The Monarch Apartments is the first affordable housing project approved by Palm Springs City Council in 10 years.
RENDERINGS COURTESY INTERACTIVE DESIGN CORPORATION
Editor's Note: You can watch Maria Song's presentation of The Monarch Apartments project as part of the Modernism Week Online Experience. Visit chochousing.org.
Maria Song’s commitment to creating economically integrated communities came from her own perspective shift in early adulthood. “Growing up, I had this notion that everybody had [what I had], but it was not true,” the architect says. “My parents had the means. Not everybody has the means.”
A Korea native, Song moved to Argentina with her family as a child and then to California in her teens. She recalls how her parents supported and encouraged her toward higher education so that she could have the best chance to succeed in life.
Now, Song, a partner at Interactive Design Corporation (IDC), is bringing affordable housing to Palm Springs in midcentury modern style at The Monarch Apartment Homes, a 60-unit development on the northern end of town.
Affordable housing is critical to achieving equal opportunity in Palm Springs, Song says, noting that her client, the nonprofit developer of the Monarch complex, Community Housing Opportunities Corporation (CHOC), aims to build well-designed, welcoming home environments for working families and individuals.
Song, who has worked longer than 20 years to bring sustainable housing to underserved and at-risk communities, showcased Monarch in the Fast Forward 2/Designing the Future presentation as part of the Modernism Week Online Experience in February.
“Not everybody is born with the same opportunities,” she says. “The only way we can make that a little bit more equal is to have affordable housing in cities so that families who are challenged financially [have] the same amenities and opportunities.”
The multifamily construction will be designed to blend with the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Donald Wexler’s iconic Steel Houses.
Song points out that building affordable housing that’s not integrated into communities ultimately forms segregation and division. Instead, she says, “What we have to create is a village or neighborhood in which it has a little bit of everything.”
The Monarch Apartments is the first affordable housing project approved by Palm Springs City Council in 10 years. The multifamily construction will be designed to blend with the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Donald Wexler’s iconic Steel Houses, originally intended by the late Palm Springs architect as a model for low-cost housing in the 1960s.
“The zone itself is a potpourri of different housing types,” Song says. The Monarch development will be constructed on land bordered by San Rafael Road on the north and North Indian Canyon Drive on the west.
Incorporated into the design are single-sloped roofs similar to “butterfly” roofs, a familiar midcentury architectural riff seen throughout the desert. “We wanted to be respectful of the composition of the neighboring single-family homes,” Song says.
Incorporated into the design are single-sloped roofs similar to “butterfly” roofs, a familiar midcentury architectural riff seen throughout the desert.
Building much-needed affordable housing comes with challenges, primarily when it comes to funding and approval. “Affordable housing really depends on local support,” says Peter Lundberg, CFO of CHOC.
Fortunately, the city council unanimously approved the project in 2019. “We were touched by the outpouring of support,” Lundberg says. A development like The Monarch Apartments sets the tone for similar projects in the future.
The site design considers the low-income families and individuals who will one day make up the community at The Monarch. Features like The Grove, an open-air tree courtyard, provide space for outdoor social activities. Across the street, a water play area in lieu of a swimming pool offers a safe water option.
“Every affordable housing project, by law, needs to stay affordable for 55 years,” Song says. “The materials need to be long lasting, but they also need to create a home-like experience, so that people really believe that this is their home.”
Careful consideration went into the natural light and cross-ventilation in each unit — which Song suggests are two factors that greatly impact quality of life.
Other efficiency features include proper insulation, effective window treatments, and Energy Star appliances. “We have to meet very high energy efficiency standards,” Lundberg says.
These features add up to energy and cost savings for residents who won’t have to spend as much heating or cooling their homes.
“If we can open up our ideas and our minds to share the blessings and the opportunities we were given,” Song says, “I think we would all be able to live more harmoniously — and that’s what affordable housing does.”