Central Park West Master Plan: KTGY’s bold concept was achieved by rotating the planning grid and placing open space in the middle to create a sense of place. | Images courtesy KTGY Architecture + Planning

Guest Column – October 2018: Densification and the California Dream

Carrie Rossenfeld Guest Column

From SoCal Real Estate’s October 2018 issue:

David Obitz

By David Obitz, principal, KTGY Architecture + Planning

When I joined KTGY Architecture + Planning in 2003, the firm was already working on Orange County’s first high-density urban master plan, Central Park West. This was a new idea for Orange County, although the Irvine Village had long been known for its highly successful low-density, master-planned residential enclaves. Lennar had turned to KTGY for the master planning of Central Park West following a design charette meant to bring out the best ideas for the community. KTGY’s bold concept was the winning solution, achieved by rotating the planning grid and putting open space in the middle, creating a sense of place. This scheme clearly separated itself from others with thinking that organized the central green, rotated the grid, situated inner and outer loop streets, and emphasized the sense of arrival when greeted by the central green and clubhouse, according to Hiro Kinoshita, a founding principal of KTGY who collaborated on the concept.

Central Park West marked a new type of village for Irvine, a city known for its innovative low-density residential village communities. Partnering with the city to evolve its design standards, KTGY proved that the relationship of street, parkway, stoop, and face of the building can be urbanized in a comfortable way and that density can be a desirable option in a setting where low density is readily available. Working with enduring planning concepts that have been tested by regulations and economic cycles, KTGY and the City of Irvine embraced the idea of incorporating traditional urban planning to create a walkable village set around a central park. The plan did not dismiss our love for cars, or our continued need for them. Central Park West transformed 43 acres into a walkable community with tucked-in and structured parking, meaning that homeowners could park their cars and perhaps not use them all weekend long.

To help Orange County evolve, we looked at Los Angeles, New York, and other cities for lessons, wanting to take the best of urbanization while retaining the California Dream of an idyllic lifestyle where mountains, beaches, and sunshine are accessible. To do this, we planned for a balance of vertical buildings, open space, walkability, and vehicular access, maximizing land use and providing high-quality living.

The residential solutions at Central Park West vary in density and lifestyle from on-grade three-story duets, townhomes, and flats to podium mid-rise flats and lofts. KTGY designed the for-sale townhomes and flats to make the most of indoor/outdoor living, with private decks, front yards, and backyards. The challenge was to design homes that would live and feel good in a region where larger lots had been the norm. The central park and KTGY’s design for a large, comfortable, amenity-filled clubhouse were the places where people could gather and play, taking the place of backyards and streets — a West Coast lifestyle in a dense, walkable community.

In the years since we started work on Central Park West, the economy suffered the greatest downturn since the Great Depression, and with that, some doubted the viability of this kind of development for California. But Lennar was a model of confidence and vision, putting parts of Central Park West on hold as necessary and renting out some of the residences that were intended to be for sale. Today, California is thriving as the world’s fifth-largest economy, and with an influx of diverse residents, is constantly moving forward in a culture of innovation. Central Park West is likewise thriving and is moving quickly toward completion. Having persevered, it serves as a forerunner of the way that Orange County will continue to evolve, continually searching for better and taking cues from the great cities of the world.