design Firm / HOK Los Angeles

An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1% who are making pro bono service an integral part of design practice.




An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1%

Project Youth Center on Highland Location Los Angeles, California Completion October 1, 2012 Client LA Gay & Lesbian Center Client liaison Kathy Ketchum, Chief Administrative Officer Design firm HOK Los Angeles Design team Clay Pendergrast, IIDA, AIA; Lacey Casseaux; Stephen Brandt; April Lenkey, AIA HOK Impact co-leader Jeffrey Greenbaum Area 32,000 sq. ft. Pro bono services $80,000 (est.) Project collaborators Pinnacle Contracting Corporation More info


Design /

Nonprofit /

As Interior Design Director of our Los Angeles office, I was a part of the group that initiated the HOK Impact program as a way to start engaging in community-based pro bono projects. HOK Impact is a firmwide program that seeks to carry out social impact and community empowerment through pro bono design work. A group of about five on staff came together and began a search for a community partner. A colleague put us in touch with the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community through an array of programs and services. The organization had outgrown their Youth Drop-In Center and was overwhelmed by the number of clientele seeking services. This is how our work on the re-imagined Youth Center on Highland Avenue started.

The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center initiated the project with HOK through their commitment in The 1% program. The center was at a point of transition when a friend of our public affairs officer, who worked for HOK, approached us. He described HOK’s participation in The 1% and offered to partner with the Center. We are an organization committed to supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community and beyond through multiple programs and initiatives, and HOK was enthusiastic to connect with us.

Clay Pendergrast, IIDA, AIA, Interior Design Director, HOK Los Angeles

Kathy Ketchum, Chief Administrative Officer, LA Gay & Lesbian Center

We had just been awarded a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant from the federal government to develop foster care best practices for underserved communities, one of which was LGBT youth. This is a particular concern because of the

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An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1%

The Youth Drop-In Center had been in operation for many years in a space on Santa Monica Boulevard. We were able to visit the former building in operation to see how it was set up and utilized. Despite the worn out and less than ideal conditions of the old facility, it was incredibly impressive to see the services that were being offered to their young clientele—from the meals served to counseling services, employment preparation, and simply providing a place to do laundry. It was heartbreaking to see the distinct need for such services, but also heartwarming to know the organization was dedicated to making a real difference in the lives of these young people. Our team was focused on being as effective and efficient as possible to leverage the limited funding for this pro bono project. The Center’s youth create a high energy environment; the facility needed to reflect that energy in its design without looking like a kindergarten. Durability was a requirement for the facility—it’s almost always in use—and we wanted to provide the appropriate interior conditions. The new Highland Avenue space needed to be transformed from its past life as a flashy and cheaply constructed entertainment office into a welcoming and positive place of impact for the young clients. The Center had very particular needs that I had never considered before, such as the privacy concerns of transgender individuals. We worked closely with the program staff to find ways of solving the issues at hand. There was an opportunity to design the space to serve the programs, rather than design the programs to fit the space. As a design team, our process was much more streamlined than usual and intensely focused on the plans and achieving the optimal program adjacencies within the new space. With the Center staff and administrators, we had in-depth discussions about space plans in order to determine the most effective adjacency relationships. The goal for the new space was to optimize the amazing work that was being done in the Center.


disproportionate percentage of LGBT kids in foster care. Through the grant we were able to move our homeless Youth DropIn Center into a large rented space that could accommodate our services more comprehensively. This move allowed us to take advantage of funding opportunities from the Department of Mental Health and other local funders to implement an emergency overnight bed program. All of those projects would fit well together and go into the new rented space. We made those decisions and then started meeting with HOK.

“Durability was a requirement for the facility—it’s almost always in use—and we wanted to provide the appropriate interior conditions.” — Clay Pendergrast, IIDA, AIA

“Once these kids have hope, anything is possible.” — Kathy Ketchum

Our youth programs are for youth ages eighteen through twenty-four. We had been running the Youth Drop-In Center for over ten years, but our old building was not ideal. The old Center occupied two floors, which disconnected the programming. We carried out our education programs, such as GED preparation, as well as provided facilities, such as showers, but each felt cramped by the other. Overall, the space felt depressing for kids who deserved a lot more. We brought these concerns to HOK for the new space. The HOK designers, particularly Lacey Causseaux, spent many hours directly focusing on our staff to understand the flow of the Center and our needs, in order to take on the challenge to design the program layout. The regular meetings that HOK had with the program staff—the supervisors, support staff, case managers—were very intensive. The HOK designers really understood the needs of the clients and the aspirations of the program, and designed a space that allowed us to go beyond what we had been able to offer before. For instance, in our old building we had a closet where the kids could select some clean clothes to wear. Although the selection was small, we had basic items such as jeans and sweatshirts. In our new space, an entire room is devoted to an interview-ready wardrobe. The wardrobe serves as a final step in supporting career development. It’s part of a process in connection with the GED classroom and employment office, where

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An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1%

“We could not afford a very sculptural interior architecture or upgraded finishes. As a result, we relied heavily on color and used it compellingly to do most of the work to activate the space.” — Clay Pendergrast, IIDA, AIA

résumé writing and interview preparation takes place. This connection strengthens our program.

