LEVEL Urban Apartments

Oklahoma, USA. 2012

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2012
  • Cost: £15 Million
  • Clients: City Center LLC

In a country where the car is king, LEVEL merges the practicality of driving to one’s front door with an urban typology to increase inner-city density. A four-storey building shelters a central communal courtyard – divided in two by a vertical stack of four parking decks screened in foliage – while defining the city block on the outside. The building’s dark masonry podium, patterned with projecting bricks and punctuated by deeply-recessed openings, is crowned by a white-rendered stucco volume, broken down into an assemblage of rectilinear forms. Comprising 228 one and two-bedroom apartments and over 460 square metres of retail space, this project offers an affordable and cost-effective housing model for Oklahoma City, which until now has been dominated by low-density single storey sameness.

Awards

AIA Central Oklahoma Citation Award 2012

LEVEL Urban Apartments developed as a response to Oklahoma City’s ambition to intensify its downtown and a pattern of urban living currently under-catered for in the local tenancy market. The site, in the Deep Deuce area of Oklahoma City, borders the Central Business District, with the bars and restaurants of Bricktown, art galleries, sporting Arena and Ballpark only a few blocks away. The scheme comprises 228 one and two-bed rental apartments for individuals and couples who want to live close to these amenities, and the developing life downtown. It also incorporates courtyard gardens, a swimming pool, a grocery store, a bar and grill, and social and gym facilites for a convenient and luxurious urban life.


Organisation and Layout

The building is composed as an urban block which creates sheltered courtyards in its interior, and holds and defines street edges on the outside. Parking is contained in a compact centralised garage. This leaves the street façades free to include retail, restaurants, and apartments with front doors – active uses which engage with the context and encourage a vibrant street life.


The building is based on a simple double-loaded corridor arrangement, providing easy access and natural light and ventilation to each apartment. The corridors are open at corners to both the outside street and the internal courtyards, introducing natural light and views at these breaks, and forming key entry and exit points.  Cores containing lifts and stairs are also located in these four corners.


The courtyard gardens within are different sizes, and have different uses. One contains a swimming pool and is linked to the ‘living room’, a social space for relaxation and events, which also includes a fitness centre. The other is a quieter, more reflective space, planted with trees to provide shade and a gentler acoustic of rustling leaves.


Apartment layouts intelligently maximize space through efficient planning.  Generous and luxurious kitchens are included, and each apartment has access to a balcony. The balconies are recessed on the exterior, providing the majority of flats with views towards downtown and creating microclimates to temper the extremes of heat, cold and wind which can be experienced in the Midwest.  Balconies to the courtyard gardens project out from the façade, taking advantage of their sheltered surroundings.


Architectural Articulation

The building sits on a dark brick podium, patterned with projecting bricks as contemporary rustication. Openings lie within deep rebates to emphasise the weight and robust nature of the brick. The podium is also tied into the streetscape, flowing into the sidewalk in areas of darker-stained concrete and dark brick, the landscaping carefully coordinated with the building geometry.


Above this podium floats a white-rendered stucco volume. This has flush windows, to emphasise its lightness, and recessed balconies which break down its massing. The height of the volume steps down with the slope of the landscape, and at its corners is divided through breaks and subtle colour differences to read as an assemblage of composed rectilinear forms. ‘Pop-up’ clerestory windows at each corner emphasise this, adding variety and difference.


Against these two elements, smaller components follow a similar language and palette. Heavier external metalwork is consistently painted a dark grey, to tie in with the brickwork and contrast with the white stucco. Windows are pale, to coordinate with the white-painted rooms they open into. Fixtures and fittings are stainless steel, toning in with brick or stucco wherever they are used and linking the whole.


Moments of Delight

Against this tonal palette, colour and graphics are used selectively, but when employed they are used with exuberance. A colour strategy has been developed for the four quadrants of the building which picks and intensifies colours found in the surrounding context. These strong colours highlight main building entrances, fill common staircases, pick out front doors to the street, and line breaks in the building massing, hinting at the colourful life within. Even within the parking garage, columns and cores are coated in colour to act as foci and enliven this oft-ignored step in the journey from street to home. 


Signage is closely tied into this colour strategy. Junctions between dissimilar colours form chevrons, creating superscaled signage in themselves. This motif occurs throughout the project at different scales: 10m high as movement joints on the façade, 1m high as parking markings in the garage, and 10cm high as text in corridor wayfinding signs. Wayfinding signage matches the colour strategy, whilst apartment numbers themselves appear on lasercut stainless steel plates, to match hardware and allow application of braille.


Lighting is similarly closely coordinated, based around a 4’ linear flourescent fitting that is composed into chevrons, diagonals and patterns. These are generally diagonally aligned, with other fittings generally circular in form, to soften the otherwise orthogonal geometry. This holistic approach and attention to detail allow each individual element, whilst simple, to come together into a whole which is much more than the sum of its parts.


Process and Construction

The parking garage and retail unit podium are constructed in in-situ concrete to meet fire separation and structural requirements. The remainder is entirely timber frame construction, a standard choice for residential buildings of this scale in the US. The timber frame is filled with insulation, sheathed and papered, and coated in stucco for weather protection and to reflect the strong Oklahoma sunlight.  Cores are concrete-filled masonry, and stairs are prefabricated steel units with concrete treads, craned into place.


The physical separation and use of different techniques to construct the garage and apartment structures allows them to be constructed simultaneously. This, together with a high level of standardisation and repetition, reduces site time and overall cost. Maintenance cost is also a key consideration – finishes are robust and elements which require replacement, such as lamps for light fittings, are standardised as much as possible.


Conclusion

LEVEL Urban Apartments represents a new model for downtown living in Oklahoma City, will form a striking addition to the downtown streetscape, and forms a carefully considered and contemporary building design.


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