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NAVIG8: CD8 Homeless Navigation Center

John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects

Los Angeles, CA, United States

November 2021


John Friedman (Principal Project Designer), Alice Kimm (Managing Project Principal)


R&S Tavares Associates (Structural Engineer), CJTSS (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Engineer), VCA Engineers (Civil Engineer), Office of the Designed Landscape (Landscape Architect)


City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Engineering, Architectural Services Division


Benny Chan, Fotoworks


NAVIG8 helps unhoused individuals “navigate” tools that lead to housing and jobs. It provides four basic services. First, it provides personal storage for tents, clothes, money, identification, etc. via 250 individual bins shuttled by facility staff between a secured “warehouse” space and a “staging area” where clients can access their things in a protected zone. This allows freedom to go to job interviews, see a doctor, look for housing, and undertake other activities without worrying about belongings. Second, toilets, sinks, and showers support personal hygiene. Third, a laundry facility further promotes self-care. Finally, an office and conference room provide spaces for social service workers to provide job training and housing search support. Staff offices and break room are located upstairs. Outside, in addition to parking, in a critical “queueing” area under a vibrant shade structure, clients wait their turn to enter NAVIG8 surrounded by public art and landscape elements.

Significantly, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Councilmember of LA’s Council District 8, insisted that the Center be at least two stories tall so that, while welcoming and non-institutional, it would project an appropriately civic stature. He instinctively understood that the architecture itself could do much to reverse the often-negative label placed on our unhoused fellow citizens.

Finally, this project was designed using modular units. Twelve separate modular sections were built at a factory, trucked to the site, and seamlessly attached – allowing the building to be realized more quickly and economically, but without loss of design integrity or aspiration.


This social service project is located in South LA, a neighborhood portrayed negatively in popular culture and media. For much of the 20th Century, due to discriminatory practices, it was the only area in LA where Blacks could live. Now 50/50 Black/Latinx, the area remains underserved, with few public parks and little private investment. Nevertheless, South LA possesses a vibrant community culture, with rapidly improving public housing, social, and educational infrastructure.

Our Navigation Center sits on a commercial avenue, behind which are blocks of single-story houses intermixed with two-story apartment buildings. It is sandwiched between a used car lot and new gas station/convenience store, and there is a new public high school across the street. Most surrounding households live paycheck to paycheck (a condition amplified by the pandemic); the Center is therefore ideally situated to offer a lifeline to those who fall on hard times and are (or become) unhoused. With its bright colors and an inviting entry shade structure that extends all the way out to the sidewalk, NAVIG8 offsets the dusty, overly functional, and generic context in which it sits. In direct contrast to most publicly-funded, similarly modestly-scaled social services buildings that are designed to fade into the background, NAVIG8 maximizes the power of architectural design to communicate optimism and hope in the form of a thoughtfully-designed and welcoming facility that imparts dignity to all unhoused individuals. The entire neighborhood, by extension, feels pride of ownership and a heightened sense of responsibility to support the facility’s mission.


The building’s energy use is 24% below the baseline established by California’s Title 24. The building was constructed from factory-built modular units, which allowed it to be built more quickly than stick-built or steel-frame construction, with minimal waste and less environmental impact during construction.

Regarding its urban and social performance, NAVIG8 is a huge success. The neighborhood has welcomed it unconditionally, and clients as well as staff have remarked on its dignity, warmth, and inclusiveness. The building does not talk down to anybody, nor does it make a big formal statement. Instead, the subtle use of the gable form on the facade, typically part of any iconic image of a house, alludes to the traditionally homelike “services” provided inside, while the same form in an upside-down orientation suggests that a home can be anywhere one makes it. The building’s strong civic presence is thus offset by form, color, and articulation that bridge the domestic and institutional; this is significant because the architecture itself mitigates some of the fear and stigma surrounding homelessness in this neighborhood. Notable is that, while multiple navigation centers have been delivered under the same program, NAVIG8 is the only one to be widely published and win design awards. It may therefore inspire similar centers to be designed as proud public works that garner positive attention and thereby dignify all unhoused individuals. The community-building power of this modest building, with its relatively new public typology, has far exceeded expectations.

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