Unfortunately, the project ran into difficulty with the building codes and in the existing building condition. It added a tremendous amount of time to the project, about a year more than we had expected. The delay was mostly out of our hands and due to the fact that we were taking an officezoned building and transforming it to meet various residential program requirements. Nevertheless, HOK’s mission of service remained the same: to provide exceptional design ideas and solutions through the creative blending of human need, environmental stewardship,  value creation, science and art. We were lucky to partner with the Pinnacle Construction team. Pinnacle had partnered with the LA Gay & Lesbian Center in the past and was an awesome addition to our process. Pinnacle actively assisted us in the city agency interactions and took a leadership position in addressing the existing infrastructure and structural conflicts. They even used their relationship with manufacturers to help us gain certain discounted or donated materials. Together,


we stretched the budget enough to provide the organization with far more accessories to accomplish their fantastic programs. Pinnacle’s contribution was invaluable. The most successful aspect of the completed project is the atmosphere that was achieved through the design strategy. The result of our hard work is embodied not only in the energy and vitality elicited by the space, but also in its durability and lasting quality. The LA Gay & Lesbian Center tells me, from a functional standpoint, the Youth Drop-in Center is a fabulous success. They love it. They now have so much more room to accomplish what they were already doing so well. The use of color was one of the most successful aspects to add energy to the space. We could not afford very sculptural interior architecture or upgraded finishes. As a result, we relied heavily on color to activate the space. We integrated strong colors into highly durable yet inexpensive materials. Paint could be easily replaced or renewed, and plastic laminates and

The focus on the design was so important because we were preparing a space for youth that are faced with extraordinary circumstances on a daily basis. These LGBT kids are out of their homes, whether by choice or not, at a very young age. There are immeasurable challenges that the kids are forced to adapt to while living on the streets. And yet, while the kids are able to adapt to street life, their emotional needs are rarely addressed; they are often frozen in a very young emotional state. The Youth Drop-In Center acts as a place of stability for the participating young people. Today, the space is alive with vibrant colors. Looking back, I would have never thought to use some of those colors. I learned through the process the colors I thought would be calming are actually far more institutional. For many of these kids, institutional spaces are all they have ever known. Immediately after opening, we noticed the space was promoting a different level of energy in both the clients and the staff. On top of more imbued energy, our new space can welcome well over 100 drop-in clients per day. Previously, we were limited to fifty. It’s a true transformation. When I talk to the staff at the Youth DropIn Center they say that the most difficult aspect of their work is to give the kids hope. Once these kids have hope, anything is possible. Previously, many clients arrived when we opened at 8 a.m.—having been

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An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1%

“[The Youth Drop-In Center] isn’t a depressing place anymore; it is a place where our young clients are looking to their futures.” — Kathy Ketchum

tile could be coordinated and easily maintained. Color became the foundation for everything in the design. While we learned many lessons through this project, the office was really receptive to the experience, which contributed to the successful outcome. We were immensely pleased that the completed project was selected by Interior Design Magazine as one of their 100 Best Ideas of 2012. HOK Los Angeles now has a better understanding of and clarified commitment to future pro bono projects.


awake all night, protecting themselves— and only wanted to sit in the chairs and sleep. Now, seventy percent of our clients are involved in our education program, internship program, GED program, and case-management programs. The kids are motivated because the staff is more energized, feeding back the enthusiasm to the clients. It isn’t a depressing place anymore; it is a place where our young clients are looking to their futures. There is nothing that I would have done differently in the design. The HOK designers spent so much time with our program staff and used their experience to create the ultimate workspace. We have just purchased a property a couple blocks from this rental property, on which we are going to build over 100 units of affordable housing for seniors and youth. In about four years, we plan to move our entire youth program to the new facility. When I talk to the Youth Drop-In Center staff about the move, they say, “Just pick it up and move it exactly how it is.”

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An on-going series of case studies that feature projects by IIDA members participating in The 1%

THE 1% PROGRAM The 1% program is a first-of-its-kind effort to encourage pro bono service within the architecture and design professions. It connects nonprofits with architecture and design firms willing to give of their time. Learn More PUBLIC ARCHITECTURE Public Architecture is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in San Francisco. It engages architecture firms, nonprofits, and manufacturers to commit to design for the public good through its nationally recognized 1% program. Learn More INTERNATIONAL INTERIOR DESIGN ASSOCIATION IIDA is the voice for Commercial Interior Design. They elevate the value of the profession to clients and support members as recognized leaders in the industry. Learn More IN PARTNERSHIP Along with Public Architecture and the commitment to the 1% mission, IIDA encourages its Members to become involved in their communities and bring Interior Design where it is needed. Learn More

Š Photography: Jesse Finley Reed, Eric Laignel, Susan Goldman

Youth Center On Highland - The 1% | IIDA  

The sixth in our on-going case study series highlighting participants of The 1% program and the first to feature the significant contributio...

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