The California Branch House

A framework for dense, affordable, and sustainable multi-family housing that fits seamlessly into the low-rise neighborhoods of Los Angeles.


In 2020, Christopher Hawthorne and the City of Los Angeles released the Low-Rise LA: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles design challenge, which sought proposals for appealing and sustainable new models of low-rise, multi-unit housing. Housing at this scale delivers a host of tangible social benefits: a bolstered sense of community and resilience, an improved ability to age in place, a broader and more inclusive definition of the family unit, proximity to work and transit, stronger support for local retail and the creation of new businesses, and new paths to homeownership. My submission, the California Branch House, was awarded first place in its category. 

Inspired by the homes designed by Cliff May, often referred to as the “father of the California Ranch” and the designer of the mid-century “California Dream Home,” the California Branch House intends to fulfill a dream that has remained inaccessible to many. It is a new kind of dream home that is flexible, affordable, sustainable, and purposefully designed around the lives of the people and communities who call Los Angeles their home.

California Branch-style Housing is a framework that embraces the historic stylings of LA low-rise housing while integrating today’s best practices for housing design, modular construction, materials, and landscaping. This specific proposal for a Branch House across two LA lots and with a community center is just one application. The community space features essential elements like a kitchen and restrooms that would support an organization or business with roots and branches that extend into the community — but is otherwise left unprogrammed, to be determined by residents and the local community. Other configurations of the California Branch-style House could include co-living setups or temporary bridge housing for LA’s homeless community.

You can view my full submission and see the other winning projects here.

Los Angeles, CA


Architecture, Landscape, Planning




First Place, Corners Category, Low Rise LA Competition


The New York Times
Los Angeles Times
Architetural Record
The Architect's Newspaper
Bloomberg CityLab


Common Edge

Site Planning


The Central Commons space is a shared by all Branch House residents and is separated from the fully public areas of the lot. In this view, the space is set up with communal dining tables and movable benches. The biotope planing area on the right includes rocks, sand traps, and water collection areas to promote biodiversity.

Housing Units

This Branch House proposal suggests three types of housing unit and a corner community space arranged across the site under three roof structures. Although they range in size from one to four bedrooms, they all feature a flexible area that can serve as an additional bedroom, workspace, or secondary living space. 


Walkway through the center of the Branch House site showing Central Commons on the left and a covered, permeable parking area with movable furniture on the right.

Shared Plumbing and Utility Cores

A “core” structure between every two housing units combines the plumbing, HVAC, and other mechanical components for both units into a single, modular structure. This means that the most complex modules of a home, such as kitchens and bathrooms, can be mass-produced off-site. The consolidated cores also provide easy access to areas that require the most frequent maintenance and upgrades.


The Central Commons space is a shared by all Branch House residents and is separated from the fully public areas of the lot. In this view, the space is set up with communal dining tables and movable benches. The silo structure to the right houses a shared outdoor kitchen.

Site and Landscape Plans

The site is meticulously designed around the management of water, ensuring that all the water that falls is captured by green roof systems, collected and stored for irrigation and indoor reuse, or passes through landscaping and permeable paving to the water table. Native, drought-resistant plants reduce irrigation and maintenance needs and protect against wildfires. The landscape and roofscape plan also promotes biodiversity by providing forage plants, nesting aids, sand pockets, deadwood, and temporary water collection for birds and insects.


Longitudinal Elevation


Transverse Elevation


The community space at the corner of the development opens into a public space filled with flexible furniture and open lawn areas. Permeable parking areas add even more public space when not occupied by cars.


The fencing around private residences opens up around planted areas to make the overall site feel more inviting while also retaining resident privacy. Low fences around parking areas and the community garden are the most transparent.

©2024 Vonn Weisenberger