Featured Plan: Baldwin Hills Village, Los Angeles

Baldwin Hills Village, Clarence Stein, 1941. The superblock is clearly shown here.

Baldwin Hills Village, Clarence Stein, 1941. The superblock is clearly shown here.

In 1941, the modernist housing spirit of some of the east coast experiments reached a maturity in Los Angeles. Baldwin Hills Village (now called the Village Green) was designed by Clarence Stein, urban planner of Sunnyside Gardens in New York and Radburn, New Jersey.

The plan continued the idea of the “superblock” first experimented with in Sunnyside and then developed to a fuller extent at Radburn. The cars were kept to the perimeter, and the interior was a separate pedestrian environment. The 80 acre site contains 627 units of housing and some shared building program, with a prodigious amount of green space.

The open green space is divided into three main “greens”, the central one being the largest. Off of each green are a collection of smaller courtyards formed by the buildings- long siedlung style bars. ┬áThe bar buildings are designed so that, while the ‘front’ face onto these courtyards and greens, the backs mask the parking court.

Partial Plan of Baldwin Hills Village showing how cars are accessed from the periphery and kept invisible from the interior greens and gardens.

Partial Plan of Baldwin Hills Village showing how cars are accessed from the periphery and kept invisible from the interior greens and gardens.

Parking is in courts, accessed from the periphery.

Parking is in courts, accessed from the periphery.

The result of the superblock, with total separation of pedestrian and car, is prodigious interior space that feels more like a college campus than an urban housing project.

Baldwin Hills Village, 1941, Clarence Stein: View of the main green

Baldwin Hills Village, 1941, Clarence Stein: View of the main green

 

Baldwin Hills Village, Stein, 1941. Buildings by Reginald Johnson, Robert Alexander and others.

Baldwin Hills Village, Stein, 1941. Buildings by Reginald Johnson, Robert Alexander and othersFrom the aerial one can clearly see the scale of the project compared to the scale of the city streets. The superblock ultimately proved to not be an enduring urban type. It was an early modernist experiment for dealing with the cary, and perhaps a bold one for the city most associated with the automobile, Los Angeles.

Baldwin Hills Village, Clarence Stein, 1941

Baldwin Hills Village, Clarence Stein, 1941

The earliest experiments with the concept by Clarence Stein seemed more appropriately scaled, and more urban, such as in Sunnyside Gardens in New York (1924):

Plan of Stein's Sunnyside Gardens, 1924

Plan of Stein’s Sunnyside Gardens, 1924

But Radburn, as brilliant as it was, pointed more to a suburban model and one that led to decades of anti-urban settlement patterns found particularly in the ex-urbs of America. Nevertheless, the search for appropriate forms of density continued and still remains today a relevant and unsolved urban and architectural problem.

Radburn, NJ site plan. Clarence Stein, 1928. Two superblocks are clearly seen in this plan

Radburn, NJ site plan. Clarence Stein, 1928. Two superblocks are clearly seen in this plan

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